Opening new vistas…

Guest post by Suneeta Kulkarni.

#8 in the series Learning in different contexts.

You may already be familiar with Sugata Mitra’s work. Some of you may have gathered from Edna’s earlier posts that the initiative SOMEs (Self Organized Mediation Environments) grew out of the SOLEs (Self Organized learning Environments). We began this particular initiative in May 2009 and faced many challenges along the way. Ask any of the eMediators and they could give you a long list. But what most of them would also share with you are the ‘highs’. The thrill we experience each time we make contact is beyond description… because we go just that bit forward toward reaching our objectives. And what I’d like to share with you is a bit about one of those objectives. The experience we had at today’s SOME at Khelgar, Pune that manifests the movement in that direction….

The SOMEs were initiated to facilitate contact between children in remote, disadvantaged settings in rural and urban areas. When we began, we were not sure where it would lead…. Every day brings new surprises! What began as a primarily story telling /story reading activity rapidly expanded to include puzzles, quizzes, sharing pictures, free flowing conversation, and even craft activities. The starting objective was that children would become confident and pick up English fluency and, in the process, be able to make more effective use of the internet for their academic development.

Though the media still refers to it as the ‘granny cloud’, that is a misnomer, catchy though the phrase might be. We have in our group not only grannies, but also grandpas, as well as uncles and aunts and elder ‘siblings’ too. What we are emphasizing in all these relationships is the ‘grandmother’ approach.It means that the children get to interact with a person who is encouraging, and appreciative of their efforts, irrespective of whether or not they are entirely familiar with what the child is trying out!

A lot has happened since Sugata came up with the idea. Through this period, we became more and more aware of the potential of the SOMEs to enable children to achieve objectives even more important than learning English. It has opened up new vistas for them,  helped children all over the world gain new perspectives, enabled them to become acquainted with and better understand different ways of living, recognize and appreciate the meaning of traditions and customs in different set ups.

Earlier this month we were able to get going, thanks to the children at the SOLE in Shirgaon, Maharashtra and Edna’s school in Melbourne, Australia, direct interaction between the children themselves. And yet other gains opened up….

Interest in the SOMEs and its possibilities for helping children learn English, specially conversational English has begun to spread and even places that do not have regular SOLEs set up are trying to figure out how they can still have the SOMEs, while figuring out how to get the whole SOLE facility.  One such organization is Palakneeti Khelghar in Pune. They provide meaningful ‘out of school’ recreational and academic experiences to children living in a nearby slum area.

So today, again with an interaction set up between children in Australia and those from Pune, we explored what would happen if children from Melbourne attempted to find out about the experiences of the Khelghar children related to ‘water’. The children had all kinds of questions! And they drew many responses, quite a few even after the session was over! Do remember that the children at Khelghar have never used a computer before. (They have seen one in the centre’s office, but that’s about it).

The thought of seeing children from so far away in their own room was exciting, and intimidating all at once. But they caught on to the idea that they could find out about each other using this medium:  text on skype, translations from and into English, from and into Marathi and Hindi. And I was inundated with queries to send to them even after the session was over.

But what really struck me, yet again, was the vast potential for understanding different perspectives and situations. Here are just a few of the questions from Melbourne and the kind of responses: (edited to show the connection between the question and answer)

Q: Where do you get your water from, is it fresh and clean? Do you ever get sick from the water? Do you get water 24 hours in a day?

A: No (in response to availability of water)

Q: When do you get your water?

A: 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the evening

Q:  Do you store water? How? Where do you wash your clothes, Do you use the tap water?

A: yes… in barrels, cans, and tanks in the house and big kitchen utensils

(wash clothes) at home from the stored water

and a little later in the conversation—

Q: Does the government help you in any way?

A: at election time, (some parties) make sure we get water for 2 days at a stretch (Other children added) The Govt puts liquid chlorine in the barrels to purify the water, also potassium permagnate

Q: Do you a have a family?  Is the water enough for your family?

A: Yes it is enough…

I wonder what children with resources would make of this ‘satisfaction’ and ‘contentment’ with what little they have and what other questions might arise in their minds. I do know what questions came up at Khelghar following this conversation… They wanted to know SO much about these children… what they saw through their webcam certainly looked different from what they are used to, but their questions were not about what these ‘other’ children have… the questions were about the system! (Edna, does that answer, to some extent, your concern that these children might feel bad because they see other children having many material resources?)

These are just a few of the queries from Pune:

  • Do you have tuition other than school?
  • What do you study in history?
  • Do your parents send a lunch box with you to school?
  • How many days of the year do you have school?
  • Do you have a teacher’s day and a children’s day?
  • Do you get punished if you don’t study?
  • Do you bunk school?
  • If someone finds out that you have bunked, what happens?
  • Do you have a school uniform? Do you have to tie braids?
  • Do you have a centre that you can go to outside of school, like we come to Khelghar?
  • Are you forced to study?
  • Do you like to study? How do you feel about coming to school?

And then there were questions about families, and food, and God, and festivals, housing facilities and much more. But more about that another time….

As I listened to the questions from the children at Khelghar, I realized that through the questions they were sharing a lot of their own experiences and hope they have a chance to talk about these in more depth. It would show them a world that has many possibilities….. and perhaps they will be enabled to do something about it!

5 thoughts on “Opening new vistas…

  1. What a wonderful opportunity for all the kids involved! Each is able to put themselves in another’s shoes, even if for just a few moments, and I believe empathy and understanding will grow from this.


  2. This is an excellent learning opportunity for everyone involved – not only the children but also the ‘facilitators’, for want of a better word, who will be fascinated by what fascinates the kids and the directions that their learnings take.

    The kids sound really engaged – their natural curiosity is such a great motivator that they won’t think practising the language ‘work’ or a chore, and they’ll learn so much about each other’s culture and the possibilities for themselves. Might, for example, the Australian children be wondering if they’d be happier with less? (Doubt it, but who knows?!) Is acceptance of their lot a demotivator of bettering themselves? In the long term, does having less affect health and life expectancy? If the Indian families are content then what’s the point of aid?

    It’s interesting that the questions your children have, Suneeta, are about the ‘system’. Perhaps they feel that that’s something they might have control over in the future and can improve, or that it’s culturally wrong to want more personal wealth…

    It’s an eye opener, isn’t it? It leaves me wondering if there’s more I could be doing!


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