How a Teacher is Transforming a Village With the Use of Technology
Reduced school dropout rates and integrating differently-abled children in a mainstream school – Magdalene Premalatha is transforming her community with the use of technology.
Early 2010. It was a regular day for 35-year old Magdalene Premalatha, a Social Science and English teacher at the Government Higher Secondary School in Ammaiyyappan village in Thiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu. She was to conduct a presentation in Class 6, prompted by a chapter on Helen Keller in the Social Studies text book. She read of how some severely disabled people went on to achieve great things.
Her aim was to help her students understand that disabled people are not without abilities; in fact, they are differently abled. The impact of her presentation was beyond the teacher’s wildest expectations. Towards the end of her presentation, a student asked her, “Ma’am, there are two such children in my neighbourhood. They don’t go to school. How can they get educated?” Magdalene, aware of the government’s integrated approach to education, enabling differently abled children to get equal opportunities in mainstream schools, said they could be given admission in a regular school. The students, under her guidance, spoke to the parents of these two children; she herself approached the headmaster, and they spoke to the District Officer. Eventually, the two students were admitted to the school. But this was not all. Other parents were also encouraged to admit their with differently abled children to the school. By the year end, 11 such students from the village had been admitted. Some had vision, hearing or speech challenges; some had psychomotor issues; while some others were mildly mentally challenged.
Today, these students are in Classes 6 to 10, and part of the mainstream schooling. All of them are being encouraged to use computers. Some excel at painting on the computer, while a polio-afflicted student, who can barely write with her hands, has found a new means to express herself by using the computer keyboard.
A New Lease of Life
That a teacher was instrumental in giving 11 students the opportunity to learn and gain self-confidence is just one aspect of this story. The change brought about in other students — accepting differently abled students as capable human beings—is itself a huge achievement. Even teachers who were reluctant to have differently abled students in their classes are taken aback at the way these children have progressed in their studies.
Project Based Learning: The Cornerstone
Integrating differently abled children into a regular school is just one more in a series of social improvement initiatives that Magdalene has undertaken ever since she underwent the Intel Teach® Program course in 2004, which exposed her to project based learning (PBL).
Now, every year, Magdalene focuses on a key project at he school using PBL. She divides her students into groups, and assigns them to do surveys, research and interviews. Her first project was on child labour. The village of Ammaiyyappan is small and economically backward, with around 500 families that are mostly dependent on agricultural work. With parents out in the fields most of the time, the onus of taking care of the household, small children and cattle fell on the elder daughters in the family. Some boys would also work for additional income. Nine such children had dropped out from school. It was a challenge to persuade the parents to let these children go back to school. Due to Magdalene’s efforts, the village panchayat president became convinced that child labour should not be allowed. Her efforts to bring the nine dropouts back to school were successful; one of these students has since completed Class 10, while the others attend school regularly.
Impacting the Community
Other projects that Magdalene has guided her students on include:
- Creating awareness about health issues arising from tobacco use
- Generating alternate modes of employment for women dependent on agriculture. Women have taken up certificate courses in tailoring, giving them the opportunity to be employed by the government
- Projects on rain water harvesting and waste management
Realising the impact that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) can have, the school has begun conducting special classes after school, giving education in using computers to those past the school going age. Magdalene’s efforts have won her recognition, and she was nominated by the Tamil Nadu Government to participate in the national competition, conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Government of India, on ICT integration in teaching.