Two summers ago, I was in the Gairsain taluka of Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. It was almost a decade after Uttarakhand was formed. But Gairsain, which was originally proposed to be the permanent capital of the state, had seen little development.
There was just one English-medium school, located in Darimdali village. One Mr. Puitandi, who taught English at the school, told me that since this was the only English medium school in Gairsain taluka, students came here from faraway places. 'They are sincere, hard-working students; yet most of them fare badly in the examinations. As a result, they start dropping out of school. Every year, we lose about 10-15 students,' he said.
The reasons for this state of affairs are many. The villages have no roads. The students come walking all the way, some of them trudging as much as 10 km a day. By the time they reach school, they are totally exhausted.
To add to this, they have to grapple with the English language which is not easy as they get to hear it only in school. But the most difficult part is the syllabus, most of which seem incomprehensible to the students.
Puitandi cites an example, 'I was telling my eighth-grade class about global warming and carbon emissions and all I could see was blank stares. None of them had ever seen a smoking chimney. I wished there was a way I could show them what I was talking about.'
He is not the only teacher to have faced this situation. In thousands of schools across India, students and teachers struggle to cope every day as the pupils cannot relate to the subjects they read. They cannot understand them because they have no exposure to the ideas or products under discussion. So, in spite of having perfect learning abilities, the students experience learning difficulties.
It was a similar situation that led to the use of a novel concept called 'Videoshala' in Gujarat in 2007. 'Videoshala' means 'video school'. A joint project by Video Volunteers and two Gujarat-based NGOs, Drishti and Udaan, Videoshala is an innovative program that trains community members in producing educational videos. These videos are imbued with the values of diversity, democracy and citizenship and shown in local schools.
Under the Videoshala project, local youths are trained in video production, pedagogy and children's unique learning needs so that they can produce films relating to the curriculum in a way that children find easy to understand.
So far, 24 videos have been produced by the educational community video units (E-CVUs). The topics include plants, nutrition, democracy and religions. All videos adhere to the framework of the values of citizenship, diversity and democracy.
After completing the video, the producers develop workbooks and games to go with it. The films have been screened in 200 schools throughout the state. According to teachers, the screenings have led to a greater involvement of the children who now seem to be having fun in their classroom.
It's not just the children who have benefited. Videoshala has benefited teachers too. They say their teaching skills have improved because of the videos. They learn the value of out-of-classroom lessons.
Teachers are also included in the research process to give inputs on the chapters or the parts of the syllabus that their students find difficult to understand. These inputs are woven in and their concerns are reflected in the video.
Including teachers in the making of the video enables them to solve their specific problems. Also, teachers and students watch the screenings together, which helps boost the teachers' interactive skills.
The Videoshala experiment can also be seen in the broader perspective of the use of local content to promote education. Videoshala is an innovative system through which communities and their knowledge of local realities add remarkable value to the school curriculum.
If the Videoshala experiment is adopted by other states, schools like the one in Darimdali may never have to see a lone teacher struggling to keep a class of physically exhausted students engaged in studies.