Visiting a Cloud Vidyashram (CV) school was one of the top items on my agenda during this trip to Chennai (in August). I was eagerly waiting to experience the WOW-ness of the most talked about project. In addition to the great vision the CV team upholds, CV seems to have struck the right cords with thousands of people concerned with quality and equality of education. Its rapidly rising Facebook likes since its roll out in June, my friends reaching out to me in praise of the initiative and articles in two of the prestigious newspapers are testimony to its popularity. CV team’s dream is to bridge the language gap so that one of the best Math tutorials may reach all children (and are not restricted to the English-speaking lot only). These videos are essentially Math concepts covered in 6th to 8th standard. The project is being piloted in two schools in Chennai, in collaboration with school authorities, wherein students of 11th standard are exposed to Salman Khan’s (Khan Academy) videos translated into Tamil.
Having waited so long, I could not have missed the only opportunity I had to make it to a school where CV was being implemented. So, despite a crazy schedule, I tagged along with Sharanya during her routine visits to Guindy School. All thanks to our secret project launch (Bee-to-Bee), we were running pretty late; to top it, Auto’s refused to take us one after another, and the coordinator’s call was not going through for Sharanya to make sure children wait in the room. Apparently, it’s a challenge to bring students back from the playground (which is where they would head if they find the room locked). That’s right! CV has found its place in the Games period, which children seem more than happy to sacrifice. There was bit of panic in the atmosphere, justifiably so. But suddenly, things started falling in place; after some 4 refusals, we found an Auto, the call went through and we reached the classroom to find everything in order.
Even though we were late by 20 minutes, the class was in progress with students engrossed in their respective tasks/videos. Sharanya apologised as some of the students were upset about having a shorter class. This was my first WOW! moment. Who, in their right minds complains when a Math, of all the classes, is cut short?? Once I settled in, I had my next WOW! moment. It is one thing to be in awe of the idea of children learning at their own pace and it is quite another to see it for real. This is the most beautiful aspect of this initiative since I too strongly believe that each child should ideally learn as per his own interest, curiosity and aptitude. Each child on a computer engrossed in Salman Khan’s lessons in Tamil, functioning on its own by filling out sheets and assessments…WOW!
Moving on, I kept my amazement aside and discussed a few concerns. There is an element of self-assessment built into this plan to see if children can be honest about their own learning. Students, having completed their assessments, take the answer keys, identify mistakes which they are supposed to disclose and follow up by going back to the video to grasp the concept. How does it work? Why should it work? What is the incentive a student has to re-visit the video? My questions are basically based on an assumption that performance, for the most part, is essentially score driven. If no one’s checking, how many would cheat and how many would play it fair in the current system? Some children do reach out to Sharanya on their assessments to have their doubts cleared, ask for more questions to be thorough etc. (another WOW!), can it be said to work for them all? Sharanya plans to test this assumption out. Sounds great! That should give us some more insights into what’s working or not and may be some answers to ‘why’.
Further, the effectiveness of CV pilot would be tested by comparing FA (Formative Assessment) and SA (Summative Assessment) scores of students who have completed the programme with those who have had no exposure to the videos. Additionally, scores of the exposed group would be compared against their scores in other subjects. Further, the other school where CV is being implemented functions in a slightly different mode; the students there do not have Sharanya J (an engaging Math teacher who makes Math easy for them)! That makes for another possible point of comparison!
One last WOW was for the efforts made by Sharanya and her team towards planning, preparing and organising the multiple forms to record data. I look forward to the lessons from this awesome experiment so that it can reach out to all the Tamil speaking children and lay a foundation for translations to other languages as well. That would be a Global WOW moment.