Kerala schools open new windows with laptops in classrooms

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Aug 4 2010, 02:38am hrs
Laptops are finally making their way into Keralas government schools courtesy hardware-savvy school teachers in the state. Kerala is probably the first state in the country to provide laptops to classrooms in government schools.

As many as 60,000 teachers in Keralas government schools have earned free laptops this year along with free resource DVDs, 1,300 printers, 750 scanners, 400 handycams and 400 generators.

The state government was, a few years ago, faced with technology-unfriendly school teachers shunning the use of computers. As a result, many desktops were shunted to corners and these saw little or no repair and upkeep. These government schools were only partially using the 90,000 desktops in their resources. We identified that the fear was largely psychological and decided to confront it through effective training, Ratan U Kelkar, director, IT Mission told FE.

Thus hardware clinics were conducted in all schools to repair or upgrade the schools damaged computers. At least two or three teachers in each school, who were familiar with hardware, were trained to troubleshoot or upgrade the desktops. For better support, there are district-level clinics, said Geetha Kumari, a highschool teacher.

A number of teachers confess that much of the repair had been demand-driven. Equipped with handycams as gift from deep-pocketed PTAs (parent teacher associations), students have been taking up projects on resource-mapping short documentaries on their panchayats. These spirited youngsters also demanded that their class computers be better used.

We spent just Rs 6 crore on training and infrastructure at hardware clinics. But could bring back only about Rs 49-crore worth hardware to full use, which had been gathering dust in school corners, says MA Baby, education minister, Kerala. Instead of a computer lab for a school, the thrust is now on each classroom becoming ICT-enabled.

Since tidy savings worth Rs 43 crore were estimated through creating a cadre of school teacher computer troubleshooters, Keralas IT@School Project decided to splurge on added IT convergence. Thus, the 1,016 government high schools in Kerala became the first state-run schools in the country to use laptops and multimedia projectors, says K Anvar Sadath, executive director, IT@School Project. The project had 12,000 classrooms electrified this year. Covering 3 million students every year, it has also ensured broadband Internet connectivity to all schools. About 2 lakh teachers were trained to better apply ICT in education through a battery of 200 dedicated master trainers and 5,600 IT coordinators.

Early this year, Kerala had tied up with Intel to deploy its Skoool Learning and Teaching Technologies website. The state seems pretty advanced among South Asian communities in leveraging ICT in schools, with a regional flavour, says Peter Hamilton, global director, Intel Skoool programme.

A unique feature of ICT in Kerala schools is that it runs entirely on free and open source software (FOSS). The state government had been one of the first provinces to log out Microsoft Windows from its schools and replace it with FOSS systems.