The Telegraph, Calcutta India
If social networks mean unfunny jokes, trying-too-hard status updates and boring vacation snaps to you, it’s time for a reality check. One of them is transforming lives in a corner of Howrah.
Tikiapara NGO Samaritan Help Mission has been using Hangout, the group video chat feature in social network Google Plus, to teach English to about 80 underprivileged students.
The video of the teacher, based abroad, is fed from a laptop into a projector that displays it on the whiteboard in the classroom. When the students want to ask a question, they speak into a microphone connected with the laptop.
The aim is as much to teach English communication as to make them familiar with computers and Internet, build their confidence and most importantly, keep them in class.
“A friend in the US introduced me to Google Plus. I was at once struck by its novelty, especially of the feature allowing people to chat at once,” said Mamoon Akhtar, the founder of the NGO, who believes knowledge of English and computers is essential to get ahead in life.
His pet project has been a success if the response from the 10 to 12-year-olds of Samaritan Mission School, run by the NGO, is any indication.
Almost six months after the first experimental Hangout class on December 20, a boys’ and a girls’ batch of 40 each gather once a week to learn from Kritika Dusad, who studies in the US, and Mohammed Saif Qureshi, an aeronautical engineering student at the University of Glasgow, via Hangout.
The lessons supplement regular English classes at the school.
“Since we introduced the Hangout classes, our attendance has gone up. The children are extremely excited and their confidence level and language skills are increasing by leaps and bounds,” said Akhtar.
“The project is one of the most inspirational I have come across,” said Qureshi. “I love teaching as it helps me learn a lot from the children. It is a refreshing experience and I look forward to each class. Kritika and I are designing a full curriculum for online classes and trying to recruit and train new teachers. The aim is to have classes every day from end-June.”
One of the aims is to offer lessons in science, history and geography.
Infrastructure is a problem. If not separate monitors, the students should ideally have individual headphones with microphones. Instead, there is a speaker system connected to the laptop and two cordless microphones that are passed around.
But that hardly dampens the enthusiasm of the kids, who also sit for tests, the results of which are displayed through screen sharing.
“We started with the computer in my office and a group of five to six children. We now have a laptop and projector and over 80 students, and hope to hold the classes every day. Donation of computers and an LCD television set is welcome so that we can do away with the projector and directly broadcast the lessons through television,” said Akhtar.
“It almost feels as if the teacher is with us in the room,” said Haripriya Gupta, a student, when asked to share her online learning experience. “I wish I could shake his hand.”
Ten-year-old Alisha Parveen said the best things about the Hangout classes were their fun quotient and the number of new words they taught her.
Speaking on Akhtar’s creative use of Google Plus, Lalitesh Katragadda, head of products, Google India, said: “The important fact is not that Google has helped educate these underprivileged kids. It is great that people like Mamoon Akhtar have found Google accessible enough to make good use of a technology we have provided. He is to be applauded. We hope more people will start using Hangout to spread literacy in the country.”