A low cost projector to facilitate education.
How can we challenge the traditional classroom setting by making it a more interactive space where teachers are not just knowledge providers but facilitators in a digital world?
How can we use the plethora of open source teaching materials to bring concepts to remote classrooms?
How can we use simple, everyday technology to build a tool that can help create virtual classrooms where there are no schools?
The Challenge of Educating a Nation
The efficacy of the education system in India is as diverse as its people. The local governments and their policies, the terrains and socio-cultural barriers of each region have created a complex mosaic of issues to disseminate quality primary education to the poorest segments of the society. There were some key issues we observed :
– Bringing teachers educated in pedagogy and those who are domain experts to the villages and even more remote areas was challenge. The remuneration and quality of life it offered to them as a compensation was not seen as good enough motivation.
– Even if some locals feel motivated and want to help as teachers, they were often not very educated themselves or were not trained in pedagogy; this was a huge challenge as there were many local enthusiasts who were motivated to help but couldnt.
– Uninterrupted supply of electricity was a challenge. It was often tough to have digital classrooms that could be independant of the grid and connectivity.
– Digital education material was proprietary and hence could not be used by most small institutions. They are now largely used in elite private institutions.
– Hardware often broke down and the costs of getting it fixed often caused people to find other alternatives or simply refrain from using it too much. Repair was often expensive too, or had to be taken to a nearby city to be fixed.
The Idea Inspiration:
What if we could use the high density of mobile repair shops to help build, maintain and fix new digital tools?
What if we created a platform for sharing digital resources in classrooms that could make teachers better facilitators and help children gain from the vast resource of visualized concepts?
What if we designed a product entirely from locally sourced electronic parts that could overcome the familiar challenges of transportability, durability and how it consumed electricity?
The box was fitted with a small USB 2.0 port to enable data input. Since we used a 3G phone, the projector had data coonectivity and the touch screen of the phone was used as atrack pad for navigation. The phone memory could also be used to copy data onto it freeing the USB port.
The metaphor of a lunch box really worked here as it was small, compact and easily transportable. Fieldworkers and teachers could easily imagine carrying one of the in their bag. Also the phone came with a few accessories like a tripod and remote which were also used to enhance the features of the projector.
We tested this prototype in some remote tribal schools in the Nilgiris’ mountain sides. We realised there are many ground realities that we had to cater to:
– The ambient light outside sometimes made the projection not very clear. We had to enhance this.
– Ambient surrounding sounds in cityscapes or even rural areas meant that the speakers that we used were not good enough. Children were often excited about seeing videos and that created a lot of a excited noises too. The sound had to be enhanced too.
– The touch screen and the speakers, exposed as they were, was a weak point for the durability.
Ofcourse, there were some confirmations too; The size and the compact worked wonderfully well.
Children were so excited on seeing familiar and new concepts as videos that had been rendered in their vernacular language. We noticed that they could articulate their learnings much better after seeing the videos. After the viewing, they chatted away amongst themselves bout what they saw, discussing the details and their understanding. This is often missing in a typical classroom setting. The teachers also noted that long after we were gone, the children still talked about what they saw and learnt, leaving a lingering memory of the lesson.
We made a new iteration of the prototype in a sturdier box, overcoming the problems of the earlier prototype.