Published: 25th June 2018
Here's how AP Janmabhoomi is getting NRIs to digitse classrooms in their native villages
AP Janmabhoomi, an initiative of the Government of Andhra Pradesh to connect NRIs to their villages, has clocked two years. We talk to all the stakeholders to get a feel of their progress
With an increase in the number of youngsters who are leaving the nest and flying away to greener pastures abroad, it remains the ultimate dream of these NRIs (both old and new) to do something for their own nation — not necessarily by awakening their inner Shah Rukh Khan from Swades, but in their own unique way. This feeling of wanting to give back to the nation is what the Government of Andhra Pradesh recognised and channelised through its initiative AP Janmabhoomi two years ago, on June 20, 2016. NRIs abroad have been encouraged to donate to three causes — digital classrooms, Anganwadi centres and crematoriums. While 70% of the cost is being covered by the government, 30% of it is the responsibility of those NRIs who not only want to connect with their roots but want to nourish it as well.
As of now, 2,700 schools have at least one classroom which has been digitised; there are 100 Anganwadi centres that have been established and 50 burial grounds are already in place. On the occasion of completing two years, we talk to all the stakeholders involved — government officials, NRIs and their associations, headmasters and students — to understand how the initiative has fared so far and how far can it go to reinforce the adage ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’.
From the team
Because AP Janmabhoomi works directly with the government, the NRI contributors are 100% confident that the money will be utilised well
Jayaram Komati, AP's Special Representative in North America
Between inaugurating classrooms and helming AP Janmabhoomi, Jayaram Komati, AP's Special Representative in North America, says that since its inception, the organisation has accomplished a lot and has streamlined many processes. "Though we are a part of the government, we function like an NGO, albeit with their complete support. We have an inauguration of a digital classroom almost every day," says 61-year-old Komati. In the coming years, the former president of the Telugu Association of North America says that the focus will remain on education.
They also wish to install a vending machine for sanitary napkins in all government schools to prevent girls from dropping out and add other amenities in the classroom to make it a comfortable space to study, he informs. "The aim in the future will be to retain the connect that the NRIs and the high schools have developed and motivate them to stay connected," says Komati. Currently, they are focusing on 5,000 high schools in AP, but eventually, they plan to digitise all 42,000 government schools of AP.
We appreciate AP Janmabhoomi and look forward to a continued engagement with them
Sandhya Rani Kanneganti, Commissioner, School Education, AP
Their efforts to reach out to NRIs started in 2016 when Komati visited the US to hold several meetings with the Telugu community there and spread awareness about AP Janmabhoomi. Sandhya Rani Kanneganti, Commissioner, School Education, AP, was pleasantly surprised with the positive response at these meetings. "Quickly and efficiently, we shared the plan of action, kept the procurement system transparent and things were good to go," says the scholar from Harvard Kennedy School, adding that, "the kind of emotional and social connectivity the NRIs feel after doing their bit for the development of schools in their village is wonderful." In the future, they are also aiming to set up computer labs, convert digital classrooms into virtual ones, NRIs mentoring students and teachers, and other such activities.
The ones who went away
Smile, please: The president of TANA, Satish Vemana
Satish Vemana, the president of the 3,000-member strong Telugu Association of North American (TANA), was thrilled at the idea of giving back to his motherland. And with absolutely no apprehensions, the association, till date, has donated about one million dollars towards starting digital schools in Andhra Pradesh, including his own school in Rajampet, Kadapa. The association alone has helped about 1,000 schools. Additionally, they are in the process of donating one lakh backpacks to students. "I've personally visited several schools from January to July 2017 and was very happy with the response. The students and teachers seemed so happy. In fact, I still receive postcards from students back home," says the 47-year-old who has been an entrepreneur for the last 20 years. Going forward, they want to build toilets in schools and provide drinking water facility. "Let's try and make all the high schools in AP digital. TANA is ready to offer more support," he concludes passionately.
Stand alone: Vamsi Paladugu, an individual donor for AP Janmabhoomi
There were many individual donors too like Vamsi Paladugu from California, who had made up his mind to donate towards this cause after attending the initial event organised by Komati. He did try donating through other avenues earlier, but AP Janmabhoomi proved to be seamless. "Timely updates were given. The point of contact here was proactive; I knew exactly what was happening from donation to execution," says the 39-year-old. He has helped digitise classrooms in four schools in the Krishna district and another two are in the pipeline.
One of the coordinators from the US, Rajnikanth Kakarla, who is from the Prakasam district, lauds the effort of NRIs, but feels that sometimes many of them are caught up with their own job and family. "We need to invest more time," he says.
New entrant: President of Albany Andhra Association, Venkata Srinivas Nidamanuri
Albany Andhra Association had tried digitising classrooms on their own but had trouble finding vendors, installing equipment and keeping track of how schools were using the programme. Since they heard about AP Janmabhoomi, they started collaborating with them and have found the process to be seamless. They started by helping around 10 schools and received excellent feedback. “In the second phase we sponsored 50 schools in and around West Godavari,” says the president, Venkata Srinivas Nidamanuri, who helped digitise his own 160-year-old school — Hindu College, Guntur. In June this year, he even had the chance to visit Hindu College and inaugurate the digital classroom. Needless to say, he is very happy with the overall progress of the initiative.
They are in charge
Look here: A class in the digital classroom in progress
M Ananda Raju, the headmaster of MPUP School, Naganathana Halli, Kurnool district, feels that digital classrooms are making children more curious and even resulting in an increase in attendance. "Students ask a lot of questions in these classrooms which makes it very interactive," he shares. This school has 244 students who are mostly from backward and tribal areas.
Raju even ensures that on days of national importance, like Gandhi Jayanthi, special classes in these digital rooms are held. He believes in making the most of the digital classrooms and to that effect, has even started an adult literacy programme where parents can learn too. "We also regularly send updates to parents via WhatsApp which keeps them clued in," he says. The headmaster of MPPS Vommavaram School, Visakhapatnam district, Ramesh Babu screens educational movies of Alluri Seetharama Raju and others for 148 of his students and six teachers. This is the same school that won an award from the Design For Change organisation, a global movement of students driving change in their communities. "We are very happy with how the digital classrooms are supporting our students," he says.
Since December 2016, about 300 interns have worked on the Digital Literacy Project mentored by Pradeep Karuturi, a consultant for the project, who feels that, "It's about connecting NRIs to their villages, to their roots. It's about starting a bond"
Sudha Rani, the headmistress of Zilla Parishad High School, Madipadu, Guntur district opines that it is particularly more helpful to slow learners. "Even they feel interested to learn and their academic performance is certainly getting better," she says.
All ears: The content used in the digital classrooms is taken care of by the education department
The students are certainly very happy with the digital classrooms is what we learn from 14-year-old Niteesh Chandra from Zilla Parishad High School, Nidamanuru, Krishna district. "It makes the learning process very easy, happy and effective. It is also eco-friendly as it does not involve textbooks or papers," he says, adding, "I am lucky to have a digital classroom in my school. When I grow up, I will help other schools get digital classrooms as well.”
P Rajitha, a class X student of Zilla Parishad High School, Nidadavolu, West Godavari district is of the same opinion. "I actually find it very motivating and it helps me grasp the concepts more easily," says Rajitha, who wants to be an engineer when she grows up.
On top: Anil Swarup, the Union School Education Secretary
"Technology is a game changer and AP Janmabhoomi is demonstrating this on-ground," says Anil Swarup, the Union School Education Secretary. "And because they are working with the State Government, they are able to scale up their practices, which is possible when you work with the government," he adds, stating that he has been to a school with a digital classroom in Vijayawada to understand and check the working of AP Janmabhoomi, after which he is assured that they are doing a very good job.
Talking about education in general, Swarup feels that the focus should also be on the teacher. "Unless we improve our teachers, technology cannot help us. It, at most, can be an enabler," he states. Ask him his vision for education and he states, "We endeavour to provide every child quality education and equip the teacher accordingly."
For more on AP Janmabhoomi, click on apjanmabhoomi.org