These tech centres by IIT Madras are teaching kids in rural Tamil Nadu about computers

The officials said that there are plans to launch more such Rural Technology Centres near government schools this year
Students taking the training programs at a Rural Technology Centre established by IIT Madras Pravartak Foundation and Asha For Education (Pic: IIT M)
Students taking the training programs at a Rural Technology Centre established by IIT Madras Pravartak Foundation and Asha For Education (Pic: IIT M)

The Indian Institute of Technology Madras Pravartak Technologies Foundation is partnering with Asha For Education to launch Rural Technology Centres to take computer science literacy to remote and rural government school students in Tamil Nadu.

Two Asha-IIT Madras Pravartak Rural Technology Centres were inaugurated on February 11 at Kanakamma Chathram and Seethanjeri Villages of Tiruvallur District, located about 60 km from Chennai. The officials said that there are plans to launch more such Rural Technology Centres near government schools this year. 

The Department of Science and Technology, under its National Mission on Interdisciplinary Cyber-Physical Systems has funded IIT Madras to host the Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) for Sensor, Networking, Actuators and Control Systems (SNACS) area. IIT Madras Pravartak Technologies Foundation, has been established by IITM to host this TIH.

They aid that these centres will spread the knowledge of technology and its benefits to rural areas of Tamil Nadu. The centres will train students of Classes 9 to 12. IIT Madras Pravartak Technologies Foundation is providing financial support for this project with technical support being envisaged as well.

Dr V Kamakoti, Director, IIT Madras and IIT Madras Pravartak Technologies Foundation said, “IIT Madras is committed to working towards providing access to quality education and technology to students belonging to rural areas of our Country. The setting up of these two rural technology centres mark the beginning of our journey.”

Asha for Education is a worldwide action group formed to catalyse socio-economic change in India through the education of underprivileged children. It has been working with Elementary and Middle Schools since 2015 to educate students in both digital literacy and computational thinking. The group uses advanced block-based programming tools such as ‘Scratch’ from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and ‘Blockly’ from Google to teach programming.

Rajaraman Krishnan from Asha For Education said that the tools are so easy to use that the middle school students have mastered these in a few weeks and shown tremendous enthusiasm in learning them. "Asha expects to build on this expertise by using proven methodologies like the curriculum from ‘’ that have been used and tested in other countries successfully. We also intend to use IIT’s experience and expertise in quality technical education,” he said. “We wanted to open the centres close to higher secondary schools so that the students will be able to attend courses in our centres in the evening after their school hours. Most children do not get any opportunity to learn computer science and other technologies. Even if they do it is taught without any hands-on experience with computers. We hope to provide these with our rural technology centres,” added Krishnan.

R Divya, a teacher from Asha For Education who works at the Rural Technology Centre in Seethanjeri, Tiruvallur District said that the Rural Technology Centres are a great opportunity for rural students to learn computers. "The students are eager and showing a lot of interest. We hope more such centres will be opened,” she added.

T Gunasekar, Headmaster, Government Higher Secondary School, Kanakamma Chathiram, Tiruvallur District said, “This school is located in rural area that mainly educates students from weaker sections. This initiative to educate students on computers is of great benefit.”

KG Muralidhar, Headmaster, Government Higher Secondary School, Seethanjeri, Tiruvallur District added that the free training program in computer science being offered through Rural Technology Centres will help students develop their knowledge of computers
The students too were excited about the centres and what they can offer. K Barkavi, a student of Class 9 at Government Higher Secondary School, Kanakamma Chathiram said, “We used to study computers earlier in our middle school. We missed the learnings and lost touch. Now, we are able to again learn computers.”

R Kavitha, a student of Class 10 of the same school said that the centres are helping them gain new experiences. “We were eager from a very young age to learn about computers but never had the chance to do so till now. This Centre is helping us learn about computers. We are having lots of new experiences through these laptops,” Kavitha added.

Based on the assessment of students’ levels, the Asha Team is planning to start two courses on Basic Digital Literacy and Basics of Programming. While instructions will be provided for two-thirds of the course, one-third of the course will be left for project work where the children create a presentation or software program of their own.

These two basic courses will be followed up with other courses on Animation, webpage design, and hardware based programming, among others. We will also eventually bring in more advanced technologies like drones, 3-D printing, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence, among others, to the children.

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