Mobiles and Muppets bring education to children in remote parts of India
Sashwati Banerjee is on a quest to harness the growth of mobile and television coverage in India to educate millions of rural and disadvantaged children. Managing Director of Sesame Workshop India, Ms Banerjee will be talking about her work as a keynote speaker at Mobile Learning Week (MLW), UNESCO’s flagship ICT-in-education conference which takes place from 7 to 11 March, 2016 at its Paris headquarters.
An annual UNESCO event, Mobile Learning Week brings together experts from around the world to share how affordable and powerful mobile technology can accelerate learning for all, particularly people living in disadvantaged communities.
Ms Banerjee’s educational mission is to create tailor-made and engaging content for programmes to educate and inform children using innovative delivery platforms including radiophones, smartphones, tablets and television.
Muppet characters prepare children for school and life
Galli Galli Sim Sim (the Indian name for Sesame Workshop) is a multiplatform initiative that uses the Muppet characters to diffuse information to help prepare children for school and life and enhance learning. The curriculum for the show focuses on literacy, numeracy, health and nutrition.
Ms Banerjee launched the organization, a subsidiary of the Sesame Street Workshop NGO in the United States, in order to meet the growing demand for high-quality pre-school education.
The project offers three types of digital content, audio visual TV feeds which can be hosted on low-end smartphones where there is connectivity, games and ebooks in local languages with simple instructions for children unfamiliar with using technology and radio content which can be picked up on radiophones in remote disconnected areas.
The TV programmes reach 30 million Indian children a year through the mediums of Hindi, Gujerati and Marathi. Four more languages will soon be added in South India. Print material is available in 9 languages and the games applications exist in Hindi and English.
Radio reaching thousands in remote areas
Radio broadcasts in specific areas are partnered with community radio reaches 1.5 million people, 200,000 of them children. Through the USAID All Children Reading project her content reaches 50,000 children in Maharashtra
Galli Galli Sim Sim also partners with non-profit government-run child-care centres where 95 per cent of the children are from low-income families. .
Connectivity is a huge challenge. “We are often working in areas where the only phone will be in the hands of the man of the house who is out all day. Children have little agency in such a situation so with funded projects we have sometimes given out devices but it is prohibitively expensive,” Ms Banerjee explains in an interview.
“In the Sixties parents never considered television as an education medium and that is where we are with mobile phones now. Parents must be taught about their usefulness. The challenges we face are a highly illiterate or neo literate population and dreadful bandwidth. It is no longer even an urban-rural divide. It is a rich-poor divide,” she added.
Government buy-in to bring project to scale
Ms Banerjee is clear on how best to take the project to scale: “What we need is government buy-in at a policy level especially as the government runs two large mobile service providers. Why not make that bandwidth available to help educate children?”
International events like UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week offer huge opportunities.
Ms Banerjee said: “The great thing about MLW is that is it an incredibly focused and specialized conference where amazing case studies can be shared and we can learn about fantastic innovative work. For me it is a big learning experience. Crucially it also brings together policy-makers.”
She will be appearing at the conference with a special guest in the form of Chamki, the Muppet role model for gender and equal access to schools for girl.
“Chamki is five years old and great fun and will be helping me to present our work,” she said.
This is the first interview in a series to highlight MLW speakers and their groundbreaking projects.
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