New Delhi: In remote tribal areas, where access to technology has long lagged, a big change is brewing in some schools. The Union Ministry of Tribal Affairs is all set to introduce artificial intelligence (AI) in the curriculum of several Eklavya Model Residential Schools, giving tribal students, many of them first-generation learners, the same opportunity as their urban counterparts.
To start with, the AI curriculum of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will be rolled out for class 8-9 students in 54 out of the total 401 Eklavya schools in about two months, ThePrint has learnt.
Eklavya Model Residential Schools (EMRSs) were established in the 1990s to provide secondary and senior secondary education to tribal students in areas with a tribal population of at least 50 percent, with a minimum strength of 20,000 people.
The schools were created with the goal of ensuring that tribal students have access to the same educational opportunities as their urban peers, and to promote the overall development of tribal communities. There are presently 1,05,609 tribal students studying in EMRSs across India.
Currently, the National Education Society for Tribal Students (NESTS), under the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, is working on mapping the curriculum and preparing modules with examples and activities with which students can relate to and understand the concept of AI.
However, speaking on condition of anonymity, NESTS officials told ThePrint that while the 54 schools selected for the pilot phase are equipped with computers, the real challenge will be to introduce the courses across all the Eklavya tribal schools. Many, especially those in interior areas, still do not have adequate IT infrastructure or connectivity.
Susree Sangita Rath, a teacher coordinator at EMRS Siriguda in Odisha, highlighted some of the typical practical hurdles confronting remote schools.
“The students are really excited to learn about computers and coding, but they don’t get enough time to practice as we have very few new computers. The old ones can’t be used. The other problem is poor internet connectivity. These students do coding using code.org. But when the internet connection is not available, they can’t use the computer lab,” she explained.
To address these challenges, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has partnered with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to establish smart classrooms in EMRSs and provide improved internet connectivity.
“We are making all possible efforts to address the problem. There is demand for computers from schools too, which we are looking into,” a senior NESTS official told ThePrint.
From coding basics to AI
The introduction of AI to Eklavya students is a major step in a broader initiative to enhance technology education in these schools.
In January of this year, foundational coding classes were initiated for students in grades 6 to 8 across the 54 Eklavya schools, said the NESTS official quoted earlier.
To facilitate this, NESTS collaborated with the Amazon Future Engineer (AFE) programme — global company Amazon’s initiative to provide computer science education for underserved communities — and its partner NGO, the Learning Links Foundation.
“We plan to introduce the AI curriculum in these schools for classes 8-9 in the next two months, as students here are now familiar with coding and the concepts of virtual reality,” a second NESTS official said.
Starting this year, CBSE introduced an AI curriculum for students in classes 6 to 8, aimed at fostering the necessary skills and mindset for the field.
However, in tribal schools, NESTS officials are adapting this curriculum to ensure it is more relatable and accessible to students who have just been introduced to the basics of computers.
“It is important for these students to know about the latest technology. We find that these kids, some of whom have seen a computer for the first time in their schools, are curious to know more, which is a very good thing. The response to our initial programme on coding has been very encouraging,” said the first NESTS official.
Hands-on activities, games, 20-hr ‘code-a-thon’ course
Education nonprofit Learning Links Foundation, working under AFE, is collaborating with NESTS to map the AI curriculum and prepare modules that can be taught in Eklavya schools.
“We are emphasising the experiential rather than theoretical learning of the technology to make it easy for students to understand,” said Nityanand Channur, AFE programme manager at Learning Links Foundation, speaking to ThePrint.
“We have mapped the CBSE AI curriculum and against each teaching module, we have recommended a set of hands-on activities to better the understanding of concepts,” he added.
Channur explained that the curriculum will teach students about the latest technologies in AI, the process of developing algorithms, and how data is used to train machines to produce the desired output.
He noted that it would be easier to teach the children in the 54 schools about AI since they had already been taught some of the basics of computer science and coding. H
He added that students of classes 6-8 also underwent a 20-hour “code-a-thon” course to get them up to speed on coding fundamentals.
Sunakshi Razdan, regional lead for AFE at Learning Links Foundation, told ThePrint: “We first held a two-day training session for computer teachers and those in charge of computer labs in these schools. The kids were taught coding using code.org, an open-source learning platform. We also held virtual classes for students to explain the concepts of coding using visual programming.”
To engage students, Channur said they were taught about the science behind computer games— which many were familiar with playing on digital devices.
“We adopted an approach of ‘consumption to creation’, which means explaining to them how the games, which they love to play, are developed using code. This is to get kids interested in coding. During the course, we taught them basics of programming such as what is an algorithm, sequencing, conditions etc., and how these can be observed in simple day-to-day activities,” he said.
In code.org, there are visual blocks for each activity, said Razdan. “Students just have to drag and drop the visual codes per their project, such as segregation of waste into plastic and kitchen waste, and run it to see how it will work,” she explained.
Channur said that it is important to use the students’ native language while teaching and to localise examples so that these could be easier to relate with.
“For instance, if we have to ask them to develop a step-by-step code for how to prepare a drink, then we don’t give an example of a milkshake. We ask them to develop the code for preparing a local drink which they like,” he added.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
Source: The Print