Exploring computing education in rural schools in India

Earlier this year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation supported a University of Cambridge team of two researchers, Dr Maximilian Bock and Aftab Jalia, in a pilot project exploring the possibilities of providing computing access and education in rural schools in India. Working with local organisations and using an adaptable three-day programme, they led two workshops in June 2014 introducing students and teachers to computing with the Raspberry Pi. The workshops used specially designed electronics kits, including Raspberry Pis and peripherals, that were handed over to the partner organisations.

Karigarshala students connect Raspberry Pis and peripherals The first workshop took place at Karigarshala Artisan School, run by Hunnarshala Foundation in Bhuj, Gujarat; the attendees were a group of 15-to-19-year old students who had left conventional education, as well as three local instructors. The students started off with very little experience with computers and most had never typed on a keyboard, so a session introducing the keyboard was included, followed by sessions on programming, using the Raspberry Pi camera module and working with electronics.

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Karigarshala students mastering hardware control of an LED via the Raspberry Pi GPIO

Students chose to spend their evenings revisiting what they had learned during the day, and by the end of the course all the students could write programs to draw shapes, create digital documents, connect electronic circuits, and control components such as LEDs using the Raspberry Pi.

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

Chamoli students practise on their own using a TV as a monitor

The second workshop welcomed six- to twelve-year-old pupils of the Langasu Primary School in the remote Chamoli district, Uttarakhand, along with three of their teachers. This younger group of students followed a programme with more focus on activities featuring immediate feedback — for example, Sonic Pi for live-coding music — alongside programming and electronics tasks. As they learned, students soon began teaching other students.

In an Ideas Competition held at the end of the workshop, entries reflected students’ engagement with the Raspberry Pi as a device with which to build solutions: an inverter system to deal with frequent power outages, a weather station that gives warnings, a robot to assist with menial chores.

The Cambridge team’s “Frugal Engineering” approach, delivering computing education without the need for elaborate infrastructure, proved very successful in both schools. Hunnarshala Foundation has decided to integrate the Raspberry Pi into its vocational training curriculum, while students at Langasu Primary School will not only carry on learning with Raspberry Pis at school but will be able to borrow self-contained Raspberry Pi Loan Kits to use at home. The Cambridge team remains in touch with the schools and continues to provide off-site support.

September 2014 and February 2015 will see the team build on this successful pilot with induction workshops in three new schools, as well as follow-up visits to evaluate the use of Raspberry Pi in past project sites and to provide support and resources for expanding the programmes.

Edited to add: you can now visit this project’s website to find out more!

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