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Culture Connect

Anita Bora | March 07, 2003 13:35 IST

Under a new project called Culture Quest, school students in New York and New Delhi will soon be exchanging notes

With the start of the school term, a bunch of school children in New Delhi and New York will connect online under a project called Culture Quest
. This endeavour aims at integrating technology into classrooms, benefiting both teachers and students. The project is being funded by the New York based American Indian Foundation (AIF).

In New York, coordinating the project are Dr Sheila Gersh, Rhoda Peltzer and Professor Ravi Kalia of the Center for School Development, City College of New York (CCNY). Dr Gersh has already been associated with similar projects earlier, training teachers in New York and in countries around the globe (Japan, Australia, Sweden) to integrate the Internet into classroom instruction and to develop collaborative online projects.

Since 1988, schools in New York have been doing projects with the UK, Sweden, Ghana, Germany, Austria, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, France, Slovenia and now India. Students have undertaken projects on a variety of topics including folk tales, comparison of weather, visitor guides to cities, problem solving (math) and newsletters, informs Dr Gersh.

Professor Kalia found out about Culture Quest from his colleague Norman Shapiro, who has initiated similar projects in countries like Japan. He felt Indian schools could become natural partners in this effort because of their familiarity with English. He says: "It could provide the much needed global exposure to Indian schools to prepare tomorrow's leaders in politics, business and education. Government schools are particularly starved in this respect."

The project dovetails with Delhi and India's efforts to bridge the digital divide, he adds.

Dr Gersh informs that they are working with 35 teachers from 12 schools. "We are looking for schools that have teachers with access to computers and the Internet."

On the Delhi front, the effort is being coordinated by Dr Janaki Rajan of the State Council for Education, Research and Training (SCERT). They are concentrating on government schools and 10 Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas have been chosen to participate. Teachers have been carefully selected for their motivation and commitment. SCERT has been involved with other technology projects including SITE, CLASS, School TV (Doordarshan) and BBC Micros.

Dr Rajan says the objective of the project is to "look at ourselves through the eyes of the people on the other side." The project aims to reduce the dependency on prescribed books as the only source of knowledge by encouraging inquiry-based learning. Under the project, students and teachers "will search for information together."

Students will be connected via email and a project discussion forum. Teachers around the world are being encouraged to use a free child-safe email like epals.com says Dr Gersh. "Exchanges will be monitored by classroom teachers and project staff for the discussion forum. We are hoping that teachers and students gain a better understanding of another culture via their online communications and research. We are also hoping to have video conferences using Netmeeting."

"Students and teachers in New Delhi and New York will work together to create projects and serve as informants to each other," adds Professor Kalia.

Indian students will get a chance to learn more about American culture, how they live, what games they play, etc. Students there will also learn more about themselves. For example, a child in Delhi wanted to know about America's national bird. The American students didn't know either. "So we all looked for it together," says Dr Rajan.

Of course, it has not been all smooth sailing. Professor Kalia pursued the idea for three years until he finally got the support of Delhi's CM, Sheila Dixit and also Education Secretary, Gita Sagar, and Director of Schools, Rajindra Kumar.

Dr Rajan says they were initially met with interested but ‘disbelieving' principals; teachers who did not want to stay after hours; lab-in-charge, keeping the lab locked, in case ‘something' breaks but allowing an ISDN modem worth Rs 18,000 to be eaten by white ants... "But we are getting our act together here too," he claims.

Preparations began with a month long training in September 2002 at SCERT for Culture Quest teachers who handled computers, got email ids and did multimedia presentations to get over any apprehension they had. A five-day workshop on culture was organised to familiarise teachers with American culture, while their counterparts held an ‘India Day' in New York. This was followed by a 5-day workshop in January, conducted by Dr Gersh and Rhoda Peltzer in Delhi.

According to Dr Gersh, efforts are on to expand this project all over the world, to many other schools and colleges outside the US. The AIF is also replicating the project in 10 more typical government schools.

The students are expected to connect when school starts in April and again in October-December 2003. Of course, finding convenient timings will be a challenge. When children here are writing exams, they are in term time in the US. When they are holidaying, the new session begins here. "We will work on it soon," promises Dr Rajan.

The aim is to put the project together in one year. By the second year, it should be ready to expand to South Asia. And by the third year, SCERT would know as much about technology and Culture Quest as New York, according to Dr Rajan.

He ends on an enthusiastic note: "Then we initiate Culture Quest, our style, with whatever country we want - Africa, Australia, Istambul, Bali, Cyprus, Greenland, Chile, Cheychenya... wherever our children want to go!"

 



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