Srinidhi looks every inch the serious, hard-working student she is known to be in school, peering into the Akshara team’s smartphone camera with mildly questioning eyes, a gentle sandalwood dot between slightly worried brows, three horizontal lines of vibhuti – sacred ash – across her forehead. One of the best students in class 4, she is fastidious, not resting till she figures out the last frontiers of her classwork. For the Government Higher Primary School in the village of Yaragera, Kushtagi block, Karnataka, she is an asset.
But, till the other day, Mathematics was not on Srinidhi’s priority list of subjects. A suppressive load held her back. “I have a fear of Mathematics,” she confesses. “Gradually with the App I am learning to be free of fear and I’m finding it interesting.”
The Building Blocks Learning App is capturing the imagination of children like Srinidhi in villages in Hoskote, Kushtagi and Mundargi blocks where it was pilot tested for a year. Not in all the villages and for all school going children, but a selected few, the number sizeable enough for a true picture of where to peg expectations. The pilot was a small, significant prelude – a putting out into the world before wider unveilings.
Building Blocks works on the lowest end martphone that spurs the understanding and learning of Mathematics without the traditional, intermediary devices of textbook, blackboard, notebook and pencil. That for children is a great unchaining, particularly in rural government schools, where change and reformist teaching do not usually make it through, though Akshara’s programmes manage to find a way in.
Building Blocks is making Mathematics simpler, more lucid, approachable, as opposed to being only aspirational, bestowing in children’s hands a fearless experience of those dreaded numbers and their mystifying interactions.
Ask any class 3 or 4 student in Akshara’s pilot if fear was anywhere a part of the Building Blocks equation and the answer is “No.” Almost 80% of the over 1500 participants felt a liberation with Building Blocks, delivered on an Akshara-provided smartphone, for two hours, twice a week. They developed a fluency with Mathematics, a fluidity, a direct connection, and crossing boundaries to the next higher concept was mere child’s play, not a problem of choppy waters and muddy uncertainties as before.
Srinidhi says, “The App is very good. I’m learning with joy. In the App I find addition and subtraction, big and small numbers, ascending and descending order numbers, and number expansion very easy.” This is from a student who had fundamental problems with Mathematics and rock-bottom struggles with simple addition and subtraction, competencies which by class 3 entry she should have acquired. “Division was so difficult,” she says. “It has become easy. But I have to learn some more.”
Srinidhi’s father, Devappa, is a repairer of light vehicles and electrical appliances and a borewell mechanic. Her mother, Syamala, is a volunteer at a women’s self-help group. Both in non-traditional occupations, both aware of trends and changing times. Both have a smartphone each in which they have downloaded Building Blocks. An active community member, Devappa is spreading the message at the school’s parents’ meetings, and tells the Akshara team, “This App is easy. It teaches in an entertaining way. It’s useful for all children to learn Mathematics. The games have a lot of variety. This is more than what we expected.”
The Sahus were on a train from Vishakhapatnam to Rayagada, out for a family function, a family of four – Pradeep Kumar Sahu is a businessman in Asansol; his wife, Padmavathi, a homemaker who also occasionally helps her husband at work; and their two sons, Durgaprasad (10) and Saiprasad (7), both students at the Delhi Public School (DPS), Asansol. Lipsa Bharati, Programme Manager, Ganitha Kalika Andolana (GKA), Akshara Foundation Odisha, happened to be on the same train and struck up a conversation with them. Akshara was testing Building Blocks at the time.
She introduced it to the two boys, in a bid to keep them engaged. Durgaprasad was more artistically inclined while Saiprasad was the math pro. Until that moment. Durgaprasad dived straight into a division sum in the App, though math is not his favourite subject. Lipsa observed that he enjoyed Building Blocks much more than Saiprasad, was able to do the sums one by one.
By the end of the ride, Durgaprasad said, “This is a better way of doing math, without all the tension it causes us.” For the few hours they were on the train, Durgaprasad was involved, taking on division with determination. He was amazed at the Fish in a Tank game – a Grade 3 concept. He had to distribute equally the nine purple-coloured fish swimming in the big tank to the three small tanks below. With all that to stimulate him, he exclaimed, “I had never thought of division in this way before.
The concept of division has suddenly become clear after the series of six games with Fish in a Tank. It’s really just equal distribution.” At that juncture, the final form of Building Blocks was still in the crucible, being moulded, and Lipsa could not give them the link just then, though the family was keen. Once Building Blocks was available on Google Play, the Akshara team got in touch with the Sahus who were only too excited to be able to download the app.
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