On the open-source highway to spread literacy - The New Indian Express

On the open-source highway to spread literacy

Published: 03rd October 2011 12:30 AM

Last Updated: 16th May 2012 03:16 PM

This duo believes in spreading and promoting education among school students and engineering aspirants. Their aim is to provide informative and interactive education free of cost. Ankur Goenka and Vishal Singh, set up GetVidya, a non-profitable organisation, in 2007 when they were students at IIT. They now have 47,000 registered users on their website, their software have reached out to 24 schools, four non-proft organisations and 13 autism centres in Pune, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Secunderabad, Panchkula, Hyderabad and New Delhi. “We have helped JEE/AIEEE aspirants, created programs for underprivileged schools and developed tools for autistic children. There is a natural correlation among all these — we wanted to make a difference,” says a passionate Singh, the 28-year-old co-founder of GetVidya.

The beginning

Singh, an alumni of IIT-Bombay, graduated with a dual mechanical engineering degree in 2008. “I had gained enough knowledge during my three years of teaching engineering aspirants in coaching centres in Mumbai. Also during my internship in Germany, I taught mathematics to students. That’s where the idea took seed — I thought of creating something online which could benefit students.”

Singh got in touch with his school buddy Goenka and sounded out the concept to him. “I wanted to do something for the society. Vishal and I brainstormed on multiple ideas on how to deliver study material to them. Then we decided to start a portal for students prepping up for IIT-JEE and AIEEE,” says 25-year-old Goenka, who is an alumni of IIT-BHU.

Singh says, “We provided free study material, online coaching, free tests/quizzes, information on books and exams along with answering doubts of young students from our hostel rooms. We became pretty popular among hundreds of IIT-JEE and AIEEE aspirants.” The co-founders who have made GetVidya their life fund their project out of their pockets and do not pay the volunteers of now.

Around mid-2010, the GetVidya team decided to expand and Kiddo was born. “The penetration of the internet was still comparatively low and did not reach the have-nots. We also realised that a lot of young students, especially from poor families drop out of schools because of lack of interest — it’s easy to lose interest in the face of adversity,” says Singh.

Kiddo

Singh, who is currently working in a multinational company moved from Chandigarh to Bangalore to join Goenka and reach more students. They surveyed the government and private schools in the city to assess what students lacked. They developed an interactive software called Kiddo. It helps teachers create innovative quizzes on their subjects. This in turn generates curiosity and excitement among students, thus helping them learn their subject better.

The duo first approached Kannada Banaswadi Government School, Bangalore. “We intended to support the school with our software and had planned to train the teachers on how best to use the program and create their own quizzes,” recounts Goenka. “We figured out that they have six computers in the lab and three more in the office. This was a relief for us because if they didn’t have any machine we would not have been able to help them. The school teachers were interested in using the software but there was a problem — most of them were computer illiterate. We were disheartened at first. Later we decided to teach the teachers basic computer skills.”

Kiddo leads to teacher training

The GetVidya team has conducted 10 training sessions so far and the progress has been dramatic. “These teachers, most of them ladies in the age group of 30-40, have a lot of energy. We started from a point when some of the teachers had problems in putting their hands on the keyboard, some were afraid to hold the mouse and some were amazed to see their name on Notepad. We made good progress in two months by covering all the basic functions such as typing alphabets, numerals, special characters, cut, copy, paste, undo, creating a new file, moving a file and creating folders,” says Singh. “Our team members continue to train the teachers on weekly basis. Every week a new skill set is added to the teachers of this school. As the teachers are becoming proficient in basic skills we are adding more advanced computer skills to their training programme. The teachers have already become conversant with Kiddo, but we don’t want to stop this journey. We have promised ourselves that we’ll take them to a level where they can do all the regular activities involving computers.”

Adds Vijayalakshmi, a teacher from Banaswadi school, “GetVidya people helped us make computer training a priority in school. Not only did they help us learn Kiddo but also went a step further to teach us other basic computer skills. Some teachers who have never touched a computer are now it with ease.”

Autisto

In late 2010, the team came up with another software, Autisto — it consists of only images/sounds and animations. “Autisto was a breakthrough. It filled a gap,” says Goenka.

It all began when one of GetVidya’s volunteers approached the Development Centre for Children with Autism-Hyderabad with Kiddo. Dr Rajashekhar of the centre declined the software as it didn’t cater to autistic children. “After hearing this, I travelled to Hyderabad to find out the reason for rejection. I met Dr Rajashekhar and asked about the needs of austistic children — that’s the story behind Austisto,” says Singh.

Autisto, as the name indicates, seeks to help autistic kids. They can’t read easily and hence need to be taught with images and sound. “GetVidya team visited us with an intent to provide their learning software but it did not suit the needs of our children. We worked together to come up with another version of the software that was specifically targeted at autistic children,” says Dr Rajashekhar. “We used the concept of flash cards to develop the software and made it more interactive by adding animations and sound. This appeals more to the children and has incredibly reduced the tedious task of preparing and managing cumbersome flash cards. As we create our own content, we can make learning very personal for the users.”

GetVidya distributes Autisto free of cost to autism centres and schools. As the software is open-source, the teacher has the flexibility to add any image or sound. This makes learning very empathetic. The teachers can put images related to the kids’ parents, siblings and home — this will help kids learn faster. Autisto is available in English, Marathi, Kannada and Punjabi. “This is an excellent generalisation tool. The software has a flexibility factor and I can tailor it for each child. Autisto is extremely user-friendly,” says Kamini Lakhani of Support for Autistic Individuals, Mumbai.

The team

The GetVidya team consists of 24 members. They get volunteers through word -of-mouth or posters that are put up on most of the IIT campuses. “Singh shared his idea and it sounded very interesting because I was also involved in coaching MBA applicants at that time. There are many similarities in CAT and JEE preparation and I was excited to join the team for the same reason,” says Vikas Dubey, one of the volunteers. “My interest arose when GetVidya started to develop software for free distribution. I was thrilled about Autisto. I immediately decided to distribute this software in Mumbai,” he added.

GetVidya’s motto is to create a positive difference in the lives of students through education. “For me, it works in multiple ways. I feel fulfilled because I am able to do something for others. I get a chance to develop emotional intelligence, which I think is very important. Lastly, the nature of work helps me add more depth to my character and build long lasting relationships,” says Singh.

Enriching experience

Both Singh and Goenka have full-time jobs in MNCs. They dedicate their evenings, nights, weekends and holidays to GetVidya. “For more than four years, I have been beta testing my interest in India’s economic development along with a full-time job. I have made personal and professional sacrifices to bring GetVidya here. I am glad I did that because now I know where my passion lies. This is my true calling and the thousands of people whose lives we have improved testify for it. I am in love with the work I do,” says  Singh with a sense of accomplishment.

Goenka adds, “The reason we could empathise with the underprivileged is because we have seen it closely ourselves. When we were preparing for JEE, we couldn’t afford to pay for coaching classes. This was the reason why Singh initially joined the Airforce (He left it within a year and joined IIT). So we know how expensive and difficult JEE is and we don’t want others to go through the same struggle. Moreover, this work is fantastic. I get to meet new people all the time. I influence their lives positively. I learn and enjoy each step. This is more fulfilling than any other job.”

Future plans

The team plans to automate more user-friendly software, and also reach more people. The team can be reached at www.getvidya.com.

—edex@newindianexpress.com

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