Amazon Alexa turns English teacher for schoolchildren in this remote Kerala village

By George Poikayil| Express News Service | Published: 29th December 2019 05:51 AM
Students of Government LP School Cheriyakkara are all ears to Alexa | Express

CHERIYAKKARA (Kasargod): The little students of Government LP School at Cheriyakkara — a remote and pristine village in Kasaragod — have a new friend in school. The teachers brought Amazon’s Alexa to the school, stuffed it in a doll and presented it to the students. The chatty children circle Alexa and throw in question after question to Amazon’s smart speaker. “Alexa, can to make the sound of a dog,” asked Vaiga Sumeshan, a Class III student.

“Did you mean the bark of a dog,” replied Alexa before fetching the sound of dogs barking and howling from the internet. Their teacher, M Mahesh Kumar, who is listening to the banter, intervened. “Dogs bark. So next time ask how does a dog bark,” he tells Vaiga. It was the turn of Niranjana Rajesh, Vaiga’s classmate: “Alexa, can you make a Malayalam song?” “I did not catch that,” responded Alexa. 

Mahesh came in again. “Did you understand what Alexa said. She did not catch that. Catch also means understand,” he told Niranjana. Mahesh  — who won the national award for teacher this year — struck upon the idea of using Amazon’s Echo, the WiFi-connected smart speaker, to teach his children English. “We’re trying to tap the curiosity of children to teach them to speak in English. And Alexa is a great communicator,” he says.

When the teacher mooted the idea, his friend Sajin K, who works in Dell, Bangaluru, gifted Echo to the school. To make it personal, the teachers stuffed Alexa in a doll. “But now we are planning to dress her up in the school uniform to make her one among the students,” said Mahesh.The government school has a unisex uniform: green kurta and white pyjama. The first thing Alexa managed to do was help the children shed their inhibition in speaking in English. “She understands only English and the kids started speaking in English to get Alexa talking,” the teacher said.  

Cheriyakkara school becomes classic example of people’s participation

Aditya K V, a Class IV student, thought it was a good time to ask Alexa, “Who is Pinarayi Vijayan?” And Alexa began monotonously reading from Wikipedia. And immediately all the kids shouted: “Stoooop”.Alexa is innovative and an engaging pedagogy tool to teach English, says Ratheesh Kaliyadan, education expert in the state government’s Comprehensive Educational Rejuvenation Programme. He came from Thiruvananthapuram to take stock of the progress made by the school.

The school was on the verge of closure three years ago. The residents and teachers came together to revive it with a 21-point programme which included developing infrastructure and academia. And it worked. From just one student in Class I four years ago, it has 46 students in the school now.This year, all the students of Class I could read their English and Malayalam textbooks in just six months of schooling.

The school in Kayyur-Cheemeni grama panchayat also educates parents --- mostly daily-wage labourers --- to go hi-tech, encouraging them to use the school’s interactive app to monitor their child’s progress.
It uses the Quizzino platform to conduct paperless examinations. “The exams can be conducted by parents at home and they will get results and elaborate feedback instantly,” said Mahesh.

The app has objective-type questions and tougher questions will open up only if the easier ones are answered. “It helps teachers understand how much a child knows and how we can help her,” he said. Kaliyadan is super impressed. “Cheriyakkara school has become a classic example of how people’s participation and dedicated teachers can lift the fortunes of public education,” he said.

The school was on the verge of closure three years ago. The residents and teachers came together to revive it with a 21-point programme which included developing infrastructure and academia
From just one student in Class I four years ago, it has 46 students in the school now. It encou-rages parents to use the interactive app

Tags : Kerala education Amazon Alexa English teacher Kasaragod

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