History of Ashoka Mala Computer Center
Mr Wickramasingha Hettiarachchi, the Head Master of the small public school at Kadurupotiya found that the students in the village are not much interested in studies. They would rather help the parents in their farms. He was thinking of starting some novel ways of getting the students interested in studies. He then contacted Mr Nandasiri Wanninayaka, the founder of Horizon Lanka Foundation and asked if the Foundation could be of any help. Mr Wickramasingha’s idea was to get some English books from the Foundation. But Mr Wanninayaka thought otherwise. He was of the view that a computer will be more exciting than books.
After lengthy discussions on how the PC would be used in the village, Horizon Lanka Foundation donated a used Pentium II computer to Kadurupitiya. This is how Kadurupitiya got the first PC to the village. It was the first time that the students and the villagers saw a computer. This made the students come back to school for studies.
Having heard of this miracle – a used PC changing a big difference in this little hamlet – LearnAid in Kuwait donated 2 more used PCs. Later they donated a brand new PC as well.
Information and Communication Agency of Sri Lanka heard this success story through Mr Wanninayaka and they chipped in by providing more PCs.
Since the computer project started to expand, it was shifted to an independent place in the village. Already built small room has been temporarily donated by the government to run the project. Project was named as Ashoka Mala Computer Center. This is said to be the area which legendary Prince Saliya and his sweetheart Ashoka Mala have spent their life in olden days.
By October 18, 2006 ICTA provided internet access as well to the project.
How I taught to the village kids in Mahavilachchiya.
I found the methodology I learnt in the training workshops didn’t suit to the village kids and I had to try my own way of teaching. Following the lessons with the school textbooks was, in my view, frustrating the kids since the standard of the books was too advanced for them. I found it necessary to make them feel relaxed, and find the subject interesting so that they themselves become inquisitive.
For a start, I took few weeks to teach them cleanliness and the importance of representing themselves in an orderly manner to others. Within a short time they understood my message and appeared in pure white school uniforms looking very pleasant.
Since the kids haven’t had an English teacher for years, I had to start with the basics of English and with new copy books to practice writing. They became so interested so much so that each morning my desk was covered with a heap of books to be corrected.These books were demanded back by the end of the day. The kids simply could not understand that a rest and food was one basic requirement that was necessary for me.
They had their own learning technique in which they thought out the sentence in Singhalese and wrote it using English letters. Instead of writing “My name is Nadeeka.”, a kid would write, “Mage nama Nadeeka.” Still I didn’t want to discourage them and marked such writing as correct.
As time passed, the kids learnt to write more English words and started writing about themselves, their families, village, television programs, etc. Within the first year, we could publish the Horizon journal as a wallpaper and next year it became a beautifully handwritten journal. The kids were amazed to see the photocopied version of the journal. With the donated computer and the printer from the US embassy, they soon learnt how to typeset the essays they write with MS WORD. Since I allowed the same student who wrote the essay to typeset his or her essay, they wrote more and more essays everyday.
However, my resignation from the public school came as a hidden blessing, as we could shift to my home and start teaching under the trees in my garden. This meant a lot of freedom and we could start new projects. We could organize annual concerts, trips, computer room project, etc. here. We could choose the textbooks we wanted rather than adhering to the textbooks used in the public school. Still the kids managed to get good marks at the term tests at their public schools and national exams.
The rigorous discipline which were practiced in the public schools were eased in the Horizon as I felt it is not the punishment which mattered to discipline the kids but inculcating good attitudes and self control. The kids could question the teacher freely and they were taught to learn by sharing the knowledge. Even the weakest student could secure some decent marks at the term tests due to the teamwork culture that was introduced. Teams were formed and each team comprised clever and weak boys and girls. They were asked to meet after the school at their homes and finish the homework and assignments by helping each other. The whole team had to perform well and if one student’s performance wasn’t good enough, they knew that the whole team would fail. Still there were opportunities to show the personal talents of the kids; otherwise the clever students would have felt boring.
One thing that worries me is that the prevailing education system in the country cannot recognize the rural kids’ talents. Every kid has to go for the rat race when it comes to national exams such as Ordinary Level and Advanced Level and the village students who have no facilities that the children in the cities have, are asked to sit for the same exam and mostly the village kids lose at the end.
Entering a university has become a dream to the village kids and the parents cannot afford to send their children to schools with a better reputation in the cities. Even if a village kid gets a rare opportunity to go to a school in the city, their school of origin and the family background prevents them from enjoying a fair and equal treatment. So, as far as I think, the best thing is to teach the kids in the village at least till they are mature enough to understand the society and then find them opportunities to go to the cities for either higher education or jobs.
With the advent of the technology my teaching methods have been changed drastically and I will write about them soon in the blog.