Mobile School, India

Mobile School, India

Providing place-conscious pedagogy to people living in poor-outskirts in India.

The project was commissioned by a Finnish NGO – Asian Green Megacities, with research support provided by Aalto University and Helsinki University. I was a part of the research team in Aalto University (The Land Use Planning and Urban Studies group - YTK, working with Dr. Aija Staffans. I was involved in combining pedagogic solutions and the 'local context' to create a pedagogic approach that was steeped in local sensibilities, while keeping in mind the global situation. The first step in the research involved understanding the education system in India and its perception amongst students, teachers and parents alike. At the onset of the project, I made a presentation to display how the education system in India works that can be viewed below.

I conducted a preliminary ethnographic study with students aged 10-14 years in 3 schools in Ahmedabad, India to understand the education system, as well to interact with the students and their surrounding influences. The entire study was conducted in Gujarati language, since all the participants were fluent in Gujarati. This study involved interviewing the principal of the school and 5-6 parents, teachers and students from each school. Additionally, we made a pack of design probes such as an A3 drawing sheet, colour pencils, oil pastels, graphite pencil and erasers for students from one grade (about 20 students from each school). They were asked to draw and/or write an essay about 'A day in my life', to understand how they spent their day, the support they required after school, and external influences that affected their education. It was a way of knowing the 'place-conscious' component of the pedagogic solution; and was an excellent exercise to understand the general environment in which these students lived.

From this preliminary study, I analyzed the data and classified it into 6 themes. These themes were very helpful in identifying key factors that students, parents and teachers consider when they think about education. However, I also realised that the students', parents' and teachers' lack of exposure to the 'outside' world, technology and the knowledge of better alternatives prevented them from critically commenting on what must change about the education system. Moreover, the use of technology in the schools was rather cursory, instead of it being an important pedagogic component. After the analysis, however, we realized that we needed a more detailed insight about students and their environment to build correlations between them. Therefore, I conducted detailed interviews with 6 students and their parents from the same three schools in Ahmedabad, which encompassed detailed insights in their socio-economic condition, family background, perception of education, the desire and ability to continue to study, etc.

Mind map representing themes and sub-themes found from the preliminary study after conducting analysis

I analyzed these detailed interviews to find that there was a vast difference in students’ ability to learn and on their behavioural aspects, based on which school they were from. From our enhanced understanding of the needs of the students and the social and cultural context in which they lived, we designed the premises for the learning material for the Mobile School pilot. The premises took into consideration the local context as well the pedagogical inputs that were important to design a place-conscious pedagogical approach.

Diagram representing the premises for the Mobile School's learning material

Simultaneously, I visited India with our client to decide on the site to build the pilot school to test the concept. After looking at 3 sites near New Delhi, India, we decided that the pilot project should be built at Kudikheda Village, located at a distance of approximately 80 kms. from New Delhi. Taking into consideration the location and the pedagogical approach we had formulated, we designed a book for 1st grade students titled ‘My Village and I’ (My village and I.jpg). This book was submitted to our client for further development of the project, and to establish the pilot project in India.

Mind map representing the structure of the 1st grade book titled 'My Village and I

Keywords: contextual design, problem solving, ethnography, design probes, a day in my life, education, place-conscious pedagogy, pedagogic approach, pedagogic learning material, mind map, ICT, base of the pyramid business model, sustainability, poor outskirts, India, Kudikheda, service design, urban planning