Clarion Call

Lockdown Diaries

HIKAI, the first home-grown e-learning portal jointly launched by the Ramakrishna Mission School, Sohra and the Shillong Centre innovates in the sphere of online education.

Shillong in the 1920s experienced a cultural shift. Certain sections of the society saw the importance of an education that would be non-interfering in nature, i.e., the traditional belief system would co-exist in a modern world. Keeping this in mind, a few Khasi leaders invited the Ramakrishna Mission to work in the region.

It was then that Swami Prabhananda, popularly known as Ketaki Maharaj, first came to the hills in 1924. Shella was the first centre of the movement. He started 11 schools – Sohra (1931), Nongwar and Sohbar (1928) and Shillong (1933) among them. Within six months of his arrival, he learnt Khasi, wrote books and became popular with the people of the region. As of now, the Ramakrishna Mission has a presence in 45 locations in Meghalaya – 11,000 children study in 83 schools.

A few notable alumni – G.G. Swell, B.B. Lyngdoh and Donkupar Roy, who studied at the school for a brief period, and was a member of the school committee.

Sunday Shillong spoke to Anuragananda Maharaj, secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission and principal of the Higher Secondary School, Sohra. Prakash Joshi, who led the four-member IT team in designing the portal gave a virtual tour of HIKAI, the online portal.

The launch of HIKAI in 2020 marked a new journey for the school. The portal aims to make education free for all students of Meghalaya. Apart from the schools run by the Mission, other schools can access this portal. The only catch – they should be affiliated to MBoSE.

HIKAI expands to Hybrid Interactive Knowledge Assimilation Initiative.

The Philosophy

Swami Vivekananda felt the importance of knowing an individual’s strengths. The focus of the Ramakrishna Mission schools is thus on total development where knowledge is not just limited to rote learning. The academic curriculum is prepared in a way where the child can express himself or herself. ‘Nurture’ is the keyword in these schools.

The monogram of the Ramakrishna Mission further points to this – broadly describing four types of human beings. The sun represents the intellectual type; the lotus embodies the emotional, artistic types; the water stands for the active hard-working type; and the snake, describes the questioning, rational type. Unifying these different elements is the Paramhansa (or the swan), depicting infinite perfection.

“Our teachers are tasked with finding out where a student can excel,” Maharaj says, adding, “Different competitions and cultural programmes are held for this purpose.” All of their schools are affiliated with MBoSE. Since they cater to the people living in the interior regions of Meghalaya, “shifting to CBSE does not make any sense”.

Apart from the usual curriculum, the school also runs vocational training or courses with a focus on employment opportunities for the economically vulnerable section of society. The students are given a stipend and full training.

About 45 women are supported through the weaving and tailoring section. Men are trained in carpentry, plumbing and automobile. The school has recently organised solar training workshops for unemployed diploma holders. They are also running a six-month long training in fashion design. The weaving course takes about 6-8 months. There is no fixed duration for these courses.

Pandemic is the Mother of Innovation

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ramakrishna Mission was involved with relief work, hoping that things would return to normal, in particular, where schools were concerned. When that did not happen, the teachers of the Sohra school became worried.

In Maharaj Anuragananda’s words, “What would happen to our children and their intellectual growth?” This question kept bothering them. Immediately after two months of intensive relief, they called the teachers with a plan to train them on how to make online content.

“Our mission is simple – let us work towards educational relief. All of our teachers are motivated to work to achieve this goal,” he says.

Given that many of the students come from poor families, the school has provided them with more than 800 tablets. Moreover, internet connectivity is an issue and rural children cannot afford smartphones. Online methods like Google Meet, therefore, are not pragmatic.

The school teamed up with the computer centre at the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Cultural Centre, Shillong for technical expertise. Meanwhile, the school provided support with manpower. The solution to the problem had to be practical. The ‘download’ option had to be there for videos so that children could take it in a pen-drive and learn with or without internet.

In Sohbar village, an intranet zone was created by installing a Wi-Fi tower within 500-metre radius. “Anyone can come within that radius and students can upload their assignments to or download resources from the HIKAI portal. The server is regularly updated by our person. It can work in any remote corner,” Maharaj Anuragananda says.

Where funding is concerned, no one has stepped forward to help the team. “We are spending a lot of money to keep our portal alive. The more data keeps on increasing, the more we have to tone our infrastructure,” he says.

How Does It Work?

Joshi gave a virtual tour of the portal (https://rkmhikai.online/). There are three distinct modes – the student, the teacher and the admin – each of these shows how the portal operates from a three-dimensional perspective. In addition, children can learn in both English and Khasi. In the future, the team plans to include other languages as well.

Joshi says, “HIKAI is extremely functional. You can see the class-wise performance of students in different subjects, including whether assignments have been checked. The tick mark shows whether an evaluation is done or whether marks have been entered. The colour coding makes it easier to navigate as well. Most importantly, it offers online education, free of cost.”

On the issue of monitoring the progress of its students, the Maharaj says, “The HIKAI portal is not dependent on Google or related services. A timetable is given to every class. Videos and assignment questions are uploaded for the students who then view and upload the same. Teachers have to constantly evaluate their work. All of us can see who has submitted their work on time. It’s a two-way interaction.”

They have created 22 studios on the campus to record the lectures.

Navigating around the portal, we got a few statistics – the total number of students is 8,619; total lectures stand at 5,728; total learning hours 1,31,542 and total assignments 27,725.

 

He adds, “We work in the pandemic mode; find solutions, not complain.” He stressed on how the immediate objective of educationists should be to reach out to families and persuade that the future of their children is at stake.

Government Response

Initially, the state government showed enthusiasm in HIKAI following an online presentation. But budget became “a constraint” later.

Maharaj Anuragananda observed a few things during the pandemic – people have reached out to each other, which shows the importance of humanity in moments of crisis; there is no proper framework for online teaching; the school wanted to hold an orientation course for their teachers, as part of their training, but the administration did not allow it, stating “go online”.

The school has been involved in relief work in COVID-hit villages and realised the importance of proper planning in the course of meeting the people. And the worst hit, are the schools catering to children from economically weaker families.

Where education relief is concerned, there seems to be a distinct apathy and the government needs to be proactive, whether by offering or supporting an online system. This is especially true for schools where students come from poor families and need support.

Key Takeaways

At the core of education relief, lies a pertinent question – how can schools simply go online when many teachers are not computer literate?

For a robust education system in Lockdown mode, a school-government interaction is the need of the hour. Are WhatsApp groups really a solution?

As Ramakrishna Mission is set to celebrate its centenary year, it is perhaps time to listen to the clarion call where digital education is concerned. Whether government or private, some sponsorship will sustain our state’s home-grown innovation – HIKAI.

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