A famous African proverb states, “ If you educate a woman, you educate a nation.”
However, the proportion of girls who complete five years of primary schooling in India and are literate is 48 percent, much less than 92 percent in Nepal, 74 percent in Pakistan and 54 percent in Bangladesh. 1 This is a simple but powerful signal that India’s education system is under-performing.
Increasing female access to education has its known positive impact on community health, social and economic outcomes too. Each extra year of school gives women 20% additional income in adult life. However, empowering the girl child goes beyond the textbook.
This is why, Rinsa Perapadan, a post-graduate in Social Work from Nagpur University, along with a few friends co-founded Gyanada Foundation – a not-for-profit that creates better educational opportunities for Indian girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. They believe in unleashing the thinking capabilities of a child through creativity, rather than an educational system that is grade driven.
The Binary Story
Founded in 2013, their latest initiative The Binary Story empowers girls by introducing them to computer science. The initiative aims at boosting how children think, not what they think. By learning to program – a skill that many of their peers from private and urban schools do not possess – it boosts their confidence and interest in innovation.
The National Curriculum Framework of India in 2005 stated that computer science needed to be a part of every school curricula. However, the educational system has fallen short of this implementation. This is solely credited to the absence of teachers in the field. To fill in the gap, Gyanada Foundation initiated a Fellowship Program that enables young graduates and anyone interested to participate in their initiative and teach young girls to code.
Rinsa fiercely states ‘It is a myth that you need to have a computer science background in order to teach programming. It comes from pure passion and interest. As an Arts student, I started to learn knowing nothing about the field, and I am still learning with no trouble.”
Learning from Scratch
Gyanada Foundation initiates children to the world of programming and computer science with Scratch – a block-based, visual programming language designed and maintained by the Life Long Kindergarten group at MIT Media Labs. Through this platform, Binary Story teaches girls between the age group of 11-13 years basic programming skills, logic and systematic reasoning, problem-solving tactics, and enhanced communication skills. Understanding basic computer skills encourages clear communication, creative thinking and working collaboratively.
Before launching the program, the Binary Story team conducted a 6-month pilot run from January to June 2017. The sessions introduced basic computer science concepts through Scratch to 12 vernacular medium girls from underprivileged backgrounds. This enabled the team to measure how language may be a barrier in learning to code. But it didn’t pose as big a deterrent as they believed. The students enjoyed learning, coming up with new ideas and taking responsibility for their projects. The girls who graduated are now capable of following scripts and creating videos on Scratch.
Rinsa enlightens us that, “Most of these girls are under immense pressure from their families to earn money, and taking time off from the day to go to school is considered a waste of time. Low-income families who send their girls to private schools do not necessarily have a healthy neighbourhood. Under such circumstances, a grade-driven approach of teaching them is not the right path. Education or the process of learning needs to be a two-way street, where they enjoy absorbing information and applying it to real-life situations.”
The Power of Programming
The Foundation has seen a huge paradigm shift in the perception of education amongst these young girls and their enthusiasm stands as a strong testimony. They are free to build any project of their choice. Recently, a bunch of street children built a recorder that enables them to learn the correct pronunciation of English words.
The students have also been using their programming power to make subjects such as History that they find boring into interesting chapters. They make simple videos explaining a historic event or a common quiz that the whole class can play, making learning a truly fun process.
The Foundation has been tracking the overall progress of every girl – social, emotional, physical and cognitive – as this enables them to tailor the program better for each child’s needs. Currently working with 4 schools across Mumbai and 1 NGO, the Binary Story has been able to reach out to over 110 students. The Foundation aspires to set-up Innovation Labs in each school, and teach more than 5000 girls to code.
How can you help Gyanada Foundation?