Learning games

Educational tools need not be the prerogative of the privileged

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Wednesday 15 January 2003

Learning games

The web of knowledge: admissio (Credit: Angshuman De / CSE)Elementary education is tricky business. This experience would be smoother for both the children and their teachers if there were tools that helped children experience -- physically, rather than in the abstract -- what they attempt to learn. Although educational tools have been around for ages, only the privileged have had access to them. Jodo Gyan, a small organisation based in the slums of Shakurpur, Delhi, is trying to change just that. Now, poor children can hope to afford their first view of cells through an inexpensive microscope. It is easy to understand that light moves in a straight line when Jodo Gyan's optical box demonstrates the phenomenon.

Jodo Gyan Educational Services is a motley group of researchers, corporate workers and school dropouts. Although Jodo Gyan does innovate and produce educational tools of its own, it is still in the process of consolidating its work. At present, it collects and markets available materials. For example, Mumbai-based Navnirmiti produces the Jodo kit, which is not easily available in the market. A Jodo kit made of straws and flexible connectors is the easiest way of showing a child that geometric shapes are three-dimensional, and that simple shapes join together to make complex ones.

The organisation also uses models from all over the world, and adapts them to the local market by using locally available material. Rangometry is a classic example of this. The organisation used a Dutch design involving geometric figures, which could be joined together to form patterns. While the Dutch used moulded plastic in the original design, Jodo Gyan is using colourful rubber sheets, generally used for making slippers. This version costs Rs 130; a pittance compared to the original Dutch toy, Tessellation tiles, which costs over Rs 2,000. In addition to cost-effectiveness, Jodo Gyan is also trying to use ecofriendly material, like bamboo, to ensure that the toys are safe.

The consumer feedback has also been good. Jodo Gyan provides toys that are just not available in the common market. "Toys such as Rangometry and Jodo help children develop skills that will prove very useful for their careers," says Sashi Kumar, manager of a private company, which bought these toys at an exhibition held in Dilshad Garden. "The toys are especially useful for children who have just started school," says Nita Arora, principal of Sanatan Dharam Public School in Patel Nagar, New Delhi. She is, for example, particularly impressed with a rope strung with beads that helps the child learn how to count. Children at Shri Ram School also say they have been having a great time with Jodo Gyan toys.

The Jodo Gyan network basically works through schools, which provides the necessary interface with parents. Usha Menon, member trustee, had initially thought that the organisation would interlink tuition centres in Shakurpur, ensuring that the educational tools are used under guidance provided by tutors. Besides, the production of toys would increase entrepreneurial activity in the Shakurpur area.

The organisation is also trying to get children back to books. Good quality, affordable titles published by companies like the National Book Trust and Rupa and Company are made available to children. Publishers and shopkeepers are not interested in large-scale marketing of low-cost books, as profits are negligible. Jodo Gyan presently has about 1,500 handpicked titles in stock. An assured market would help new authors, says E K Shaji, trustee member.

All is not well, though. Jodo Gyan faces a severe cash crunch. They take no external funding, and the nature of these projects ensures that profits are low. The money earned through sale of books and toys is meagre. Members end up using their personal savings. The cash crunch also means that the organisation is unable to work as extensively with poor schools as it might wish to. Poorer schools mean lower sales.

But the members of Jodo Gyan are unfazed. The next year or so will be crucial for them. The organisation hopes to set up 10 activity centres, organise book reading sessions and conduct workshops with parents and children in different localities. They hope that sales in bigger schools will create a surplus of funds, which will allow them to sell their products to poorer schools at a concession. Government involvement, so far absent, is also important here, because their permission is necessary for inclusion of new tools in the municipal school curriculum.

Jodo Gyan can be contacted at:
E-12, Shakurpur
New Delhi 110034
Phone: 91-11-2710 2820

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