Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Virtual Science Learning Centre in India
(Ambassador: Dr Suriya Mayandi Thevar )

This months report comes from India where Dr. Suriya is part of a team from Annamalai University who are building a Virtual Science Learning Centre (VSLC) for female high school students. The aim of this project is to establish a twinning programme between the university and rural schools in a tsunami affected region to empower female students who cannot afford to continue their school education. The objective is to build a university based online-support system through special coaching for female higher secondary students at Cuddalore District in Tamilnadu. This district was specifically chosen as from the 113,268 students enrolled in the 97 schools in the region, the gender ratio is approximately 65 males: 35 females.

The HSC examination level is considered a stepping-stone for pursuing higher education and employment, and consequently the Government of Tamilnadu is taking measures to provide free education to all female students. However, there are a number of factors such as the availability of schools within neighborhood, the quality of teachers, the level of motivation and coaching, family support and prevailing social norms which still have not allowed many of the girls to take school education seriously.

The project aims at building a university centered-village community network that promotes capacity and confidence building as well as encouraging girls to take up Science, Mathematics and technical subjects. A team of women volunteers at Annamalai University, representing students and research scholars from the departments of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Science & Technology and English will develop web-based tutorial materials for in the regional language and also in multi-media form.

The project will be delivered in three phases:
Phase-1 (Pilot Phase): To develop the content, build the partnerships, arrange the availability of the existing delivery channels in one selected village, and perform a proof-of-concept study for the implementation of the computer network link.
Phase-2 (Trial Phase): During this phase, the content and the computer-assisted learning will be introduced into three selected villages.
Phase-3 (Roll-out Phase): This stage will master the connecting of individual villages to the learning network.

It is proposed to create a Virtual Learning Center in each block in the selected district. The web based learning setting supports question and answer, online discussion, bulleting boards, web courseware download and e-mail communication, thus supporting real time and non-real time interaction via the Internet. Face to face tutoring is made available on the weekends at all local learning community centers in the respective villages.

This project will also showcase how the technology can be used as a strong catalyst for improving the academic interaction freely, openly, in many different ways between student communities in the universities and in the rural regions leading to creativity and innovation in the field of STEM