From Rural Village to Global VillageBy Aaron Lazenby
Think.com helps talented youth get online in India.
Standing on a road between two fields in the Rajasthani village of Mata Ji Ka Kheda, one notices an obvious difference between the crops of wheat growing there. In one plot, the plants are bushy and vibrant green; in the other, the wheat is barely beyond sprouted, brown earth still visible between the rows. Both fields belong to the family of Radha Jat, a seventeen-year-old village girl and student at the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti (NVS) residential school for talented rural children in nearby Bhilwara, India. But the thriving parcel was planted using information about weather, seed strains, and optimum planting conditions that Jat collected from the internet.
The rural Indian village experience may seem light-years away from the global village of the internet, but not for long. In 2005 the administrative headquarters of the NVS embraced the Oracle Education Foundation's Think.com as its system's educational computing platform. With aims of launching in more than 500 schools, Think.com provides students like Jat a potent mix of publishing, research, and social networking tools, in a safe and secure environment that is monitored by teachers. Through Think.com, students can become responsible online citizens and learn how to discern good information from badwithout veering into some of the darker corners of the virtual world. This allows technology and project-based learning to be easily integrated into their curricula, providing students the opportunity to discuss current class work, express personal interests, and build relationships based on educational pursuits.
For many of Jat's classmateswhose household duties often limit their access to educationThink.com provides their first glimpse of a world beyond their school and village. "Many village families are not ready to send a girl outside of the home," says Jat's principal, S.K. Maheshiwari. "They fear for the security and safety of the girl. By providing this type of platform, we are giving students a different understanding of the opportunities in the world."
In Jat's case, she has done an exceptional job of synthesizing this new understanding with the responsibilities of her village life. At school, she is publishing poetry on her Think.com pages and making virtual friends with other studentssome as far away as Australia. Back at home, not only is she improving her family's crop yield, but she returns when she can to help in the fields. She also spends time with her uncle, the only other member of her family with a formal education and a champion of Jat's efforts. And, Jat's presence in the village serves as a powerful example for the students in the village schoolthey look up to her and are inspired by her.
As one village elder put it, "Now, there will be many more Radhas."
"In many traditional Indian villages, girls do not go to school; they only work at home and in fields. At a very young age they get married and don't learn about the outside world. But their education is important to the development of India," says Jat.
Now nearing the end of 12th grade, Jat has the skills and education she needs to choose her own path in lifeone she hopes will lead her to a career in medicine. While her future may lead her away from her village, her success has earned her the confidence and support of her family. "Because she is educated, I will leave Radha to decide her own future," says Jat's mother, Manju Devi, standing among the crops her daughter helped raise. "I want her to be happy. I'm sure Radha's life will be different than mine."
Aaron Lazenby is a director with Oracle Publishing.