Across locations – and it doesn’t matter whether it’s urban India or an isolated part of Greenland, connectivity is one of the biggest challenges faced by the Granny Cloud. Although the children who used the ‘Hole in the Wall’ kiosks [Arun Chavan among them] coped with and even exhilarated in being able to connect with the world beyond with a dial up connection; we did get spoilt by technological advances. Having an adequate and stable connection makes a huge impact to what can happen in a Granny session.
One of the locations where we had Granny sessions for close on 3 years was a part of a school in a village on the border of Karnataka and Telangana. The drive to Rayalpad from Bangalore was over 2 hours by private transport and it was a lovely drive, scenic and serene. At the destination was this sprawling campus spread over several acres. Neelbagh Ashraya was not just a day school but also had a hostel for orphans as well as children from very poor homes. Most the children who came in for the day [on school buses] came from villages as far off as 20 kms and were from farming communities that just about eked out a living.
While the campus appeared sparse in terms of material resources, it was a well-planned and implemented curriculum. Founded by David Horsburgh , the school had a well-rounded programme including vocational skills like carpentry and tailoring workshops alongside of classrooms and play areas. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Horsburgh
Ducks waddled across the path leading to a small pond and the children looked happy. Meal times were busy with everyone in long rows on the special porch adjacent to the kitchen.
Neelbagh children in a Granny session [
The Granny sessions took place in the small library. The room next door had 3-4 computers none of which were connected to the Internet. One computer in the library room had been connected with great effort. The only other Internet connection was in the Principal’s office in the building across the path and several wires went over it to ensure the connection in the library.
It was a big school and we connected with Grades 8 to 10, and added on the Primary grade children to the effort after a few months. Camille, David, Edna, Belinda, Hazel, Rodger, and Janet were among the Grannies that valiantly kept up the effort to interact with the children. But every now and then – then “Now” more often than the “Then” there would be no connection. And the Grannies would wait – wait to be connected, wait for information about the ground situation. This was back in 2012 and 2013. The available Internet services via a data card were limited and it wasn’t a possible solution in Rayalpad. The wired connection was all we could depend on. Frantic phone calls and several emails from our end later we would finally get news that the Internet connection was down.
The reason? The monkeys! Dancing around the wires was part of their natural play. Yet it meant that connectivity would be disrupted. Not just for an hour or a day but a week – even a fortnight. It meant a long wait till a technician could arrive from Bangalore and do the much needed repair. Only to have the wires give way again in another few days.
Combined with minimal information from the school it was a frustrating situation and finally, sadly but in mutual agreement, the Granny Cloud closed down interaction at Neelbagh in 2015.
And yet every so often the faces of the eager children glide across my eyes and I wonder if the situation would be different today…
We still face the problems of connectivity irrespective of whether it is a well-resourced centre like NEHS in Panchgani or a lab in a remote School in the Cloud location like Korakati. Sometimes it is because of their specific geographical location and sometimes because of the remoteness. Advances in fibre optic Technology and special sea cables seem to hold out a possible answer in villages/islands like Attamik in Greenland, yet it involves a very long wait. Sometimes 6 months and even more before we can start or restart sessions. In Korakati it meant the erection of a special tower and modem and continuing the exploration of different technologies. In Gosavi Vasti, Pune the challenge was in getting a wired connection in what was essentially an unauthorised slum area. Data cards and dongles helped overcome that challenge.
And yet there are days when everything fails, but the coordinators don’t give up and still manage to connect using the data packs on their mobile phones!
Children at Korakati interacting with a Granny via the coordinator’s mobile phone Sept. 2017 [Photo: Milan Mandal]
The children at Gosavi interacting with a Granny using the coordinator’s mobile phone – Oct. 2017 [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]
As we go into the future, I am sure that there will still be other technological advances that ensure high speed stable connections.
And we will be able to have an unbroken interaction with the children irrespective of where they are.
Strategies will emerge that allow us to take a session way ahead because we no longer have to keep compensating for a bad connection.
Children who have achieved a fair degree of language fluency and computer familiarity will actually be able to have SOLE sessions with the Grannies over Skype or Hangouts or similar other platforms, because they no longer have to worry about the connection.
I do hope that Governments and industrialists and scientists are listening. Together, we can all make a difference and the children will no longer need to tell me – “The monkeys did it!”
Monkeys in the Neelbagh campus [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]
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