Going the extra mile…. Actually light years! Bringing the Stars down to Earth

Some stories happen over a few moments or at most hours. Others unfold over months, even years. Today’s story is one of the latter kinds…

But first, a diversion…

There is an ongoing debate in the Granny Cloud. Actually, there are several. One of these debates is around the kind of locations we reach out to – in terms of the disadvantages, the lack of resources, the intellectual as well as material poverty that the children live in. A second debate is about whether sessions should be ‘Regular’ ones [the same Granny with the same group week after week, sometimes even year after year!] or ‘One Off’ sessions where, which Granny turns up for the session is as much of a surprise as which children might be present. And no guarantees about sessions taking place!

in session with Denise 1

In session with Denise [Photo: Courtesy of Denise Wells]

Both these debates rear their head every so often and both apply to NEHS, one of the earliest, self-funded Granny Cloud centres, which was set up back in May 2013.


This was during the lean period. The SOLE project funded through Newcastle University’s Professor James Tooley [OGEF Fund] had come to an end. The apathy and lack of will combined with [possibly] not seeing any real value in the SOLEs, and of course minimal resources had brought all the specially designed and built SOLE labs to a halt. There were very few Granny sessions happening. Sporadically, erratically, irregularly, – sessions continued in just a couple of locations.

So we had numerous Grannies but no labs or centres to Skype them in to. Demoralized Grannies began to drop out. The option of disbanding the Granny Cloud had always existed since the end of the OGEF SOLE Project. Yet it seemed too good an idea to drop. After all it didn’t really have to have funding. All of us Grannies were volunteers. All we needed – the bare minimum – to be able to connect with the children was one computer connected to the internet. And of course, we needed someone at the children’s end who believed in the value of this interaction.


The media in India has never really covered The Granny Cloud so information about it spread mainly by word of mouth. And gradually a few interested educators and community workers got in touch about having the Grannies interact with the children at their school or their organisation or even in the community. While Attar sir in Shirgaon valiantly tried to keep the SOLE lab and the Granny sessions at SHS alive, there were others like Yash Velankar and Sharadchandra Kulkarni who helped bring it to Rameshwarwadi in Sindhudurg. Chatelle ensured that GLC in Varanasi was on the Granny Cloud map and then there was Soma.


Soma Sarkar. Soma was the head of the primary school at New Era – Panchgani. She had an outlook that crossed a rigid educational orientation. She saw how this could well apply to her children. But there was a catch. NEHS was not poor! The children came mainly from well to do, albeit rural area, agricultural homes. And though they had no English at their disposal when they came to school for the first time, NEHS was an English Medium school so even language was not a huge challenge after a year or so at school …

Did that mean they wouldn’t benefit from interaction with the Grannies? Of course not! Look at the many SOLEs around the world advancing to even greater achievements because they not only have material resources, but also highly trained teachers and educators spurring them on to discoveries.

And we had Grannies to spare! In fact we were losing them because there were no children available to connect to!


And despite its many privileges (the location and scenic view even from the classrooms being just one of them), NEHS also had its challenges. Its very location made Internet connectivity difficult and many a session took place (still take place) in the school lobby or the covered porch just outside. Sometimes, they are the only places where we get an adequate signal!

covered porch outside NEHS office1

A Granny session in the covered porch outside the school office [Photo: Suneeta Kulkarni]

And there were many children who came from the rural areas. From well off but not necessarily educated homes. And they were so little. AND they were living in a residential School far away from home with no ‘Mummy’ to run home to when school ended. That took care of the ‘disadvantaged’ setting as far as I was concerned. The debate is still open and I hope always remains open.


So then it was a question of the ‘regular’ or ‘one off sessions. I think most questions have multiple answers and this one is no different. There are pros and cons to both kinds of sessions. Another day, another story!.

So with Soma’s and Elsie’s [Elsie is the coordinator of the Granny sessions at NEHS] help the Granny Cloud got going at NEHS. And as we connected with grades 1 to 4 several Grannies jumped in to connect. David [Swancott] connected for the very first session on the 13th of May 2013, quickly followed by Hazel [English], and several other Grannies joined the NEHS cluster over the course of those first few months. And much email went back and forth between the Grannies and Elsie as they discussed possibilities of topics that might be interesting to the children and shared resource material. But more stories on that, another day.

Today’s story is about reaching for the stars…


Denise was amongst the earliest to connect with NEHS.  And she too engaged in email with Farheen [the children’s teacher] going back and forth as ideas were discussed. Meeting the same children week after week helped forge a very special bond. And they were able to continue with a discussion that had lit a spark and see it all the way through. Denise and the children from Grade 2 spent the term talking about the universe and galaxies. They even sang songs about (among many other things), the stars and constellations. And they drew pictures!

pics by NEHS kids 1

Rockets to the moon [Photo: Courtesy of Denise Wells]

Then Denise thought it would be such an adventure if they could officially name one of those many stars. Farheen and the other teacher collaborated in the effort and had all the children participate in agreeing on a name. Much deliberation and they came up with the name “The New Era Rosy Star”.

And in a classic example of how many Grannies take this commitment seriously and go not just two steps but many miles further, Denise followed up on this with the ‘Online Star Registry’ and got all the paper work taken care of!

Certicate NE Rosy Star 1

The Certificate!

And the icing on the cake, with a cherry on the top? She visited NEHS after the School in the Cloud – The Granny Cloud Convention Week 2016 and presented the children with their very own New Era Rosy Star!

Denise & Farheen with the NEHS kids 1

Denise visits the children and Farheen at NEHS… The backdrop? Their display about the Universe! [Photo: Courtesy of Denise Wells]



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