Lessons in learning

Adarsh Kavungal's experiments in using video games to teach students have opened up new options in education

Adarsh Kavungal speaks with uncommon maturity. The young man entered the field of education more by default than by choice. But once there he realised the responsibility that comes with shaping of young lives. Hands-on into working with children who study in his family’s three schools in and around Kochi, he is experimenting with a new system of teaching and learning. He has introduced Kinect technology as a method of teaching-learning in kindergarten and finds a discernible rise in confidence levels of the kids.

A graduate in Commerce and with a post-graduate degree in Management from Scotland, Adarsh, after his father’s demise, chose to take over the management of the schools and help his mother. From 2009 he has been working with not just his schools but with 634 CBSE schools in the State as organising secretary of the Kerala CBSE Management Association.

“Being part of it has helped me understand the intricacies in the field of education,” he says.

As he began work here he observed that the children from his two suburban schools –Indira Gandhi Memorial Public School at Cherai and The Titans in Mathilakam were not as confident as the ones from his school in the city. “They were diffident and unsure,” he recalls. Besides, he found glaring differences between city and mofusil schools in terms of fees and the attention they received from institutions. “Only city schools were in the limelight and their fee was exorbitant,” he says.

Adarsh began searching for a method of learning that would enhance the confidence of a child. "It had to be entertaining, modern and participatory”. In 2013 he introduced in the kindergarten at Little Titans at Mathilakam a motion based-virtual reality method of learning founded on the play, learn, grow method.

Using Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360, the child is transported into a completely new space. The children play together in a virtual environment. In ‘Space Pop’ the children space walk and learn about rockets and astronauts. In ‘Virtual Pet’, a game about a panda and a tiger cub, they learn to feed and nurture the animals. “Because of virtual reality the whole experience is very real,” says Adarsh.

Shirley Benny, who has been teaching for the past 18 years, found that the children are fascinated by technology and enjoy this method of learning. In a letter to Microsoft, she along with two other teachers from the school, wrote:

" The motion-based teaching has shown an increased attention span among students, higher levels of social understanding and acceptance among peers and better behaviour during classroom lessons. "

Adarsh began the experiment inspired by two schools in America -

Steuart Weller Elementary in Chicago and the Black Water Middle School -with whom he corresponds on the progress of this method. " This is perhaps the first school in the country that is using motion and gesture sensing technology to teach. Teaching and learning happen through movement, " explains Adarsh.

He clarifies for the sceptics that the game is not the lesson. " Lessons are interwoven skilfully by teachers who prepare a special script to go with the game. For example, ascending and descending order in numbers is taught along with keeping scores in the game, " he says

So enthralled are the children with this pattern of learning that most of the kids who were diffident of speaking in English have begun to do so easily.

The motion games have energised even the children who were not inclined to physical activity. “There is all round development and most of all it is seen as a change in attitude,” observes Adarsh who personally trained the teachers to write the script for the games and make it syllabus friendly. Sidji Sajeev’s four year old is “learning things beyond her years” believes Sidji.

Excited at the new usage for the games, the Interactive Division of Microsoft India has got in touch with Adarsh.

But it was not an easy start, he recalls. He had to face many a Doubting Thomas including his mother, a teacher, who too seemed unsure about this type of learning.

But Adarsh is pleased; happy that his efforts are bearing fruit. He sees his success in little Avni and Karan who walk up to him confidently and speak to him, meeting his eye.

" That's what I had been working for. But there's a lot more to achieve, " he says.

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