How Jyoti Thyagarajan’s Meghshala Is Spreading The Joy Of Learning
With Meghshala Trust, former teacher Jyoti Thyagarajan aims to reach out and enable education for all. Here’s how they do it.
Jyoti Thyagarajan has been busy breaking up a dogfight between her pet and an adopted stray the day we meet. But it hasn’t unfazed her in the least. If anything, dogfights are just another thing the quick-witted, animal loving, founder trustee of Meghshala Trust is adept at resolving. Meghshala, literally translated to ‘school on the cloud’ is a cloud computing based platform. It equips teachers in government schools across Bangalore and its surrounding areas to facilitate better learning and classroom experiences. They are currently reaching over 100 schools and by Jyoti’s “conservative estimate” have impacted at least 3000 children.
Learning For All
Their mission, as described on the website is simple:
To empower teachers with an imaginative curriculum; educate students to be empathetic leaders and innovators and every child learns differently, so teach them in different ways.
Jyoti, 64, has been a teacher for over 30 years. And a much loved one at that. “I’ll never know which student I’ll find when I go back home,” she quips. A nuclear physicist whose first job was as a programmer, she taught Physics and Maths in some of Bangalore’s well-known schools, apart from teaching in Kenya and Zambia. Meghshala Trust is part of Jyoti’s dream to enable education for all. From underprivileged children in government schools lacking basic facilities to children in strife-torn areas like Jammu & Kashmir. Jyoti is an idealist. She strongly feels that to change things around the country, you need to target the bottom 50 per cent when it comes to education. “Our high end education is fine,” she adds, having experienced that first hand. She’s also an idealist whose brain tries to find a solution to what she sees as a problem. Meghshala was the solution to the problem of empowering teachers with a curriculum that was innovative and enabled her to scale up the reach more children who needed to engage with learning. It was developed with fellow founder trustee, entrepreneur and senior technologist Shridhar Ranganathan. Ranganathan has designed the learning management platform that hosts Meghshala apart from the well-known Shankar Mahadevan Academy.
Jyoti’s inspiration for Meghshala seems to have been children themselves. “I’ve always worked in high end schools and over the course of 30 years would’ve graduated 600 children, out of which I would have actually taught 300. And I thought to myself, what a colossal waste of teaching, because I’m known to be a good teacher. I should be teaching more kids,” comes her absolutely candid reply. She met Ranganathan at an educational conference on the day she had ‘officially retired’ and merged her experience in education and his tech guidance together. “We are talking 60 million kids out there and the only way we can scale it up and educate everyone is by technology,” she says.
Incidentally, Jyoti was technically ‘retired’ only for 9 hours. Meghshala ensures that she works 12 hour days, with a young team that has an average age of 26. Meghshala reaches 130 schools across rural Bangalore and Karnataka. The lessons in the teach kits are designed with various aids (audio, video) to make them interactive and interesting. These teach kits can be accessed by the teachers through a handheld device and projected on a screen or wall. Teachers are equipped with computers and solar powered projectors.
While most learning management platforms just have the course content, Jyoti calls the platform Meghshala stands on, “A learning management system on steroids.” It’s said as a joke but completely true. Used as a teaching and training tool, with several details thought about, right from the way the teachers talk to the students, this is technology at its very best, being used to empower and make education effective and more reachable.
Teachers for Meghshala are selected based on the team’s interactions with the Block Education Officer, though they are also looking at other options. “Teachers who smile at kids for instance,” says Jyoti. Sometimes, the teachers surprise her, taking the technology a notch higher. Jyoti mentions a teacher who used technology to increase student participation in class. He clicked a picture of the student’s work, projected it and asked the student to share and explain his work with the class. “It’s an amazing way to keep the students engaged,” says Jyoti, for whom, this is the way learning should evolve.
Teaching With Love
What kind of a teacher had she herself been? “Oh I was not a strict teacher,” she says, “People knew for their personal needs they could turn me around their little finger and I would go the whole nine yards and some more…” But she expected quality and encouraged her students to respect their own work. “Nobody gave me sub-standard work and I pushed them to their limit,” says the much loved teacher who cut her teeth teaching Mathematics to two neighbourhood kids when she herself was in the 7th standard. “Both of them are now amazingly successful builders. And you can’t be successful builder unless you are good in math,” she adds with a laugh.
Shubha Sunder, a Boston based writer whom Jyoti taught for two years in Mallya Aditi International School says Jyoti made her fall in love with Physics. Her email makes me wish I’d had Jyoti as my teacher too.
“Jo’s presence in the classroom was elegance itself…” Shubha writes. “Despite the suffocating confines of the ISC syllabus, she made physics beautiful, necessary, fun. I couldn’t help but see Newton’s Laws all around me when I walked out of her class: tension vectors in electric wires, centripetal forces in a turning bus. Science had never been my forte, but I soon became addicted to solving problems. Free-body diagrams brought on a high. Maxwell’s Equations baffled me for days before crystallizing into a grand epiphany. As a writer, I now see that I may have had my literary beginnings in Jo’s physics classes. I fell in love with the subject because she showed me its narrative qualities, its capacity to tell a story of the universe.”
The former student sees Meghshala as a natural extension of her teacher’s enthusiasm for teaching students how to learn for the love of learning, “not for grades or exams, but for a new lens through which to see our world.”
Jyoti probably sees it as a way to create a more equal world. She also treats all children as equals, and the interactions, whether with children in government schools or in elite, high-end schools, remain the same, making the transition from being a teacher in elite schools to the founder of a trust working at the lowest level of the economic spectrum easier.
“I talk to all students the way I wish I would be talked to myself — which is as an equal. I’ve never met a single kid in any of the schools (the schools Meghshala interacts with) who has been anything but completely asking of respect. These children are amazing; they don’t get water; they live in this tiny house and share a small piece of mat to sleep in, yet they are happy and smiling. They are either great actors or great problem solvers but they’re fantastic!”
Two years down the line, Meghshala has signed on about 130 teachers but interestingly has 300 users already (it’s a free product), showing the peak in interest levels among the teachers and their peers! And while the first year was spent building the product and Meghshala only entered classrooms a little over six months ago with 3000 lessons in tow, Jyoti says small changes have already made their way in. “It’s too early to see far reaching successes but a lot of stories happened because we were there; teachers were more excited, kids are smiling more in class, when they didn’t before. The environment is slightly more exciting…”
From 2014 to 2016, the journey has been an incredible one for Meghshala. Jyoti mentions how in one school, the children’s science results shot up after Meghshala’s intervention of just two months. There are stories of hope like this, trickling in everyday, as Meghshala goes from strength to strength; as Jyoti lives her dream of children across various spectrums being able to access what should be a basic right for all.
To know more about Meghshala, please visit http://www.meghshala.org/