The Pursuit of Knowledge: How Aveti is Bringing Digital Learning Into Odisha’s Villages
Absorbing knowledge comes intrinsically to many of us. But imparting knowledge is the specialty of few. A teacher, is the amalgamation of both. A teacher believes that knowledge and skills, when shared selflessly with those who seek it, is a joy beyond any other. It’s also a responsibility of the highest order.
Teachers come in various forms and is a true educator is not bound by the bonds of traditionalism. On the occasion of teacher’s day, the Ootkal team got a unique privilege to speak with two such educators, Sushant Mahaptra and Biswajit Nayak of Aveti Learning who have been responsible for spreading digital learning across the vast swathes of underprivileged kids in Odisha. Sushant, the educator, and Biswajit the brains behind Aveti, together have spent years creating a replicable tablet-facilitator model which is helping disenfranchised students in Odisha to achieve their dreams.
Biswajit, who is currently working in the US, has leveraged his situation to not only provide funding, but also gather resources to help Sushant on the ground. Sushant is the tour-de-force who is making sure that the content stays top notch and is accessible and comprehensible by the students.
Ootkal: Sushant, how did you get interested in academia, not just the pursuit of it but also to impart it?
Sushant: I come from a small village. Even in 2006, when I was in class 10, electricity was a luxury. But when I came to the city for my +2, it felt like a new world. I had no fear. I was confident in myself. When others feared to study science as they felt science was too difficult and studying science meant one would certainly fail. But thanks to my new found confidence, I was undeterred. The fear of studying big books was no longer there. During those years, the only objective was to study as hard as possible and get good grades, so that one can land a decent job.
But even then, I always felt I could do more. Post the classes during the day, I had some time on my hand. So during my second year I started to tuition college and school kids out of my own volition. The willingness to teach, was always ingrained in some way.
O: What were the building blocks of Aveti?
S: It was during my 3rd year at CET when I met Biswajit. He found out that I had some knowledge, a willingness to study and teach and also had time in college. He showed me 2 videos of ‘Khan Academy’ and asked if we can do something similar. I was immediately hooked as I loved the idea of recording the teaching digitally.
The initial days were as you would expect: painful but memorable. I used to cycle on weekends, from my hostel to a dingy room which we had setup to record the video. No fans were allowed to minimize background noise. The technology used was ancient. It was a pretty difficult process but the passion was there to do something new, something different. That helped me create close to 1500 videos spanning content from class 1 to 10th.
O: How did you transition from the dingy room to the classroom with tablets?
S: We tested our videos at various places and within 1 year, a student cracked the prestigious Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya exam. That validated our content and gave us the courage to open a bare bones tuition center in Bhubaneswar. It was an asbestos roofed house where we taught 5 students at no cost.
Along with classroom we brought technology. We taught with tablets. Initially it was difficult as they thought it’s a game. But we taught them how to use different scientific models – the students adapted to traditional and also the digital method.
O: Tell us more about the tablet and facilitator model of Aveti and how you found success with it.
S: Under the facilitator model, we aim to give the tools and a facilitator enable the learning in small groups. Our content was well designed to be distributed through the tablets and we ensured that the content was well understood through our dedicated facilitators. The tablets helped students visualize the content they were earlier reading only in books. For a science student, that could make a world of difference.
We realized the potential and expanded from Bhubaneswar to other places. For instance, we replicated our model in Rajakanika District of Kendrapara, found immense success. The number of students qualifying for the Navodaya exam has grown steadily each year, from 1 student qualifying 4 years back to 5 students qualifying last year. To provide some context, 5 is the maximum number of students who can qualify from once location.
At rural places, there is always a need of more tablets and steady internet. To overcome this we tweaked our model and implemented tablet timing where a batch of students used tablet with internet for couple of hours as per a set schedule, and then studied the rest of the content offline from facilitators.
We also went to an orphanage and realized that even though the kids there got food and clothes, they were not getting a decent education. They were just a name in the sheet in the school they were enrolled in. We applied the tablet model of teaching here and 2 students from the orphanage even cracked Navodaya exam. We eventually reached close to 100 centers where we implemented the tablet-facilitator model successfully.
O: How was the recent pandemic affected Aveti’s outreach.
S: To tackle Corona, we launched Aveti’s live class. We have completed 100 lives classes and got very positive feedback. Our mobile app is also live and students are making good use of it. In interior regions of Odisha students are downloading the videos and working on it offline. Each video has assignment at the end and the students get personalized reports of their performance.
During this time, a lot of imitators have popped up. But their quality is very poor. Our content is researched over many years with feedback from teachers and students.
O: Sushant, what does Aveti mean to you?
S: On my last birthday, I taught 3500 students from class 10 on a live class. It was the best gift I could hope for. I started by teaching 4 slum kids and wishing for 1 kid to crack Navodaya and now, years later I am teaching 3500 students. It’s an incredible feeling and it was possible due to Aveti.
We have a world class with contributions from IITians and NITians. We have undergrad volunteers from Stanford and Caltech helping us build the platform. Our content is among the best out there. We have more than 3000 videos and 1 lakh assignments. Our content contains more than 60,000 math questions. And all this is in Odia which not many of our competitors can claim.
O: Biswajit, what does Aveti mean to you?
B: Aveti is an experiment and the experiment will keep going on. Our mission was to teach underprivileged students and still is. Our method of teaching might have changed with the years to adapt with current times, but idea is always to teach the forgotten children of rural India so that they can fly just like you and me.
But in order to achieve that, we need more Sushants. That’s the need of the hour. He has dedicated his life to this pursuit but we need more people to step up. We need Sushants across the country, only then can we realize the true vision of Aveti.
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