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Independent learning in Braille now happening in Ranchi, thanks to Annie!

Learning Braille independently is now possible for students of the Rajyakrit Netrahin Madhya Vidyalaya in Harmu, Ranchi.This is thanks to Annie, India's first self-learning Braille literacy device developed by Bengaluru-based start-up Thinkerbell Labs. Annie is now being used by 25 blind students across age groups at this government school.Independent learningThe devices have been designed such that they can instruct students in learning both English and Hindi Braille, with voice commands in Hindi.Implementing it in Ranchi, a city which has does not have good Internet connectivity, came with its own set of challenges for the team. This required some additional developments to boost the device, said Aman Srivastava, Co-founder, Thinkerbell Labs.Implementing it in Ranchi gave us an understanding of the work that needs to be put in to make Annie function in a seamless manner. It gives us an insight into what it would mean to scale something of this nature in India - Aman Srivastava, Co-founder, Thinkerbell LabsThe devices are being remotely tracked by the team, which is looking at the possibility of extending it to other areas. They are in talks with Jharkhand officials to replicate this in other schools.There has been interest shown in Annie from other cities as well, like Mumbai and Hyderabad.How Annie worksAnnie is an audio tactile device that enables self-learning and classroom teaching of Braille. Students can learn how to read, write, and type in Braille.Annie has a smart correction module so if a student types the letter 'm' wrongly, then Annie will give immediate corrective feedback. It also captures all this information to be given to the teacher or parent later, so they know where their child is going wrong - Aman Srivastava, Co-founder, Thinkerbell LabsThe smart class model for the blind is a unique one in India and Annie's success be the key to addressing the problems of low Braille literacy as well as the lack of special educators in India.Source: https://newzhook.com/story/19792
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Education officer renovates schools in the hills with her own salary

During inspection of a primary school in Tarikhet block of Almora district, Geetika Joshi, a deputy education officer, saw children shivering in the cold, as rainwater leaked from the rooftop of a classroom. It prompted her not just to repair the roof, but also renovate the entire school building with her own salary.“School was in shabby condition and when I saw the children, I felt them like my own children. I immediately decided that I will get the roof repaired with my own salary. Later, I renovated the entire building with own money,” said Joshi, who joined at the deputy education officer in the Tarikhet block in March, 2015.Now, she is working on a mission to transform other schools in the district. “After renovation of the school building, it came to my mind why I should not do the same work in other schools of the area, which are in dilapidated condition with the cooperation of teachers. I started motivating teachers and received overwhelming response from them. Initially, we collected Rs 2.5 lakh from teachers and started renovating school buildings, providing necessary infrastructure,” she said.“We provided sweaters to the children of poor families. Since we thought a child can’t concentrate on the studies shivering in cold. Tarikhet is mountainous region and severe cold is witnessed there,” she said.Talking about her new mission, Joshi said: “One day, Himanshu Khurana, an IAS officer presently posted as joint magistrate of Ranikhet, during a visit to one for transformed schools, asked us ‘How long you can do this with your own effort?’ and advised us to take cooperation from MLAs and businessmen for the public interest work.”Under his guidance, ‘Roopantaran’ scheme was conceived and launched for the transformation of government schools and a bank account was opened in Ranikhet to seek monetary cooperation from people, Joshi said. “With the money, we started to provide necessary infrastructure, uniform, teaching material and better quality of education,” she added.After the launch of the scheme, Joshi contacted Ranikhet MLA Karan Singh Mahra for his support and he sanctioned Rs 23 lakh from his MLA Fund for the noble cause. “Several schools were not only renovated (with the money), but also provided smart class equipment,” she said.A few months ago former district magistrate Eva Ashish Srivastava also sanctioned ~12 lakh for Roopantaran. Impressed with the initiative, present district magistrate Nitin Bhadoriya is also supporting the cause.Kamlesh Giri Goswami, the head mistress of Government Primary School at Garee, claimed, “Our primary school, after transformation, is not less any private school in term of infrastructure and quality education. It has also instilled confidence in our children.”Himanshu Khurana said, “When I joined as joint magistrate in Ranikhet in October 2017, initiative was on small scale. I brought it into the notice of former district magistrate Eva Ashish Srivastva, she pushed it and sanctioned budget from untied fund.”So far, 43 schools of Ranikhet and 14 schools of other areas in Almora district have been transformed. Joshi’s efforts are increasing the strength of students in the schools.Source: https://www.hindustantimes.com/dehradun/education-officer-renovates-schools-in-the-hills-with-her-own-salary/story-FzNGuNDJw7qKQPbuMrZhBK.html
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The Indian policewoman who stopped WhatsApp mob killings

Something unusual happened when dusk fell in early summer in more than 400 villages in the southern Indian state of Telangana.Men and women raced home from their farms earlier than usual, bolted the front doors, turned out the lights and stayed in. Children, used to playing outdoors until late, were the first ones to be herded home. The streets emptied, and an eerie calm swiftly descended upon the area.This was far from normal behaviour: during the dry, searing summers, many villagers slept outside on rope-beds in breezy, open courtyards.In March, village policemen - the state has more than 4,000 such policemen for grassroots policing and intelligence collection - first reported this unusual behaviour to their superior.Back in the district town of Gadwal, the local chief of police, Rema Rajeshwari, listened to her puzzled constables.On the frontline of India's WhatsApp fake news war"They said life in the villages had come to a virtual halt after sundown. They said they had never seen anything like this before," Ms Rajeshwari told me.For the next few days, policemen tried to find out what was happening.What they discovered was startling. Most villagers had received a video and an audio recording on WhatsApp that had kept them on tenterhooks.There was a grisly - and evidently doctored - video of a man being disembowelled. And there was an audio recording in the local Telugu language where a male voice said a gang of tribespeople, who were involved in highway robberies and burglaries decades ago, had returned, this time, to "steal" human organs.Fake news and viral hoaxes on messaging services swept Telangana this summerWhen police began checking the villagers' phones, they found between 30 and 35 videos and photos that had gone viral in the area. One video which was being widely shared was supposedly of a child being kidnapped. In reality, it was a cleverly edited version of a child safety film from Pakistan, designed to create awareness. It was also followed by an audio message."The child kidnappers are coming to our villages," the message said. "They will throw stones at your door. Don't step out and let your children out. Please circulate this and make it viral."The villages of Jogulamba Gadwal and Wanaparthy districts are part of a region that was once counted among the 20 most disadvantaged districts of India. Rice and cotton farms dot a largely arid landscape. Most people are landless, and migrate to cities in search of work.Barely half of the people can read or write. But every home has at least one smartphone, usually a second-hand Chinese one, costing as little as 2,000 rupees ($27; £21). Cheap data means that people with little access to education have the fullest access to technology.The India WhatsApp video driving people to murderMedia literacy is low. Villagers are glued to material circulating on WhatsApp for news, viral videos and social conversations. Every village has more than two dozen WhatsApp groups, carved along community, caste, kinship and social interest lines. They are among 200 million Indians who send more than 13 billion messages every day, making India the biggest market for WhatsApp.It was March, and the videos were going viral in the two districts. Ms Rajeshwari decided to revitalise the village policing to combat fake news. A constable assigned to each village began going door-to-door showing people the fake videos and messages. They asked people not to believe in rumours, and warned them that sharing fake news was a punishable offence. Night patrolling was intensified. The phone numbers of the village constable and the police chief were distributed to villagers, and inscribed on walls.Policemen in plainclothes went around villages performing skits and songs against fake newsFor more than a month-and-a half, Ms Rajeshwari slept fitfully as rumours of child kidnappers and organ thieves spread like wildfire through WhatsApp and an Indian messaging service called ShareChat. More than 54,000 children were abducted across India in 2016-17, but when police checked the records, they found no recent history of kidnappings in these parts.But the phones kept ringing. One night, a villager called, hysterically reporting that some people were throwing stones at his door, and that the child snatchers had arrived. The local constable reported back that there was no such incident and all was quiet.Ms Rajeshwari decided to find out on her own. "What I found was some drunk villager was hallucinating about child snatchers after watching the video and calling the police up."Who can stop India WhatsApp lynchings?In April, in a remote village, residents retired for the night after a religious function. Two women singers who had performed at the function had missed the last bus home and decided to spend the night in a local temple. Around midnight, a drunk man spotted them. He woke up his village, saying he had spotted "child kidnappers" sleeping in the temple.A mob descended on the shrine in no time and dragged out the women. They were tied to a tree and beaten up. An alert villager phoned the village constable. Four policemen rushed to the area and rescued the women in the nick of time.A few weeks later, in another village, a man was hiding in the fields waiting for his lover when some locals spotted him. Word got round that a kidnapper was hiding in the fields. A mob gathered, surrounded the man and thrashed him. Again, a panicky villager rang to alert the police, who took the man to safety.Local communities were involved in taking on the scourge of fake newsAround the same time, in another village, a shepherd had a quarrel with two teenage friends. The friends circulated his picture on WhatsApp with a message that he was a "child snatcher".The same day, while grazing his animals, he was chased down and attacked by people in a neighbouring village who had seen his picture on their phones. When the police picked up the teenagers, they said they had sent out the picture to settle scores. "We thought let's make this viral," they said," and teach him a lesson."Thirteen such incidents were reported over April and May. Things turned so bad that panic-stricken villagers formed vigilante squads and patrolled the villages with sticks and stones.How WhatsApp helped turn an Indian village into a lynch mobMs Rajeshwari says the village policemen worked continuously with elders and village council leaders to raise awareness about fake news. The constables added themselves to village Whatsapp groups to keep a watch on the material being shared. The village drummer - a modern-day town crier who performs at weddings, funerals and makes public pronouncements - was mobilised to go around and talk about rumours. Policemen formed cultural groups and travelled to villages, singing songs and performing skits that they had composed about the dangers of fake news.Beginning a month later, in April, mobs went on to lynch at least 25 people across India after reading the same false rumours spread on WhatsApp. India's government asked WhatsApp to act urgently to halt the spread of "irresponsible and explosive messages".Far away, in more than 400 villages of Telangana, where the same rumours had sparked tensions earlier in the summer, no lives were lost.Facts were getting heard, and rumours were being buried.Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-45570274
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IAS Vijaya Jadhav: An Officer And A Gentlewoman

Giridih: Four months is just not enough for any officer or politicians to bring about a major change in the outlook of a city.  Especially, when the city has once been listed as one of the top 5 most backward districts of India.But thanks to the sustained raids being conducted almost every alternate day to rein a control on inter-state sand mafias, illegal firecracker sellers, adulterated food manufacturers, noise polluters, and anti-encroachment drives towards making the city cleaner, increasing the revenue of the municipal corporation and raid on illegal cow slaughtering are some of the work being spearheaded by Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Vijaya Jadhav in Giridih district’s township.A 2015 batch IAS officer, Jadhav had taken charge of her duties in the month of October, 2017, as the Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Giridih. And 10 days back, she was also given additional charge of the Giridih Municipal Corporation. She is now its executive officer.So, how challenging is it to work in Jharkhand? Jhadav, is originally from Pune, Maharashtra. “I see it as an opportunity to perform better. Actually, Jharkhand is not as developed a state as Gujarat or Maharastra. These states have a system and infrastructure, which is lacking here. So there is a lot of work for the state and for the residents of Jharkhand. And we as officers have to play a pivotal role in building a robust system for the state to function,” the IAS officer replied to eNewsroom.Vijaya Jadhav during a raid conducted at night. Courtesy: bhaskar.comHowever, Jadhav, the IAS is well aware of the fact that bringing about this change will not be an easy task. “Departments here lack a systemised way of working. In most departments, the work culture is missing. There is also a huge gap in training and orientation of the employees. So I have to first uplift the skills of my subordinates before performing some task,” Jadhav admits.On the issue of corruption, when asked, it is a fact that there is rampant corruption in Jharkhand and it is often alleged that without bribe no work gets done, the in-charge executive officer of the municipal corporation claimed, “I have zero tolerance for corruption. I can understand delay in some work, but if I get any complaint about work being delayed just because of bribe, I do not tolerate it. I have made this message clear to everyone here. Also, corruption is an ethical call for everyone, I can’t comment on others but I will never compromise on my integrity.”Recently, Jadhav along with twenty other officers have adopted a panchayat each, to develop them.On being asked how she will insure that there would be no hunger deaths in her panchayat—Jashpur, which is located on the border of Giridih block and has a population of 5500 population. It has good tribal population, she replied, “Three steps needed to be taken to ensure it. Each family should have a ration card and gets food-grains on time. The families of these panchayats will get covered under social security pensions and will be empowered with some skills to produce products which can be marketed individually or through self-help group (SHG)s.”She then added, “We have created a database for every single person in my panchayat, organised a ration card camp and initiated other necessary steps for the development of the panchayat. I want to make sure that no one dies from hunger in my panchayat.”On January 13, a tribal woman Budhni Soren had died of hunger in Tisri block of Giridih district. Her death was the seventh hunger death in Jharkhand. However, each time the respective administration officials have maintained that the deaths were due to illness and not starvation.“We should be ashamed, if somebody dies of hunger,” stated the young officer without any hesitation, while speaking on the issue of starvation death.Vijaya Jadhav trying to make earthen potter in between her raid at Quraishi Mohalla, GiridihJadhav, had to face resistant on two occasions during her actions – ensuring no playing of loud DJ Music during Saraswati Puja and raid in Quraishi Mohalla for illegal cow slaughter. Despite protests, she handled the situation well and got rule of law implemented.“An officer should not have any religion. It is a personal thing. I believe that the administration should be secular,” she pointed out.No wonder, vernacular media has started branding her as Lady Singham. To that she smilingly pulled out a small piece of paper, which she had received from a school girl. The scribble read, “Mein Apko Ek Upnaam dungi, Aprajita (I would like to nickname you, Aprajita – the one who never gets defeated).”Source: https://enewsroom.in/ias-vijaya-jadhav-officer-gentlewoman/
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Shepherd from Karnataka builds 14 ponds on barren hill, turns his village green

DASANADODDI (MALAVALLI TALUK): Eighty-two-year-old shepherd Kamegowda may be illiterate, but he has been able to do what most so-called educated and environmentally conscious persons only wish they had done. He is credited with greening an entire hillside at Daasanadoddi village in Malavalli taluk of Mandya district, an effort that took him four decades and culminated in 14 ponds being developed and maintained by him. These ponds are filled with water all year round — even during the scorching summers.It was about 40 years ago when he realised that the almost barren Kundinibetta hill next to his village had sparse shrubs with almost no greenery. While taking his flock of sheep grazing on the hillside, he saw animals and birds stressed from lack of a watering holes on the hill. Whatever water the hill received through rain, only flowed down its slopes. It hardly retained any water and what little remained either evaporated or got absorbed into the ground.  That’s when this 2017 Basavashri awardee hit upon an idea: Why not develop a pond to provide animals and birds a watering hole? It started from there, although he doesn’t remember the precise date, but estimates that, so far, he has spent nothing less than Rs 10-15 lakh in designing, developing and maintaining the 14 ponds, some named after his grandchildren. Almost all the money is from various awards he has won throughout his life.When The New Indian Express visited his haven — a half-complete house on a two-acre land — the hill presented itself in lush green attire, thanks to the 14 ponds, linked by a waterway that ensures when the upper ponds on the hill are filled, the surplus water flows into the ponds below.Kamegowda underwent an eye operation a couple of weeks ago, and the doctors have advised him not to step out for fear of contracting an infection. But this is what he has to say: “I close my eyes and come out; I know every inch here. If a drunkard is advised not to drink, will he stop drinking? I too have an addiction. The triggerThe idea to design, develop and maintain hillside ponds was triggered by observing animals and birds struggling on the Kundinibetta hill due to lack of water. Today, he has built 14 fairly large ponds on the hill, turning it into a green abode.Green deeds earn him ‘Madman’ tagSo passionate and addicted to looking after his 14 ponds is this 82-year-old Kamegowda of Daasanadoddi in Malavalli Taluk of Mandya district that people in his village and his relatives started calling him a “madman”. For the last 40 years, almost everyday between 5 am and 9 am, he has dug ponds, and grazed sheep from 9 am to 7 pm. “Sometimes, I used to go to the hillock to dig a pond during night with lamp or also on a full moon day,’’ he tells TNIE when the reporter visited his home on Friday.Meanwhile, the villagers called him “madman”. But that did not deter his spirit, which saw a barren hillside of Kundinibetta near his village turn into lush green slopes. His eccentric ways saw many of his relatives break off from him.  “After I started digging ponds and spending all my savings on them, I started losing my relatives. But the trees, ponds, birds and animals became my relatives. Some made fun of me ...  some opposed me for using government land. But I did not stop. I can challenge anyone! Wherever I take up 5-6 ft of digging, there will be water which will not dry up … even during summers.” It all started 40 years ago. To begin with, he sold a couple of his sheep and purchased a shovel, spade, pickaxe, and other tools to dig a pond so that animals and birds easily got water to survive. He started digging the land and the first one was done at Daasanadoddi, taking more than six months. Later, with his little savings, he hired workers who helped him to dig other ponds. All his 14 ponds are interlinked.“Once the pond at the top is filled, water flows to the next pond located at a lower altitude,” Kamegowda, who has never gone to school says with pride. Kamegowda also tests soil quality before taking up digging.He has made narrow pathways to reach each of these ponds. There are rocks in between,  which host Kamegowda’s painted quotes on nature, blended with philosophy. He visits all the 14 ponds daily. “Do you eat only one day and starve the entire year? I cannot dig a pond a day and ignore them the rest of the year,” he adds.He has given his grandchildren’s name to these ponds. He even brought grass from outside to grow them on the hillock, so that soil moisture remains and trees remain green. Kamegowda has never taken a loan.“I have spent more than `10 to 15 lakh for the ponds, mainly cash from Basavashree and other awards where they gave me cash. I spent this money only on maintaining the ponds. I have two acres of land ... if I did not spend money on ponds, I would have made a few more acres and a better house,” he says.This octogenarian, who is addicted to constructing and maintaining hillside ponds, only has two acres of land for his children, but 14 ponds that have helped the flora and fauna and the people of his village, 15 km from Malavalli taluk of Mandya district.The Kundinibetta — which has now become Kundurubetta — is a small hillock located in the village and a part of the hill is in the neighbouring Panathalli village. Of the 14 ponds, nine are in his village while five are in Panathalli.“If I give my children, grandchildren money, it will be spent and they’ll become bankrupt. Instead, if I give them these ponds that has water throughout the year, they will be the richest,’’ says Kamegowda, who resides in a small incomplete house.“When some people give me cash for my personal use, I will say yes, and like a drunkard who spends all that money on liquor, I spend the money on the ponds. It is an addiction!’’ he says.Source: http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2018/jul/15/shepherd-from-karnataka-builds-14-ponds-on-barren-hill-turns-his-village-green-1843493.html
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Over 63,500 schools have gone digital in Maharashtra

More than 63,500 schools in Maharashtra became digital up to June this year, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said here Wednesday. He called for laying more emphasis on e-learning and e-school projects in the era of Information Technology. Fadnavis today chaired a review meeting of school education department at his official residence ‘Varsha’. School Education Minister Vinod Tawde, Additional Principal Secretary of the School Education Department Vandana Krishna, among others, attended the meeting.“In January 2016, more than 10,000 schools became digital. Now at the end of June this year, more than 63,500 schools have gone digital. In the coming days the students should get facilities like e-learning and e-school. The school education department should work in this direction,” he said. The CM said that advance educational initiatives are being implemented to enhance academic quality and that the efforts are to be taken to raise the study standard of students.Initiatives like Basic Reading Ability Development, will help teachers to know the capacity of the students, he said. Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri districts are at the forefront according to the National Performance Survey, he said.“This percentage should increase in other districts also,” he said. Tawde said the “Avirat” project is being implemented by school education department and in the first phase, over 40,000 teachers have been imparted training. The second phase of “Avirat” project is commencing soon, he said.Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/education/over-63500-schools-have-gone-digital-in-maharashtra-devendra-fadnavis-5299060/The image is of Mr Sandeep Gund who triggered this revolution. Here is the story behind the Digital Movement in Schools of Maharashtra - The little hamlet of Pashtepada in Thane district often doesn’t have electricity, but the little zilla parishad school in the village is a humming laboratory of sorts, a projector hanging from the ceiling of a classroom, speakers mounted on each of the four walls, a pile of ‘talking’ Balbharti textbooks sitting on the teacher’s table and a WiFi router blinking nearby. In this hamlet located 90 km off Thane city, ever since Sandeep Gund (28) set up his ‘Child Theater Classroom’, the number of school dropouts has been zero.On the eve of Teachers’ Day, the villagers are happy to note that the children simply don’t want to go home, a far cry from the 50 per cent average attendance when Gund took charge of the school eight years ago.As Gund asks, “Who wants to write the answer on the board?”, all hands shoot up. All of 10 years, Lavanya struts to the front of the class and scribbles her answer on the e-board — an interactive digital whiteboard. The remaining students follow the lesson on their tablets. Later, when the school day ends, the children linger around and practise lessons on tablets. One student picks up a ‘talking’ book and taps the teacher’s cellphone on a chapter. A video comes alive on the screen and students huddle around to watch.Gund says this is a typical day in the state’s first digital zilla parishad school, which he helped set up in 2010 through public money, a model now being replicated in other zilla parishad schools.Having completed an MA in Marathi and a BEd, Gund admits he was initially skeptical about his first posting in 2009, owing to the remote location. At the time, Pashtepada did not have access roads. “I was reluctant to join the school in Pashtepada,” remembers Gund. After some coaxing by cluster head Mahendra Dhimte and colleague Pandharinath Dongre, he joined, and brought with him a determination to make a difference.“The biggest challenge was getting children to attend classes,” says Gund. With the help of Dongre, he conducted awareness workshops and health camps with the parents. “Even though the parents were convinced, the children were still not interested enough,” he says.Then the hamlet got its first television set, and Gund cracked the problem. “The children would spend hours in front of the TV even if they didn’t understand the language or the content,” he says. Gund approached an NGO and set up a second-hand desktop in a classroom. This led to an immediate spurt in attendance, inspiring Gund to develop a fund-raising model. The plan was to convert the school into a digital school.Undeterred by his meagre pay of Rs 3,000 a month, the teacher, along with the village sarpanch, approached parents, NGOs and corporate philanthropists. Putting social media to good use, he raised enough funds to set up a projector, buy a few tablets for the children, install a solar panel and compile a digital library with 1 TB worth of content.“The villagers helped in whatever way they could. They helped in the renovating — construction and painting — of the school building,” says Gund. “We were touched by the villagers’ gesture.”The digital classroom established in August 2010 elicited a further rise in attendance. The response spurred Gund’s research on the impact of digital schools on children. He spent the next six months documenting the rise or fall in students’ attendance, attention span and academic performance. He then compared his findings with results from traditional methods of teaching.“It traditionally takes two months for children in Class 1 to learn alphabet strokes, but with the tablet, theypicked it up in a week,” says Gund.His research observations were hailed by the State Council of Educational Research and Training and Gund was entrusted with the task of training teachers of zilla parishad schools. In time, other recognitions came. In January 2015, Gund received the Innovative Teacher Award from former President APJ Abdul Kalam and, in March, President Pranab Mukherjee conferred him with the Srishti Samman.Today, Gund’s training has helped set up 11,200 digital schools across Maharashtra. “In total, all the schools have been able to raise Rs 110 crore through public contribution,” says Gund.Gund’s enthusiasm has survived the test of time. Two days a week, he trains teachers in remote villages. The rest of the time he is teaching and researching. “I had always wanted to be a teacher,” reminisces the teacher who hails from Anna Hazare’s hometown Ralegan Siddhi.“I have learnt a lot from Anna Hazare. He always tells me that one should never stop learning or sharing knowledge,” says Gund.The ‘talking books’ is one of the many methods he has created. He has used Near Field Communication, available in the market for 50 paise a chip, and programmed them to play videos related to chapters. Another model he plans to propose to the government would cost around Rs 30,000 per school. “If each school is provided with one tablet and one projector, it will make a lot of difference,” proposes Gund, who hasn’t given up on research work.His ongoing research has found that digital classrooms render better results with an activity-based learning model. “Digital schools need not be restricted to pre-recorded content. Teachers should plan the content instead of just playing a video. They need to modify the content and engage students in exercises,” explains Gund. According to him, the biggest challenge for a teacher is to keep up with technology.“During the training workshops, we come across many teachers who are resistant to change because of an inherent technophobia,” Gund says. “There is a need to bridge that fear and look at the various possibilities.”State Education Secretary Nand Kumar said Gund is one of the ‘star’ teachers in the state. “Thanks to the pro-active measures of such teachers, we can hope to change the education machinery for good,” said Kumar.Kumar said the state in September 2015 issued a resolution for cluster heads to identify innovative teachers in all of the 6,170 clusters across Maharashtra. “Two teachers have been selected from each school for further training,” said Kumar. The state has now built a network of 39,000 such ‘tech-savvy’ teachers who are learning from each other and implementing innovative teaching techniques in their schools.Source - https://indianexpress.com/article/education/in-maharashtras-first-digital-zilla-parishad-school-no-dropouts-3014123/
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IPS Officer’s Brilliant Initiatives Changed the Face of Women Safety in Maha District!

Drug abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence—these are three crimes that most people are too scared to report, and the ones that have the most far-reaching effects. Imagine being scared all the time or walking on the street, terrified for your life, with your mobile phone clutched tightly and keys between your fingers. Now, imagine living in fright for almost the entirety of your day!IPS officer Atul V Kulkarni, Assistant Superintendent (ASP) in Bhayandar Thane, realised that there was an urgent need to bridge the gap between the public and the police. The police could not be stationed on every street, or every house all the time to track such illegal and dangerous activities.However, it is a known fact that the public also has reservations about approaching the police. At times it is fear that their complaints will not be heard, or that they will be ill-treated.On the other hand, for the police, the need to reach the people who live suppressed lives at home and have no safe way of even reaching their nearest police station is of utmost importance.The IPS officer wondered if the citizens could not come to the police, why couldn’t the police go to them instead? He thus established two divisions for the convenience of the public—a Drug Cell and a women’s cell called the Bharosa (Trust) Cell.Speaking to The Better India, ASP Kulkarni said, “We established a triple action plan to tackle the drug abuse problem in the city. The first step was to create awareness through school rallies, exhibitions, street plays, flash mobs, society meetings etc. We also started a helpline number that people can call, and our team will reach the location within 10-15 minutes!”Thanks to these efforts, within six months, the Thane police has reached out to about 20,500 people!The next step was to take action and arrest drug peddlers as soon as the police got intel about such activity.But the IPS officer realised that it wasn’t enough, and they had to step out of their set duties and see the problem to the end.“We have also started counselling sessions. This is a completely community-based initiative. Here we have involved doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, NGO and the media. We have seen a good success rate since 20 people from our rehabilitation centre have started their own businesses. We also help them get employment, so they have a less chance of going back to doing drugs,” he told TBI.The APS is confident that they stay involved in the process until drug addicts come out of it completely.“Taking inspiration from the same angle, we have also established Bharosa (Trust) cells for women,” the IPS officer told TBI adding that “Whatever complaints women have about family issues, harassment related to a girl child, sexual assault are addressed here.”One of the most important initiatives by the Thane police was to go to the women rather than waiting for women to approach them.In several instances, even though women know in their hearts that they are a victim to abuse, they believe that this is how things are supposed to be and that there’s no option but to keep mum.“There are quarrels in housing societies, with neighbours, when children are playing together. And at times, things escalate to an unfortunate level. We address all such issues related to women under the Bharosa cell. Now, some women approach us directly at the station. But for those who are unable to do so, we have established the Nirbhaya Pathaks—vans that patrol streets and housing societies. Women officers in civil clothes drive around in these vans and keep an eye out for sexual predators, instances of ragging etc.”But what truly stands out as here is the IPS officer’s idea which helps protect young girls.“We have installed complaint boxes in schools in Thane. Girls can give anonymous complaints there. Every Monday, a police officer takes out the complaint chits, in front of the principal, and then we address them one by one,” says APS Kulkarni. This way, girls who have been facing abuse either in schools or their homes can safely issue complaints to the police. The police, through the principal and teachers, who know the children personally can approach the children and solve their issues.Through the Bharosa cells, they have also made provisions for friends to file complaints on behalf of the victims. Apart from this, Whatsapp complaint provisions and a new helpline number (which is set to be out on 15 August) are other initiatives taken by the Thane police to tackle women’s issues in the city.Initiatives like these serve as a reminder that the police are there to help us. Maybe it is fear or prejudice that stops you from approaching the police, but IPS officers like Atul Kulkarni and his team have been a constant reminder that their motto “To protect good and punish evil” will always be upheld.Source: https://www.thebetterindia.com/155764/ips-officer-atul-kulkarni-women-safety-thane/
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Had it not been for its IAS officers, Kerala’s flood damage would have been worse

The one thing that stood out during the devastating Kerala floods was the effective response of the civil administration, especially when compared with poorer and flood-prone states like UP and Bihar.The grit and commitment of young IAS officers leading their teams into relief and restoration operations against the havoc of the floods were striking.The district collectors in the state, especially central Kerala which faced the brunt of the floods, have led from the front and have been proactive and accessible to the citizens. All the 14 districts have active official Facebook pages, set up even before the floods. T.V. Anupama, the district collector of Thrissur, for example, has been regularly posting updates on the official Facebook page to address the issues of the citizens especially in the affected parts such as Mala, Chalakudy, Kodungallur, and Annamanada.The state government along with Kerala State IT Mission launched a rescue website in the second week of August.Food safety commissioner M.G. Rajamanikyam and sub-collector N.S.K. Umesh were seen unloading many rice bags at the Wayanad collectorate office for distribution in relief camps. Others like Raja Gopal Sunkara, a young sub-collector of the Padmanabhapuram district waded through deep waters to guide rescue operations.Hari Kishore, a former district collector of Pathanamthitta, was sent as a special officer by the state government to assist the relatively new district collector P.B. Nooh. This was an example of innovative quick thinking by the state bureaucracy. The two officers worked together and were in the control room from 5:00 pm to 04:00 am and took quick real-time rescue decisions.The prompt response of the civil administration in Kerala has been due to the District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP) set up by each district in 2015, approved and overseen by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority. Each district plan made a hazard and vulnerability assessment, capacity analysis, institutional arrangements, crisis management framework, response matrix, and responsibility matrix. This also includes prevention and mitigation measures.This gave rise to structurally and functionally administrative units at the district and taluk levels. The response plans included procurement of essential resources, the establishment of communication links and dissemination of information to the public. The DDMP is in accordance with National Disaster Management Act, 2005, Kerala State Disaster Managment Rules, 2007 and Kerala State Disaster Management Policy, 2010.Kerala did not let the guidelines of National Disaster Management Authority remain just on paper. It is imperative that flood-prone states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam take similar action. Tamil Nadu was forced to give importance to disaster management only after Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts were flooded in 2015.On the other hand, the website of the UP State Disaster Management Authority shows DDMP for only 10 districts out of the 75 districts in the state. And if you click on the plans on the website, the pages don’t open. The state faced floods in 24 districts in August 2017. The civil administration in these districts was unable to cope with it and had to depend on the Army and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) even for normal relief operations. In Kerala, on the other hand, normal relief operations were handled by the civil administration; the army only handled the critical relief operations.The website of the Bihar Disaster Management Authority shows DDMP of only one district – Madhubani – out of all its 38 districts.In stark contrast to the northern states, Kerala has a high level of community engagement and civic participation — citizens are voluntarily collaborating with state administration to provide relief. Compassionate Keralam, a group of about 6,000 volunteers, is playing an important role in helping the state government with relief work. The volunteers operate through the Facebook page called Kerala Floods 2018.When the fishermen of Kerala came forward to help, the civil administration transported the fishermen to central Kerala for rescue operations.But, the civil administration in Kerala cannot absolve itself from the delay and negligence in the release of water from the 39 dams from July when the levels had reached 85 percent of the capacity. Heavy rainfall had been predicted. The damage from the floods could have been lessened by 30-40 percent if the water had been released from the dams sooner. The water was released from the dams only when the danger levels were reached. The administration should also be made accountable for not putting restrictions on rampant mining, quarrying, and use of land for non-forest purposes, which were responsible for landslides in north Kerala.The Kerala administration now needs to tackle the problem of providing potable water on an urgent basis. Chlorine tablets would need to be distributed in large quantity for sanitising water for domestic use. The state must set up a rehabilitation fund for providing loans on low interest for reconstruction. A large number of skilled carpenters, electricians and plumbers have to be made available to make people’s homes operational again.The hands-on synergy that was visible between the political executive, bureaucracy, and citizens during rescue and relief must now be deployed for reconstruction too.Source: https://theprint.in/opinion/had-it-not-been-for-its-ias-officers-keralas-flood-damage-would-have-been-worse/105374/
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Downtrodden For Years, Tea Garden Workers Find a Ray of Hope In This IAS Officer!

As per data published by Tea Board India, the number of tea plantations in North India (which includes West Bengal, Assam and all the North-Eastern states) jumped from 3,141 in 1994 to 36,836 in 1999. In the Dooars alone, this number jumped from 168 to 532 during this period, rendering the cost structures of these major plantations unviable.However, more than tea garden owners it is their workers who have suffered immensely. Reports of starvation deaths of workers emanating from the plantation’s inability to pay their wages and supply food grains on time are nothing short of devastating. Add petty corruption and an insensitive bureaucracy to the mix and what you have is a recipe for disaster.This issue also has political ramifications in the state.In recent years, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has made regular visits to the region, directing local officials to reportedly ensure that tea plantation workers have access to the welfare schemes and benefits introduced by the government.Tea Garden workers in Alipurduar district, West Bengal. (Source: Facebook/Vikrai Web)With 63 tea gardens falling under the jurisdiction of Nikhil Nirmal IAS, the District Magistrate of Alipurduar, the task before his administration is enormous. Of the 63 tea gardens, 5 have closed down while another 20 are struggling to maintain their finances.For the civil servant who grew up among tea plantations in his home district of Ernakulam, this was an issue he understood well. “During my formative years, I witnessed first-hand the suffering of tea garden workers and the circumstances surrounding them,” he said, speaking to The Better India.As a result, his administration on July 22 started “Apnar Bagane Proshason” (administration in your garden), an effective public awareness and grievance redressal initiative for poor workers in stressed/closed tea garden areas in the Dooars region. The first such camp was held at Madhu Tea Garden (closed since September 2014) on July 22, 2018.Since these workers have little to no alternative sources of livelihood, Nirmal says that the district administration is trying to find a way through which state development initiatives reach these vulnerable people without the usual bureaucratic red tape that comes along with it.Where do these workers come from?Speaking to TBI, Suman Mohanty, an IAS officer working on probation under Nirmal, said that most of these workers are tribal migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam who arrived generations ago and have settled in these parts.At the stall for MGNREGA work during a recent camp organised for tea garden workers. (Source: Alipurduar district administration)“These workers are economically backward with poor human development indicators, particularly when it comes education, nutrition and healthcare. Many of them aren’t even covered under the ambit social security schemes and depend on exploitative touts to acquire benefits from government-related programs,” he said.In order to break the stranglehold of touts/ intermediaries, the Alipurduar district administration under Nikhil Nirmal, who took over the reins in June 2018, took the following steps:1) Identify closed and stressed tea gardens and set up camps in and around them at least once a week.2) Bring officials from 16 line-departments under whom the benefits of government-related schemes and tasks including MGNREGA, Nirmal Bangla (sanitation), Kanyashree (girl child empowerment through education), Rupashree (prevention of child marriage through provision of state money when they reach 18 years of age), Sabuj Saathi (provision of saplings to ensure afforestation and income security), Anandadhara (bank-credit linkage), payment of unpaid wages, food ration card enrolment and provision of SC/ST certificates on the spot, among others, are disbursed.3) Officials from District Administration/Block/Gram panchayat converge on the spot.4) To attract workers, a free health camp is organised at the particular tea garden. Immunization of mother and child, standard health check-ups, blood group checking, treatment for sickle cell anaemia, vector-borne diseases—malaria, dengue, tuberculosis—and alcohol and tobacco de-addiction are just some of the services on offer.Moreover, disability check-up camps are conducted on the spot to identify disability parameters for registration to Manabik pension schemes (for disability). Announcements for these camps are also made in the Sadri (spoken across different tribal communities), Hindi and Bengali.5) The District Magistrate personally attends these camps and listens to their grievances. He informed TBI that he also took the trouble of learning Sadri to interact with these workers.6) These meetings are held on tea garden holidays or over the weekend. Ever week the district administration holds these redressal sessions at one particular tea garden or a nearby spot.It’s been a little over a month, but the administration’s efforts are seemingly bearing some fruit.“We are very thankful that the DM held this camp. we received important information about old-age and widow pension related issues and their documentation, while the disbursal of unpaid MGNREGA wages and demands for a community hall were fulfilled,” said Vasant Thapi, who attended a camp at a government school in Bandapani village, Madarihat Block.Another former tea garden worker (who did not wish to be named), meanwhile, spoke of how she was finally able to apply for a ration card and government schemes like Sabuj Saathi, Rupashree and Kanyashree with all the necessary documents at another camp last month.Since the start of this initiative, the district administration has conducted 12 such camps. These are early days, and the road ahead is very long, but drastic measures are already taking place.In certain instances, at these camps, officials were fired for indulging in corruption.“The official concerned was a casual and temporary staff member employed in a ration shop and was consistently engaged in corrupt and dishonest practices about which the district magistrate had received many complaints. After holding camp in Madarihat Nirmal Sir went to the shop, confronted the man, and upon finding that he had nothing to offer in his defence asked him to report for a hearing at Block Development Office, where after due process he was sacked,” says Suman.Nonetheless, the administration has barely skimmed the surface. Nirmal tells The Better India that his administration could take six months to cover all tea gardens under his jurisdiction.“Challenges also include following up with the block and gram panchayat officials to ensure people’s grievances that we could not resolve at the camps are addressed at the earliest. We would also like to extend these services at the gram panchayat level,” says Nirmal.One could even argue that the necessity to conduct health camps points to failures in the primary health system, an issue the district administration will need to rectify.These grievance redressal camps have brought the administration closer to the people.“This platform gives them real power to vent their grievances, point out our inadequacies and receive benefits. Earlier touts would fleece them through enrolment for government programs like Aadhaar due to information asymmetry. After the District Magistrate fired a ration card employee on the spot, there is some fear in the ranks. Also, workers do not have to forego one day’s work to go to district headquarter to alleviate their problems,” says Suman.It even keeps local block and gram panchayat officials on their toes with complaints of administrative malpractices often flowing into the district magistrate’s office.“One block development officer, meanwhile, remarked they did not previously understand the pain it took to travel on the bad roads leading up to these tea garden. After attending these camps, he is taking it seriously to ensure all roads are completed on a war footing,” says Nirmal.Considering the initial breakthroughs achieved through the Apnar Baganer Proshashon initiative, other nearby districts have emulated the same, although they are called by different names.At the end of the day, these camps have only brought the administration closer to the tea garden workers. Larger concerns of a dwindling tea industry and ensuring they find alternative sources of livelihood require a much bigger intervention. However, at least for now, the administration knows and understands their daily trials and tribulations.Source: https://www.thebetterindia.com/158645/ias-hero-tea-estate-worker-nikhil-nirmal-alipurduar/
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