"I planned a website customised for government school students that could be accessed anytime and from anywhere, even in the absence of a teacher."
The government higher primary school in Hulkutri, Uttara Kannada district is located on a hill surrounded by thick forests and rivers.
In mid-2020, at the height of the pandemic, headmaster Darshan Harikant (41) was disturbed by his students lagging in academics.
With physical classes being out of the question, Darshan decided to find a way to help students study.
Internet connectivity is a perennial problem in the area, and so live online classes were not feasible. With help from his staff, he put together a website (hulkutrischool.in) to help them study remotely.
The website is curated and maintained by Darshan. It holds a wealth of academic study material, and also carries news about school activities. Short videos, pictures, diagrams and maps make the lessons visually appealing. History lessons show the extent of kingdoms, and are accompanied by pictures of rulers like Harsha Vardhana and Pulakeshin II. The information is collated from textbooks and material prepared by the government.
How it began
“I observed that most of the online material was in English and parents spent a lot of time searching for Kannada material for their children. So, I planned a website customised for government school students that could be accessed anytime, from anywhere, even in the absence of a teacher,” says Darshan.
Creating engaging content was a major challenge. He got help from teachers Maitri Hegde and Ranjana Bhandari. “The three of us went through each lesson for each class, and gathered pictures and maps,” says Maitri Hegde. Darshan insisted on shorter videos so that even students with limited internet data could watch them.
Darshan, the School Development Monitoring Committee and the villagers pooled in about Rs 30,000 and got the website designed.
“We were excited when we learnt about the website. My brother and I had to trek up a hill during the pandemic for internet connectivity, but we did not miss our lessons,” says Lokesh Ananth Gouda, a Class 6 student.
Meanwhile, teachers in other places came to know about the website and began telling their students about it. “The English subject lessons have synonyms, antonyms, and clear audio pronunciations, all of which are of great help to rural students,” says Channappa, who teaches at the Hosur Government Higher Primary School in Badami taluk of Bagalkot district. The website also serves as a ready-reckoner for those who teach multiple subjects.
Nagaraj Nayak, a teacher who lives in Manikar in Ankola taluk of Uttara Kannada district, says the website helped his students and his daughter, a Class 6 student, understand key concepts.
Even after schools reopened in October this year, teachers have been using the website to supplement their teaching.
Teachers at the Hulkutri school use a solar-powered TV to play videos. Shriraksha, a Class 7 student, loves learning on the website.
"A government primary school having its own website is rare. It was probably the first of a kind during the pandemic. The content on the website has been laid out neatly, and has been received well by the teachers,” said Siddapur Block Education Officer Sadananda Swamy.
Chandrashekhar Mabla Gouda, president of the School Development and Monitoring Committee, explains: “Hulkutri receives heavy rain for at least 100 days in a year and had no proper roads till recently. So, ever since the school was established in 1964, teachers were not keen on staying here. But Darshan has been here since 2004 and has made our village proud. With help from his father, he got chairs and tables designed for our Nali-Kali classroom."
Suraj Suresh Gouda, parent of a Class 7 student, is happy about the school’s teaching philosophy. “In addition to their lessons, students are taught farming, particularly paddy cultivation. Experts come to the school to explain sustainable agricultural practices. The school also organises a mock market annually where students learn trading.”
Darshan has written a well-researched book on the history and culture of Hulkutri, and takes students on excursions to places of historical interest. He now plans to start a science and maths lab, and introduce computers in the school.