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SmartCampus innovator

Education institutions are fast becoming aware of the advantages of using technology to automate routine administrative processes and save faculty time. Smelling profit in this proposition, savvy tech-entrepreneurs have started designing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software packages to automate academic campuses. Among them, perhaps the most comprehensive ERP package covering campus automation, an online web portal and smart cards for faculty and students has been developed by Bangalore-based IDenizen Smartware Pvt. Ltd (annual sales: Rs.1.2 crore). Currently over 35,000 students and 6,500 faculty in 50 engineering colleges in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala are using IDenizen smart cards (launched last April) to access institutional facilities.

"Our research indicated that attendance calculation, timetable preparation, marks tabulation, etc are ‘pain areas’ in college administration. These non-academic activities are tedious and consume a lot of faculty time, which could be better used for research and teaching. By automating these tasks, our SmartCampus package frees faculty from routine admin work," says Girish Baliga, founder-president and CEO of IDenizen Smartware Pvt. Ltd.

SmartCampus is a complete ERP package comprising 17 modules which integrate all admin activities of an education institution starting from admissions and fees collection to information consolidation and management information systems. Institutions are provided the basic software package free of charge. But they have to invest in hardware, smart cards and card readers. SmartCampus works on the subscription model and revenue is generated from end users i.e students. For a fee of Rs.400 a student is provided with a smart card which will be active for the four years of her degree course.

Baliga, with over 17 years of experience in the IT industry in reputed corporates including Hinditron, Onward, Deldot Software, envisions that SmartCampus will reduce manual work in colleges by over 65 percent. Faculty members are perhaps the most enabled by this all-inclusive software. They will have more time to prepare lesson plans, update and schedule classes, view salary statements, attendance, syllabus coverage etc.

An integral component of SmartCampus is its online web portal — The website keeps parents informed of their ward’s attendance and daily progress. It also helps managements identify academic laggards requiring coaching/ guidance; check the daily work schedules of each faculty member; inform parents of their children’s academic performance, while also providing a facility for students to anonymously provide feedback about teaching methods, suggestions, etc.

Looking into the future, Baliga is confident that given India’s huge cohort of 415 million children aged under-18, education and related enterprises offer vast growth potential. Therefore an impressive blueprint is in the offing, to create a virtual network linking all engineering colleges countrywide. "In India education has been given the biggest outlay, on a par with defence. But unfortunately, quality of spending by government and corporates alike is inefficient. During the next five years we hope to bring all colleges under a single network platform and eliminate wastage and duplication of expenditure," says Baliga.

The force be with you.

Srinidhi Raghavendra (Bangalore)

Teachers teacher

An eminent educationist with two decades of teaching experience in schools across the country, Chennai-based Mallika Mani believes that teachers urgently need to re-skill and update themselves to prepare students for the 21st century knowledge economy. This imperative prompted Mani to promote Srikriti, a teacher education centre in Alwarpet, Chennai in 2001. Over the years, Srikriti has trained thousands of teachers in India and South-east Asia, and has an established reputation as one of the best teacher education centres in the country.

"Ours is a research-backed approach to teacher development. We endorse pedagogies anchored in latest research backed by hands-on experience to impact classroom practice. Sporadic workshops don’t add much value to classroom teaching. Therefore in Srikriti we encourage long term teacher training projects with built-in needs analysis, milestones and reviews. We also help teachers integrate technology into classroom teaching/ learning proce-sses," says Mani, an alumna of Kerala and Osmania universities, who is currently writing her doctoral thesis at Madras University. She also has a postgraduate diploma in education management from Sheffield University, was a British Council Charles Wallace Trust Scholar to Oxford University and studied integration of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in school curriculums at University of Newcastle and Kings College, London.

As such Mani has brought the best of Indian and Western practices and insider knowledge of school education to Srikriti, which offers teacher development services to suit diverse needs. Among them: a two-year teacher development programme acronymed STEP (Srikriti Teacher Empowerment Programme); Curriculum Audit and Restructuring for Excellence (CARE); business English programme for corporate executives; pre-press services for book publishers and content creation for websites. Srikriti’s clients include NIIT, E-gurucool, Apple, The Hornby Trust and Cambridge University Press. "Our CARE programme has been subscribed by several progressive schools in Tamil Nadu. In this programme we do a deficit audit of the curriculum, identify gaps and give recommendations to schools. We subsequently conduct ten workshops spread over six months to rectify the gaps, after which our faculty handholds teachers through the implementation process," explains Mani.

In 2004, Srikriti was registered as an authorised centre of the British Council to offer the University of Cambridge International Diploma for Teachers and Trainers (CIDTT). The eight month course, comprising four modules, is priced at Rs.35,000 and is specially designed for teachers wishing to enhance their career prospects in India and abroad. Currently, Srikriti is training over 100 teachers under CIDTT.

"A successful candidate is one who is willing to learn, discover and experiment with what he/ she has learnt, in the workplace," says Mani who was recently appointed as a master trainer for heads and senior teachers of international schools by Cambridge University, UK.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)

Self-taught inventor

One doesn’t have to avail of formal higher education to make marvellous inventions. Living proof of this propostion is B. Syed Sajjad Ahmed, a class XII dropout of the Central Muslim Association High School, Bangalore, who was recently conferred the APJ Kalam Environment Award on World Environment Day (June 6). Ahmed has invented an eco-friendly, battery-operated solar-powered motor car for intra city mobility. But that’s not the sum total of this middle-aged innovator’s inventions. He has also produced prototypes of solar powered bicycles, tricycles and auto rickshaws.

Ahmed claims his battery-powered automotives can run up to 50 km at a speed of 30-40 kmph, without recharging. "A natural advantage India has is abundant, year-round sunshine. Therefore the solar panels on the body of these automotives continue to charge the battery throughout the day," explains Ahmed.

With the international price of crude oil which was $55 per barrel earlier this year having crossed $78 recently, Ahmed’s solar energy driven vehicle could well be the answer to India’s mounting crude oil and petroleum imports bill ($3.8 billion or Rs.171,700 crore in fiscal 2005-06).

The proprietor of a tiny hardware store with an inventory of second hand computer peripherals in suburban Bangalore, Ahmed is hard put to support his family of five and simultaneously research his dream project. "We could sharply reduce huge annual imports of crude oil and petroleum if we switch to renewable energy. It would also control environmental pollution, which is blighting urban India," says Ahmed.

A completely self-educated individual, Ahmed produced his first electric two-wheeler prototype in 2002. A year later he constructed a prototype electric, user-friendly tricycle for the disabled that can run for 20 km after every recharge. And perhaps inevitably, his next invention was a solar powered motorcar. "Electric cars are not new. But my prototypes are the first solar powered automotive vehicles," he says. Currently, Ahmed is building an electric solar auto rickshaw.

While the cost of building the two-wheeler and tricycle prototypes was a modest Rs.10,000-15,000, he has spent almost Rs.1 lakh to develop his solar powered auto rickshaw. "Since I have used second hand motors, which is all I could afford, the cost is very low. However, when new parts and equipment are used, the market price of the finished solar powered car will be Rs.3.5-4 lakh, and of the solar rickshaw Rs.1.5 lakh," says Ahmed.

Right now, his problem is to find the funds to commercialise his inventions, which he believes, are market winners. "My experience is that government agencies and departments set up to help inventors are a waste of time. Therefore I have partnered with Veeranna Shetty, a mechanical engineer and management consultant with 29 years of industry experience with Mysore Cements, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board and others, to help commercialise my solar powered, eco-friendly automotives," says Ahmed.

God speed.

Madhurima Duttagupta (Bangalore)

Pioneer woman priest

Behind the haze and smoke of a havan (ceremonial fire) at a puja in Pune, a priest recites shlokas in a rhythmic cadence. At the end of the ceremony, many from the sizeable gathering rush for a private audience with the priest. Never mind that the priest is not the archetypal caste-marked, dhoti-swathed male, but an elegant woman!

Forty-something Megha Gokhale is one of the few Hindu women priests worldwide, who has been in this vocation for over a decade. Such is the demand for her services that apart from performing rituals in Navi Mumbai (where she resides), she regularly criss-crosses the country to perform and preside over baptisms, weddings, bhoomi pujas, shanti pujas and thread ceremonies.

Raised in Mhow (near Indore, Madhya Pradesh), Gokhale was introduced to Vedic scriptures by her grandfather when a teenager. He encouraged her to read (particularly the Bhagavad Gita) and learn complex shlokas from the Vedas.

This early scriptural tutoring formed the bedrock of Gokhale’s interest in Hindu philosophy and religion. Later, after acquiring an M.Com degree from Indore University, she worked for three years as an accountant with Exide Industries. Her move to Navi Mumbai after she married, confluenced with a movement by social reformer Mama Thatte to encourage women, irrespective of caste, to take to the vocation of priesthood. Gokhale was in the initial batch of 60 women, who were initiated into the rituals and ceremonies of priesthood by Thatte.

Four years later, Gokhale conducts classes in Vashi, Nerul and Belapur on the outskirts of Mumbai to train students of both sexes for priestly duties. "Of my 70 students, five will soon graduate and be ready for their vocation. We’re also approaching schools in Navi Mumbai to allow us to conduct spiritual workshops for students," she says.

A full-fledged and busy priest, Gokhale’s services are in demand with a growing number of households proactively seeking out women priests. "Many families are more at ease with women purohits. I ascribe it to our approachability and greater empathy," she says. Not to mention tact and patience. She painstakingly demystifies rituals and their context for lay people, while endowing ceremonies with meaning and religious significance.

"Ultimately, it’s all about communication. And if I can help people communicate better with God, my purpose is served," she says.

eeta Lal (Delhi)

Jolly Phonics missionary

ecently in India to interact
with teachers on the potential of Jolly Phonics, a phonetics literacy programme, UK-based teacher Marjorie Newbury received such an overwhelming response that she plans to visit other Asian countries on a similar mission. Developed and patented by Jolly Learning Ltd, an independent British publisher based in Essex UK, Jolly Phonics is a multi-sensory literacy programme whose learning materials focus on phonetic sounds of the English language. Each sound is linked to a visual to help children to remember alphabets and words, and make learning more enjoyable.

A teacher at the Byron Primary School, Bradford (UK), Newbury discovered this programme in 1994, when she chanced upon a Jolly Phonics handbook. Recognising and harnessing its potential, she has since become a missionary of this learning programme. "This is a fantastic way to teach phonics," says Newbury, an education graduate of Durham University and guest lecturer on literacy at Leeds University. "The Jolly Phonics methodology enables four to five year olds to quickly and easily learn 42 sounds covering the 26 letters of the English alphabet, and ways and means to blend them," she explains.

It was this objective which brought Newbury to India recently, where she has tied up with Brainstorm Solutions India Pvt Ltd, a company which markets educational aids, learning programmes and reference material designed in the UK, USA and Australia to schools, teachers and parents in India. Says Harshita Sharma, founder-director of Brainstorm, a postgraduate in psychological counselling who completed her professional training in literacy in Britain and promoted the Mumbai-based company in 2001: "I discovered the Jolly Phonics programme when I was in the UK and wanted to introduce it in India. We have reached out to at least a 1,000 Indian teachers in schools in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Delhi and Ahmedabad. The response to Jolly Phonics has been enthusiastic and several schools including the British School, the Dhirubhai Ambani International School, DPS among others have decided to adopt it," says Sharma.

Newbury too, is optimistic about acceptance of this multi-sensory teaching aid, as pedagogies are somewhat outdated in India. And on the positive side the teachers’ community is becoming increasingly receptive to educational changes. "The Jolly Phonics programme will work very well here," says Newbury.

Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)

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