Here in Chachiyawas we are lucky enough to have an array of technology and computer hardware. Unfortunately, most of our equipment is rusting or patched together; our computers crawling with viruses. What’s left is derelict through misuse or no-use at all, and at any rate, staff expertise is stretched between the various job roles. For example, we have four computer operators who perform computer tasks on behalf of ninety other staff who lack computer literacy, and I can safely say I outskill all four of them (combined?).All of the above is dependent on our rogue electricity supply, which is on roughly 50% of the time. We do have a generator that can provide power when and where it’s needed most.
So our quest today to run a video-conference call from our school to my father’s computer science class at York College in the UK was no walk in the park. I should add, our internet connection is limited to an odd DSL via satellite hybrid (there may even be dial-up involved) connection in a tiny office on the edge of the campus. The call would form part of a series of high-profile learning activities I’ve been planning to spark creativity and action; to provide inspiration to children and staff alike.
We decided to involve roughly half the children in the experiment, and we’d use a satellite internet connection through my internet dongle. This meant hosting the event on the roof, where the connection is strongest. We’ve recently built a second floor extension to the school, where there is a cavernous room where a separating wall is yet to be built. We decided to set up the projector, speakers and laptop (with webcam) in the room. The new building doesn’t have electricity wired up, so we had to rewire the electricity terminal below.
We spent a day preparing the children. Most of the children have never left Ajmer, let alone Rajasthan or India. They have rarely interacted with westerners, so we hoped this would be a significant cultural and social learning for them. We arranged questions, translations, and prompted answers from the children to prepare them for the call. The class of BTEC students at York College did the same. They were also kind enough to prepare a video for us, showing off York College in all its glory.
Keen to make sure this all went smoothly, my father and I did a test run yesterday. Everything did go smoothly – if a little jerky – but I didn’t expect anything better given our tenuous situation. I was just happy to have a running picture and sound, something I have struggled to get in Skype calls from London to New York.
So today we rolled out the special carpet. The staff spent all morning getting the children, the room, and prepared themselves for their first video chat, wearing their best shirts and sari’s. In fact, the staff were just as excited as the children, preparing their introductions in English with me. We even had a photographer from a local paper arrive and the entire management came to watch.
Then irony struck. Our connection was perfect, the electricity was on, and all the equipment was working as intended. But I noticed my father struggle to stay signed into Skype before the call, his status drifting between available and offline. The children and staff watched patiently as the large projector screen informed them that I had made my 15th call to York College but had received no response. My father made a call to my mobile from his Skype connection to discuss the problems, but his call dropped out. On the edge of the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, my mobile and internet connections had full reception.
We managed to exchange some very brief, stunted and difficult introductions from Mino Manovikas Mandir to York College. We’re going to try again next week, my father having figured the problem stemmed from a youtube addiction among York College students which we hope can be resolved. The staff enjoyed what they saw and are excited about next week. They are definitely keen to see more of my ‘very white father’ but are anxious for my family relationships after hearing the way I talk to my him – allegedly with no trace of respect – and refer to him by his first name instead of the traditional papa.