India Literacy Project
The challenge and the organization
India Literacy Project (ILP) was founded in 1990 by a group of volunteers in the United States dedicated to improving literacy in India. It works to help India achieve a 100 percent literacy rate by strengthening communities, addressing gaps in education services and bringing about systemic changes through advocacy. ILP supports literacy projects primarily in rural areas across India, including some of the most remote areas with very low literacy rates.
The group recognized that one of the roadblocks to improved literacy is that children learn in different ways, but the educational system in India is largely based on the traditional model of a teacher lecturing in front of a blackboard. So ILP created the Multi-Dimensional Learning Space (MDLS) initiative, which allows children to explore, experiment, discover and learn in a variety of ways. The goal is not just to help them excel academically, but also to help them learn about themselves and discover their interests and abilities.
MDLS incorporates CDs, audio, video, and internet access. ILP also designed a low cost science kit that enables children to perform experiments and understand the concepts behind them. But there was no interactive content available for Social Sciences, which in India are comprised of history, civics and geography. ILP set out to develop that kind of content.
How they did it
ILP turned to Google Earth to build interactive content for the Social Sciences component of MDLS. “In Google Street View, Google Maps and Google Earth, we saw huge potential to engage kids in ways that otherwise would be impossible,” Padmaja Sathyamoorthy, India Literacy Project Operations Coordinator, says. “Many of the rural kids don’t get to travel, and may never get to see the Taj Mahal, for example. All they would normally see are stamp-sized pictures in textbooks. With the Google tools, children can experience things almost as if they were really there.”
ILP also turned to Google Earth because of its Voyager feature that lets scientists, artists, educators and others create immersive stories using maps, 3D views and interactivity. “With Voyager, history and geography come alive,” Sathyamoorthy says. “It’s a much richer form of storytelling. Children gain a better understanding of their culture and history, because they feel as if they’ve lived it, without ever needing to leave their classroom.”
ILP pairs local teachers with its own program managers to build the interactive stories, which are mapped to the curriculum of four Indian states to teach social sciences in grades 5 through 10. The stories were storyboarded using Google Sheets, which includes all text and links to maps and other interactive content. The stories focus on historical sites, kingdoms and rivers, which are all a vital part of the school curriculum.
ILP plans for the Voyager stories to be ultimately used by 1 million students in 50,000 schools. It is quickly ramping up to meet that goal. By the end of 2019, it is targeting to reach between 250,000 and 500,000 students.
The program is already making its mark. “Teachers tell us that attendance is highest in the classrooms where Google Earth is used,” says Sathyamoorthy. “It’s the easiest class for teachers to conduct, because the students are most inquisitive in it. Their learning experiences are being completely transformed. They see history as much more than memorizing dates, and geography as more than drawing maps.”
Thanks to ILP’s work with Google Earth Outreach, she says, “ILP has made history and geography come alive with new tools and media content that capture the imagination of young minds.”
She believes its benefits go well beyond the classroom. “The project expands students’ horizons,” she says. “It’s not just about learning curriculum from a textbook. I believe it creates a curiosity and a love for learning that will last a lifetime.”