28 January 2016
The two-week program, ‘Mobile Education for Smart Technology’ (MEST), was delivered in partnership with the Bangalore-based Agastya Foundation and aimed to help school students in the region develop basic computer skills, as well as provide them with a new platform for learning mathematics, science and other core-curriculum subjects.
At the core of the program is a mini computer called Raspberry Pi, which is about the size of a credit card, with an SD card for storage. “The beauty of the Raspberry Pi system is in its simplicity. It can connect to old monitors, keyboards and mice and the software is very simple to update or replace. They’re also incredibly cheap to buy compared to alternatives such as old computers or laptops,” said David.
While the initial program set out to introduce the Raspberry Pi systems into schools, David and the team quickly discovered it wasn’t the best option. “Often the settings in rural schools made it impractical to teach there. The teachers understandably have little or no computer literacy, the floors often have no seats or desks and are made of cement which makes them very dusty. In addition the power supply is unreliable and often poorly wired make it unsafe for the students.
“Fortunately the Agastya Foundation already had a program set up where they collected students from the area on buses and brought them to their ‘campus’ to run lessons in science and technology.
“Given they had the teaching resources we needed, such as access to second-hand monitors and peripherals, we changed the shape of the program and trained the Agastya Foundation staff how to use the system instead. Ultimately we found this would be more useful for the students”.
Overall the program proved to be successful and locally sustainable. The Agastya Foundation will continue to run it with minimal support from David’s group – their responsibility now lies in providing occasional technical support.
David became involved in the project through an initiative called Smart Villages, partly run by University of Cambridge, where teams were challenged to use modern technology to improve the livelihoods of people in very rural areas.
The Menzies Alumni has a long history of contributing to the community – so much so that it is a core element of our selection criteria across our scholarships. David’s work in India is just one of many examples of our scholars ‘giving back’ and helping create a better world.
David Bowly was a 2014 Menzies Scholar in Engineering. He recently completed a Master of Philosophy in Engineering for Sustainable Development at Cambridge University. He is now back in Australia working with AGL New Energy, where his group focusses on energy efficiency in large Commercial and Industrial businesses.