My grandfather was the first headmaster of the primary school attached to the Teachers’ Training College in Saidapet, Madras. This was in the 1940s, or probably even earlier. As a teacher in those times, he had designed “cinema boxes” for use in the classroom. The box was a regular cube made by the local carpenter. It had a glass door. Two thin wooden cylinders – like the belan we use to roll out chapathis – were fixed at the top and bottom. These could be rolled up or down by a handle fixed outside the box. A long strip of white cloth – his old dhotis folded and stitched, I suspect – was fixed and wound on both the top and bottom cylinders.
He drew, collected pictures, photographs or newspaper articles and stuck them on this piece of cloth. Subject-wise and topic-wise, he had made these ‘newsreels’ to teach history or science to young learners. He had retired decades before I was born, but he was at work in his room creating more material for these boxes, and as a child in the early 1970s I remember helping him sew or paste pictures to complete his project. As children we sometimes rotated only the top cylinder nonstop, so that the cloth screen-base was unwound and fell in a heap at the bottom!
This long nostalgic introduction is to contrast the difference technology has made in education today. Surely much more needs to be done to take the benefits across the country to all children, irrespective of class, caste or language. However, what is available – even though mostly to schools located in cities – is still significant.
The author is Chief Editor (ELT), Ratna Sagar P Ltd, New Delhi. She can be reached at [email protected].