A scanned, cropped and fine-tuned picture makes it way prominently onto the screen with an equally stunning background. Many hands and brains of students are painstakingly pooled before they come out as the final product – a marvelously designed colourful web page.
No, this is not a scene in an affluent city school or one of the mushrooming computer institutes. It is a scene at a remote village about 40 kms off Anuradhapura; a village in which the people have to trek that full 40 km stretch to reach the closest telephone facility; but a village with a motivated teacher and some bright students from low income groups marching their way through creating history in computer technology.
The Horizon School in Mahawilachchiya has today drawn international attention for its success in imparting knowledge in the English language and computer studies to children in this impoverished village.
Horizon, which initially attracted a handful of students with a passion for learning English 5 years ago, has today blossomed into a worldwide network and beneath that hitech network lies an extra-ordinary story filled with huge megabytes of caring, sharing and hard work.
The school’s founder and teacher, Nandasiri Wanninayake in an interview with Tecknow recalled the humble beginning of Horizon, where a few students started learning English under a tree in his garden, after school sessions were over.
“When I was appointed as the only English teacher to the Mahavilachchiya public school which had no such teacher for years, the children, mostly from poor farmer families were hostile towards the subject. Mahavilachchiya itself being my birthplace, I was determined to give back something to my village, which made me a man. I boldly invented novel teaching methods to arouse the children’s interest and after months the strategy began to work. Since I started adopting unorthodox teaching methods drawing more students towards me, the school was hesitating to give me the necessary backing and I decided to quit. After school, the students began to come to my house and we started Horizon under a tree in my garden. We started a little magazine called ‘Horizon’ in which we told our story to the country.”
” The US embassy donated us a used computer which none of us knew to operate. I used to learn the basics on computer in the nights and impart them to the students the following afternoon or during the weekend. As our story was highlighted more, there were other companies and individuals who helped us in many ways. Meanwhile, I worked for a company’s computer division and learnt more on computers. Later we put our own Horizon school and a little computer lab. In January 2001 we launched our own website – www.horizonlanka.org – probably the first in the province,” Wanni said.
The students of Horizon have a lot to thank their guide and motivator Mr. Wanninanayake, for if not for his determination these poor children would have never got a chance of even to touch a computer.
Today their computer knowledge is as high as or even more than a student from any prestigious school.
The role played by the poor farmer parents of the children has also contributed to Horizon’s success, Wanni said.
The expenses of Horizon are often pooled in from their own resources and help received by donors. The children also earn an extra buck by designing websites for a few companies here and abroad. They have now started a ‘digital butterfly’ concept, which motivates every child to save money to own a used computer.
But with the rapid advancement in technology, Horizon is battling to keep pace with the growing hitech world, as it cannot afford the latest equipment.
Mr. Wanninayake said the financial crisis, which is threatening to block the forward march of Horizon, might force him to leave the country seeking a job in West Asia to support the children.
“It is sad that the government has done little to give us a hand, largely due to beaureacratic tangles. But we are fighting all odds to pep up the spirit of these children. Even today I have to make the 40-km trip to Anuradhapura to upload the children’s dream project on the Internet. Our dream for a telephone facility in Mahavilachchiya appears to be a never realizing one but that will not hinder the children from emerging as the first generation computer wizards of this rural village. Caring and sharing have been the basis for our success and we are willing to share our experiences with the people, especially with the children in other remote villages. Our next goal is to make a name in the e-commerce sphere”, Mr. Wanni said.
Contrary to popular belief, the rural villages do have bright children growing with aptitude and action but what they need today are an image lift and a pat on the back for the wonders they do in the remotest and poorest parts of the country. The Horizon school indeed deserves a round of applause for bridging the digital gap and emerging as a class apart.
By Ramesh Kandasamy