The Government Intermediate College in Ranipur, the township established by Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited in Haridwar, Uttarakhand, offers science as a subject in Classes 11 and 12 but does not have a laboratory. It still seats Classes 6 to 8 on the floor, and has just two girls’ toilets when it needs about 10.

Still, the intermediate college – a higher secondary school – has a few things going for it. It was selected to be a model school by the state government last year. It has a full set of teachers, a healthy roll strength, and 88% of its students passed the Class 12 board exam last year.

It also has Pradeep Negi.

An economics teacher for Classes 11 and 12, Negi specialises in deploying ICT or information and communication technology tools to teach, making the meagre resources of a government school in the hill state stretch to cover even elementary computer lessons for its secondary school students. He set up the school’s website, manages its library, runs its web magazine and recasts lessons from prescribed textbooks into multimedia lessons.

Negi, 49, is now the only Indian of 50 teachers under consideration for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize, an international prize carrying a reward of $1 million, awarded by the United Arab Emirates-based charity, Varkey Foundation. The shortlisted names were announced on December 12 – the 50 teachers were sifted from over 30,000 entries from 173 countries. The winner is expected to be announced in March.

An early advocate

Negi was an early advocate of introducing technology to school teaching. He had completed a post-graduate diploma course in programming in 1996 and was creating digital content for use in government school classrooms long before smart classes became the rage. He first tested these lessons at the Government Intermediate College in Roorkee, Uttarakhand, where he taught around 2002, and has been improving his skills ever since.

Negi won three state-level technology awards, in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Around 2003-2004, as part of a state government project with Microsoft, he was trained in information and communication technology and, in turn, became a master trainer for his colleagues at the school. In 2007, he received an “innovative teachers leadership award”, one of 10 conferred upon teachers from different countries. He laboured for hours after school, converting lessons into multimedia presentations, creating slides and gathering educational CDs.

Negi was spurred by more than just the excitement of trying a new method. He has polio – contracted when he was two years old – which had left him 76% disabled. “I use crutches and it was difficult for me to stand and write on the blackboard,” Negi said. Being able to teach while seated, using a computer and a projector, made life immeasurably easier.

Now, he uploads his lessons and quizzes on the school website and circulates them through WhatsApp groups. Most of his students do not have personal computers but he ensures all content is available in a format that can been accessed on mobile phones. “The students do not have their own phones either but their parents do,” he said.

He also maintains a small library of educational videos and programmes he has received through workshops and trainings, as well as open source material gathered online. He knows his methods work from the examination results. “All students pass my subjects,” he said proudly. “Unlike what is written on the blackboard, students can keep going back to this material.”

Negi using the school's projector during a class. (Photo credit: Pradeep Negi).

Uttarakhand and computers

Negi’s sustained use of technology in the classroom is all the more remarkable given the dismal state of attempted technology interventions in his state.

According to data for 2015-’16 from District Information System for Education, the only central database on education, just 33.4% of Uttarakhand’s primary schools, with Classes 1 to 5, have a computer. But over 30% primary schools do not have electricity, and having a computer on the premises does not mean it is used for teaching – students may not have access to it at all. In secondary schools – Classes 9 to 12 – just 14.27% have an information and communication technology laboratory. And just 36.82% have a computer with internet connection.

“Around 2011, about five to six schools in each district had received computers, projectors, printer and internet connection under the Centre’s ICT [information and communication technology] in schools project,” said Negi. He had been enlisted by the state to serve as a resource person and had trained over 1,000 teachers, a contribution that brought him the ICT National Award in 2013. It also brought him in touch with teachers similarly experimenting elsewhere.

But the scheme itself did not lead to much. “In most schools, the machines were not used and stopped working after some time,” he said. “There was no monitoring of the scheme’s implementation.”

At Government Intermediate College, Ranipur, things are different.

“I make sure all our computers and other equipment are well maintained because it looks bad if the trainer himself is negligent,” said Negi. Their computer lab functions well and the school charges Rs 10 per month from every student from Class 9 onwards for computer training. “I want to offer [students] the same experience as private schools and impact computer skills,” he said. “I organise interactions with teachers in other countries through video calls and virtual tours of other places.”

While the employees of Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited send their children to the two private schools in the township – even Negi’s own children attend one of them – the intermediate college caters to children of the government company’s contract labourers.

Negi says if he wins the prize, part of the prize money will go toward improving implementation of the technology scheme and funding higher education for girls. “Very few girls from my school go to college,” he said.

‘A good education’

The Government Intermediate College in Ranipur started in 1976 as a Government High School, with classes till Class 10, in what used to be a Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited warehouse. Negi joined it in 2008, the year it became an intermediate college. He has taught in five schools in the 21 years since he joined the profession, and for several of those years, Negi was both teacher and student.

When his polio was diagnosed at age two, he said the doctors at the Army hospital in Pune had told his mother: “He cannot be cured. Just make sure he gets a good education and it will not matter.” He did.

Originally from Bore Gaon in Pauri-Garhwal, Uttarakhand, Negi attended schools in Ambala (Punjab), Shillong (Meghalaya) and Dehradun (Uttarakhand). “My father was in the Army so we shifted a lot,” he said. His mother was a primary school teacher who quit after his diagnosis to take care of him.

Negi completed a bachelor of arts degree in economics, political science and history, and a post-graduate degree in economics from BSM PG College, Roorkee, in 1992. The following year, he collected a bachelor in education or BEd degree from Kanhaiya Lal DAV College, also in Roorkee. That was followed by two Master of Arts post-graduate degrees in history (1996) and English literature (2004). For the last two, he studied at home and wrote the examinations as a private candidate. His wife is an educator too, teaching senior classes political science at Rajkiya Kanya Intermediate College in Jwalapur, Haridwar.