As part of Sumit Gandhi’s MBA at the SP Jain Institute of Management (Social Internship programme), he worked with a hearing and speech impaired orphanage.He tried to find a way to communicate with them and realised his cell phone came handy. Explaining how this simple tool could revolutionise education, Gandhi says, “I used my phone to ask questions to kids; they replied by re-typing answers. It’s possible to help children shed their inhibitions and interact with the outside world with confidence.”
An idea is born
Gandhi started Sounds Of Silence (SOS) as a pilot project in Punjab in June 2008. The efforts bore fruit and SOS won awards, including the World Education Summit Award 2013 for bringing innovation in education using mobile technology.
They are also one of the 53 finalists selected from 290 applicants in the mBillionth Awards, South East Asia. Besides, they’ve reached the final round of Unlimited India that supports start-ups by social entrepreneurs.
SOS was launched to utilise technology to help hearing and speech impaired children across rural and urban India, to communicate, improve English communication skills and boost their employability factor.
Gandhi spent two years contacting schools for the hearing and speech impaired, orphanages, NGOs, audiologists, psychologists, teachers and corporates keen to employ such kids.
“We’ve devised a curriculum in tandem with the Oxford Syllabus for the Speech Impaired, which will lead to all-round mental development of children and help them overcome insecurity and self-confidence issues,” he informs.
He believes that when these students learn to operate QWERTY phones, they will be able to operate computers and laptops. “This introduction to technology will help them acquire white-collared jobs at BPOs and other companies who’ve agreed to hire them,” he states.
Currently, SOS has a 35-member team in Mumbai who work with 300 students in orphanages and schools for the hearing impaired. The 40-member team in New Delhi works with 150 children. By the end of this month, they aim to set shop in Pune. So far nine schools across Mumbai and Delhi have already adopted the SOS curriculum.
“Funds and sponsorship have been a major hindrance. It was also tough to convince schools and NGOs to adopt the SMS communication model. Due to a stereotypical mentality, many teachers and principals felt that introducing such technology would harm rather than help. But in the long run, this training model and the precautions devised by psychologists have helped convince schools and orphanages,” he concludes.