Over 300 million school-going children are away from school, not because the communities are unaware of the importance of education nor is it because they lack affordability of schooling. It is because of the unavoidable consequence posed by the unprecedented arrival of COVID 19. The question that has gripped us all since the beginning of the nationwide lockdown which forced schools to shut down is, ‘How can our children continue learning in the present circumstances?’
While in urban localities, technology has helped in engaging our children in e-learning activities, disruption of education has been a graver concern in distant provinces, where technology is yet to seep into the way of life.
As our host, Chetan Kapoor, COO, Tech Mahindra Foundation gears up to moderate this session, our panelists prepare to describe several steps to continue the promise of education to our nation’s children in the remotest geographies of India.
Lack of Information
When it comes to the general issues faced by the panelists, Samiksha Godse, who works with Lok Biradari Prakalp in Gadchiroli district in the state of Maharastra, highlighted how in the initial days of the lockdown there seemed to be lack of basic information in the district with regards to COVID 19, which increased community gatherings like prayer meets. However, with the efforts of organization & other well-meaning sources, they managed to create awareness by circulating educational videos & providing information in the local dialect of the tribal communities.
Change in Social Dynamics
Taniya Parveen, who works with i-Saksham towards building a community of fellows & coaches aspiring teachers, after having completed her fellowship training herself, points out that initially, the children were enjoying the lockdown 1.0 as it felt like an early summer vacation, however as the lockdown progressed, children became more aware of the pandemic and started executing the precautionary measures as well when the laborers started returning to the villages in Bihar.
Aswathy, who works with Ayang – an organization that works towards transforming the marginalized community in areas of education, healthcare & livelihood in the remote island of Majuli, Assam – shares it was especially difficult for the tribes to follow the lockdown guidelines as they are a closely-knit community & perform their day to day tasks as a unit.
Drop out rates
Aswathy mentions though maintaining the momentum of the children’s education is of priority, another severe concern is that of older girls & boys dropping out of school in Majuli to support their families due to the necessity of generating income in these dire times.
Though challenges are plenty, our panelists are moving towards Innovative Solutions, as extraordinary issues demand extraordinary solutions
Neeraj Naidu, who works with Shiksharth, an organization that provides access to meaningful education in conflict-affected tribal areas by combining community wisdom with existing curriculum, mentions how he along with his team created a series of read-aloud stories to keep the momentum of studies going. They created the videos in both Hindi & English, especially in lower quality so that the distribution of the content was easy & could reach as many children as possible via the internet.
The best-illustrated books were included in the mix, over 50 videos were created which have received +10,000 views from all over India. The moment of validation for Neeraj & team was when they received a phone recorded video of a little girl trying to read the story herself and expressing the words at an age where she is still learning to pronounce words properly.
Taniya & team conducted telephonic surveys with parents within the initial weeks of the national lockdown to understand how the studies of children were going & to their satisfaction 50% of the children were already learning every day with their parents or older siblings. However, to ensure each child receives support, leaders & fellows were trained for 2 weeks & all the children were provided with the materials like videos, along with one fellow who took out an hour’s time every day to teach 10 children over the phone and help them study remotely
Going back to the roots
Though Neeraj & team initiated the read-aloud videos, they emphasized on the need to look beyond e-learning as the sole avenue to learning during these troubled times. In response to COVID 19, Shiksharth developed learning kits that consisted of work papers & reading materials for the benefit of children who do not have access to internet or phones, so that no child’s education was neglected.
Strengthening the community
Taniya mentioned the need to reinforce the importance of education with the community, “We are trying to shift the belief that education can only take place in schools as the lockdown now makes it impossible for children to gather under one roof. So instead of waiting around, we are taking the education to the children’s households and it is heartwarming to see that the parents are supporting their children as much as they can to learn, despite being uneducated themselves.”
Samiksha enlightened us on the process that was followed in Gadchiroli, which is a green zone and lacks basic access to phone & e-learning opportunities. “Post lockdown 2.0 we started running 12 community-run learning centers within 30 villages where the teachers in each village would gather the children for 3 hours every day and read out stories etc to keep them engaged, out of the 1100 students that would attend the school on a normal day, we managed to reach out to 700 students with the lockdown model”. “The fascinating aspect is that we write letters to the Village head’s who’d further distribute the information to the children about the class timings & schedules”
Mental health & emotional support
“It is vital that we focus on supporting the children, mentally & emotionally during this crisis to understand what are they feeling, how are they feeling. We need to encourage the children to speak up about the thoughts that are bothering them, says Aswathy who believes mental health of the children is one aspect needs to be paid extra attention
An innate urge to learn
Samiksha recalls one of the overwhelming, motivational moments for her when one of the ex-students from her school had returned from IIT Mumbai due to the lockdown & requested for WiFi access from the school building, despite it being shut, he sat outside the premise and utilized the WiFi to complete his syllabus & assignments for almost 8 hours every day.
An appeal for help
Aswathy highlights the need to provide, consistent, long term support especially for rural educational development as it takes many years of dedicated efforts to build a functioning system, particularly in villages. Additionally, Neeraj adds, providing networking & collaboration opportunities for NGOs within the educational sector would help in growing their collective efforts.
Taniya says, working on initiatives that help in building the capacity for e-learning in rural areas like Bihar would amplify the learning experience for children. Finally, Samiksha requests viewers to take out the time to educate themselves on the issues related to education in rural areas & also visit the children in the villages, to provide with moral support & their company
With this, the fourth episode of Reality Check came to a close with the four panelists sharing some gripping stories amidst COVID 19 and messages of hope that every child receives education. We are reminded of Chetan’s words during the discussion – “Although everything seems uncertain at the moment, we can look at this as that phase in the “Samudra Manthan” when the poison is churned out. Once this is over, the hope is that we will be victorious and win the elixir of life.”
Based on the Panel discussion on Mantra4Change’s Reality Check Webinar series