Lockdowns to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have posed many challenges for school education across the world, and India is no exception. A recent report released by UNICEF has presented that the COVID-19 pandemic in India and the subsequent lockdown has impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary education, besides 28 million children who were undergoing pre-school education in Anganwadi centers.
In this phase of a crippling pandemic, technology has emerged as a major lifesaver. However, it has also brought a set of challenges, especially for rural India. Only a quarter of households (24%) in India have access to internet facilities.
A study conducted by Child Rights and You (CRY) in four southern states of India found that 94% of the respondents do not have access to smartphones. Most of the respondents from Karnataka owned smartphones with nine percent of the 1,445 respondents answering in the affirmative, while only three percent out of the 1,740 children surveyed in Tamil Nadu had a smartphone.
However, efforts are being done by the government, NGOs, other members of civil society to continue education for children through multiple e-platforms like web portals, mobile apps, TV channels, radio, and podcasts, to reach students in every nook and corner of the country. For instance, the Karnataka government is extensively using DIKSHA online portal for e-Learning. Madhya Pradesh has launched Top Parent App. Various NGOs are using high-quality EdTech apps such as– Chimple, Maths Masti, Google Bolo, English for kids, etc.
In this context, it becomes furthermore important to systematically frame a solution that is equal, accessible, affordable, and healthy (in terms of both its physical and mental effect on students). Hence, we have come up with a campaign to initiate learning from home. This began with SiV teachers from across 34 centers conducting surveys on the availability of resources for e-learning. Teachers initiated the learnfromhome campaign by creating 34 Whatsapp groups. After a lot of brainstorming, the BOLO app was chosen for learning because of its ease of use and interface, guided reading facility, supporting visual and interactive features. The introductory video in local language made by the Skill in Village team and continuous interaction with parents have taken this campaign right to the doors of our students.
The learnfromhome program is aimed at not just enabling continued learning for students in rural areas but also at motivating them in the process of learning. ‘Learning through activities’ is a core component of this initiative. While Bolo and English for kids were chosen for this initiative in the first two phases, few vital points were kept in mind.
Students should enjoy learning.The content should support their regular and foundational curriculum.
Apps should offer a self-assessment feature for students, as the absence of the teachers created a challenge in monitoring and evaluation.We came across a few challenges such as lack of digital literacy and infrastructural support. But, the enthusiasm of students and the efforts of teachers with gradual support from the community made this endeavor possible. The average number of students benefited in a cluster (a group of 5-7 villages) improved from 80 to 88 in a span of two months.
🙶Students read 65 stories and attended 5 timely assessments. Some students also participated by making interesting and creative worksheets.🙷 While students were actively engaged in the learn from home initiative, our teachers also turned this challenging time into an opportunity. They participated in Cambridge Assessment webinars, other relevant webinars for brushing digital skills, communication skills, and classroom management skills and attended learning sessions with the program team where they were assessed based on the CPD framework. In addition, they took the British Council test and were certified based on their CEFR levels.
The future of education will find no reason to ignore the utilization of technology since it may very well be the best platform to empower learning in an age that is integrating technology as a way of life. With the uncertainty about the post-pandemic world, we believe our initiative will serve as a small step towards larger transformation.
“My daughter can frame sentences better now. She practices activities every day. I appreciate the initiative for engaging students in COVID times. She even includes me while learning. It makes me happy.”
-Lakshmi, Mummigatti village, Karnataka
Regardless of the challenges, parents have been the support system of this online initiative. Lakshmi shared her gratitude for the program’s continuous online engagement with the students.
When asked about the application used for learning, she says, “It is easy to use. My daughter enjoys playing games and reading stories suggested by her teacher on a daily basis. Teachers are in continuous contact with the children and are helping them to learn through online activities.”