LEARNING IN RURAL INDIA IN THE FACE OF COVID-Small Steps towards Inclusion
It is undeniable that equal solutions work in a much poorer manner in a country like India where there is huge disparity in accessibility and literacy. Hence, to see how some of the equitable small solutions have worked or will help to ease the problems discussed in the previous article, let us look at how some of the institutions have addressed the issues regarding inequitable access to education.
1. Making use of WhatsApp to send daily plans, chapters to be read, homework through messages, images & voice notes, explanatory videos on few concepts. Interestingly, there are students who reported to have received poses of Yoga to be practiced for the day from their PT teachers as well. Students can go through the material and make use of the groups created with faculties to clarify their doubts, send submissions. Although this still attributes to increased screen time, it does overcome concerns related to internet bandwidth & accessibility being hurdles to access education. Since WhatsApp is a very easy medium to use, students do not require extensive help to start using the platform. The Delhi government has made different plans for different grades through the ‘Learning with human feel’ scheme & teachers are trying to actively reach out through WhatsApp in Delhi & some portions of UP. As per the scheme, online periods would be conducted only for Classes 11 and 12, whereas teachers will share study materials for 9th and 10th graders, provide guidance for students until 8th grade. Although students did face issues adapting to this mode of learning in the beginning and still face trouble to comprehend subjects like Maths, they feel that this is still better than no classes at all & contributes to some level of learning.
2. Leveraging platforms like All India Radio and DD channels for broadcasting educational content. This has come handy especially in regions like Meghalaya where severe network issues are faced due to which setting up a continuous medium of interaction through phones is not viable.The content released here is based on the curriculum of Meghalaya Board of School Education for primary, middle and high school level students.This naturally has its disadvantages also as communication is strictly one-way between teachers & students. But nevertheless, it can be used for learning less intensive subjects, even spread health & awareness messages for students. In UP, the education department has planned to air a radio programme ‘Aao English Seekhein’ primarily targeting students of government schools. The program was a joint effort by UNICEF & few learning institutions from Pune.
3. Kerala government initiative had also commenced virtual classes from June 1, the usual reopening day for all Government schools. However, a survey undertaken by Education department before rolling out virtual classes revealed that about 2.61 lakh students did not have any access to online system. This was immediately followed by community, NGO, local & state governments’ initiatives to supply computers & smartphones to as many children as possible. The government had also made arrangements in nearby public establishments like libraries, Akshaya centres, community centres & Anganwadis to be spaces for such students to pursue education. As a result, the number dwindled to 89 by June 18 as per the survey results of Education department. They are also streaming the content on government run education channel Kite Victers, available for free on cable networks, DTH & over the internet, from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm on weekdays.
LKG and UKG students will have classes for half-an-hour, lower and upper primary for an hour, high school students for one-and-half hours and 12th grade students for two hours respectively. Separate time slots for weekdays & reschedules on weekends have been prepared based on classes. Teachers have been given the responsibility to reach out to students and find out if they are facing any issues in accessing the services. Although NGOs and local bodies have set up common spaces to access virtual content in Dalit colonies and Adivasi hamlets,there are still few students from tribal population, coastal areas, families of migrant workers who find it difficult to access the services & they need special attention & planning to be able to access the services.
4. A wonderful initiative has been taken by St John Bosco school in Kerala to make learning possible for few migrant families from Mysuru. At least 3 teachers from this school visit the homeless families living under a bridge in Kochi,daily with laptops having downloaded lectures which were streamed the previous day. They take essential safety measures by carrying masks & sanitizers for everyone. They engage with students daily from 11 am – 12.30 pm only as the students have to go fishing to contribute in generating income. Although the classes run only for 11 students, there are many other younger children who are also engaged by the teachers. The school authorities had to convince the parents a lot to let them take classes and the efforts taken by them are absolutely commendable. However, now that monsoons have arrived, teachers are hoping that the local authorities might be able to provide a better facility or a space with proper roofing to continue their classes without disruption.
5. Save the Children, an international NGO has run projects like mobile learning center for children aged 3-14, living in slum areas or on street, who are not part of formal education system & temporary learning center to support children during emergencies. In the former case, the idea is to take education to these children as they are not able to go to school to access it otherwise& in the latter case, education kits are distributed in the set-up facilities to help the children in continuing learning during an unprecedented situation. During COVID also, they had taken up resource drops for some of these communities. Either or both of these initiatives could be adopted by schools for their students who do not have the means to access any educational resources from their homes.
Of course, the teachers might have to put extra efforts, compensate for the time lost through longer weekdays, adjust the weekends or vacations in a manageable manner, tweak the academic calendar to accommodate extensions once the offline classes start. It is highly difficult to consider this as a replacement for their usual studies and hence, absolutely understandable that full-fledged classes won’t be able to continue. However, that should not put a complete full stop to learning. Even when offline classes were pursued, we have had several discussions on how timetables should be better managed to focus on development of language& basic arithmetic abilities; activity-based learning or other skill set development for lower grades. Maybe, this can be used as an avenue to pursue some of those goals at home and if they succeed, there will definitely be better outcomes once, they return to normal curriculum. The system should thrive to find opportunities, work out ways to impart learning in the best possible way to cover all students and bridge gaps for children to continue pursuing education as the pandemic is here to stay for sometime.
Written & Edited By Parvathy G