Taking Education to Masses in Pandemic Times – The Indian Way


As COVID pandemic jolted people across the world, one of the most affected sectors was education. India was not an exception. The onslaught of a catastrophe put the future of millions of its students at stake.

Though the Western world took a long time to gauge the coronovirus’ likely impact, the 1.34 billion plus nation – India -- promptly closed down the country. It was done to prevent the spread of contagious virus. The swiftness even earned the UN’s appreciation.

All educational institutes, work places, markets were shut, only emergency travel was allowed across the country.

As the lockdown barred any gathering and suggested mandatory social distancing, it turned disseminating education a Herculean task as it meant no more conventional classrooms.

Soon, the government realised that the only option was transforming the physical classes-based education system of yore to remote learning. And, digital disruption was the key.

But it meant the new model of learning and teaching pushing not just the students and teachers but parents as well to adapt to the tech-driven learning processes at home.

COVID Jolting Students’ Lifestyle

The novel experiment and the unprecedented scale of the disease drastically affected students' social life along with mental health due to prolonged restricted movement outside.

The changed routine including lack of outdoor activity, disturbed sleeping patterns, social distancing evoked persistent sense of irritation amid constant fear of turning virus-hit.

Such a situation proved more challenging for students from the less privileged backgrounds. The main reasons were reduction in family income, limited access to digital resources, and the cost of internet connectivity.

To arrest the swirling Covid variants' impact, the middle and high schools were fully or partially shut for an average of 18 months. And the primary schools and pre-schools or anganwadis were kept closed for even longer duration.

The challenging time, however, gave birth to innovative ideas in the education sector to enable students to access education through a novel process of teaching and learning via innovative methodologies.

Delhi

In a happening city like Delhi, students had started becoming increasingly uncomfortable due to being away from regular classrooms, and confined to their houses week after week.

Amid this, Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi Government started promoting learning and positive parenting practices “Every Home a School, Every Parent a Teacher”

For younger ones, the approach aligned with two ongoing programs in schools — Delhi government's Happiness Classes, and Mission

Through 'Mission Buniyaad' the parents were guided how to help kids in reading, writing, and basic arithmetic. The government's happiness activities supported

the emotional well-being of children.

Parents were kept in loop about students' daily activities through SMS and IVR (interactive voice response).

Also, SMS were used as nearly 40% of the elementary graders did not have access to smartphones. The IVR enabled even nonliterate parents. Nearly 5.7 lakh parents were getting these messages every day. Daily viewership of classes on social media platforms averaged about 40,000

Particularly in 2021, with the students being stuck at home due to Covid restrictions since March 2020 as all schools and colleges in the state were shut, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his Education Minister Manish Sisodia announced some measures.

Aimed at helping out the students coping with curbs, the measures included introduction of online classes, data packages, and even regular daily activity SMSes to be sent to parents. Re-connecting with students, providing emotional support and bridging learning gaps, and then launching academic activities — was a three-stage government action plan for the academic sessions for nursery till Class 12 grade in its all schools. A section of teachers appreciated the fact that the government wished to first provide emotional support to students before starting the teaching-learning process. They felt it was necessary, considering the emotional trauma they went through during the second Covid-19 wave.

Though later institutions were reopened briefly for 9 to 12 graders between January and February, 2021 for remedial classes, practical work, and pre-boards/mid-term examinations, and schools were later ordered to close just as the pandemic's catastrophic second wave hit almost every family in April.

Haryana

In Delhi's neighbouring state of Haryana too, students suffered a lot. And, for the government like other places, the only solution was to adopt unconventional techniques and methodologies of reaching out to students. The state shut down its schools and colleges even before the national shutdown in the third week of March. It was done as a temporary measure to contain the spreading of the virus.

But Haryana's Department of School Education took an innovative approach to confront the academic and organisational challenges faced by the education sector.

e-Learning Initiative Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar offered a visionary 3S Mantra --Stay at home, Study at home and School at home‟ for home-bound students.

To support this initiative, the department of education department and State Council of Education Research and Training (SCERT) launched Ghar Se PadhaoAbhiyan (learn from home), an e-learning campaign to connect parents and students with over 50,000 teachers through WhatsApp, SMS and phone calls across the state to start academic activities.

It was indeed a big challenge to prevent academic loss of students during the national lockdown period, e-learning platforms for 52 lakh students of class I to XII across the state.

It was soon realised that not all the students were equipped to avail e-learning platforms and this practice might benefit only 20 percent of the students. Efforts are made to make these modules available in both Hindi and English.

Haryana became the first state in the country to use TV for providing distance education during the lockdown period. Almost all the DTH providers and local cable services were roped in for the purpose. The new system carried student-oriented guidelines that included: EduSAT content to be re-telecast to compensate for possible disruption in electricity supply in rural areas; Class,subject and topic-wise time table to be shared daily through 200+ teacher WhatsApp groups; Teachers to create class-wise WhatsApp groups with parents to clear students, Dedicated helpline for students to provide information about e-learning initiatives.

Academic topics covered in EduSAT were to be revised in class again as per the feedback from students/parents.

Chhattisgarh

From teaching children using loudspeakers to providing dry ration at home, the government of Chhattisgarh introduced its own set of innovative methods to ensure education reaches even the unreachable.

'Padhai Tunhar Duwar'

Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel emphasized on online and offline education of children since normal classes weren’t possible.

Online classes were started under the banner of ‘Padhai Tunhar Duwar’ (Education at Your Doorstep). Soon, nearly 20 lakh students and 2 lakh teachers were associated with the android app for online education. Every day, schoolchildren attended online classes and they used to ask queries and share doubts regarding the subjects. In a few months, nearly 39.57 lakh online classes were conducted and the teachers uploaded around 18,184 video lessons and 914 audio lessons for the students. Indian government's think tank NITI Ayog too appreciated it.

Padhai Tunhar Para Since around 44% of the state's area is forest covered, during the pandemic crisis it didn't have internet connectivity. It was difficult for children to attend online classes. To address this challenge in rural areas, small classes at mohalla and para-level (locality-level) were started. Bluetooth was used to share study material with students. These classes were christened 'Padhai Tunhar Para'. Under this, as many as 23,643 teachers helped about 7,48,266 students to continue their education at 35,982 centres.

Loudspeaker School As evident from its name, loudspeakers were used as a mode to impart education. With the help of over 2,000 teachers more than 69,000 children were taught in 'Loudspeaker Classes'. These were organised in villages to teach a large number of students while fully adhering to social distancing directive. Dry Ration for Kids at Home Since the schools remained closed over 28 lakh students of 45,000 schools in the state were provided dry ration at their doorstep. Delivering a dry ration of midday meal to the houses of students was widely appreciated.

Concisely saying, the unbelievable continuation of the Indian education system in unprecedented pandemic times could be possible with governments’ far-sightedness and students’ openness to adapt to change. And that was nothing short of a miracle to the world.