Harnessing edu-tech for unprivileged children during pandemic

The field workers or on-ground workers form the backbone of anyorganisation. Various groups and volunteers that were active before the lockdown had to cease operations due to COVID-19.

By   |  Published: 5th Aug 2020  12:01 pm

New Delhi: In most of the rural and urban low-income communities, non-profit volunteers — mostly students or young professionals who give few hours each week to teach voluntarily — play a significant role in delivering quality education to children; but as the COVID-19 danger looms large and on-ground activities stay put, the benefits underprivileged children derived from these classes has run dry, notes an education expert.

Ankit Arora, a former ‘Teach for India’ fellow and ed-tech entrepreneur, who started Saarthi, told IANSlife: “These volunteers are involved in either directly teaching with the child or in providing resources, running centers, coaching parents etc. The field workers or on-ground workers form the backbone of anyorganisation. Various groups and volunteers that were active before the lockdown had to cease operations due to COVID-19. It did bring about a significant loss, especially to those children whose only source of knowledge were these groups or individuals.

“I believe that in such a landscape, all such bodies and individuals must try to come up with models that suit the current situation.. Even though education is one of the worst affected sectors by the pandemic, it is also the sector that holds the key to moving past this and creating a better world. The field workers are closest to the ground reality and understand thechallenges of delivering education via online or offline medium. We should use their experience and knowledge to create instructional programmes that benefit all the children without discriminating on the basis of who has access to technology or not. Neglecting education is not feasible. Hence, new models of teaching must be put into place and field workers’ insights and experiences should drive the new pedagogy,” he said.

Arora’s venture, Saarthi, which used to engage children in fun learning through “activity boxes” delivered to them, and tracking progress via a network of community-based women (‘relationship managers’), has adapted his model of learning for Covid times.

“Now, our relationship managers recruit kids who are given a diagnostic test to help us gauge their level of learning. We allot suitable worksheets to these kids that are sent to their parent’s mobile phones early in the morning every day. Parents copy down the worksheets in the child’s notebook and by evening, the parents send a picture of the completed worksheet to the RM, who enters the scores of the kids in our system. We do plan out an intervention if a child is seen performing consistently low on these worksheets,” he shared.

Saarthi is working with about 5,000 parents across Delhi, Haryana and Uttarakhand with a high daily response rate. “Parents like that they don’t need to have a smartphone for hours for this intervention and that there is someone who checks their child’s work every evening and gives them appropriatefeedback. We plan to launch this in rural villages in Madhya Pradesh in the next month.”

In most cases of low-income communities, parents have the determination and ability, but lack motivation to get actively involved in their kids’ education, added the expert who has worked for Central Square Foundation, a philanthropic investment organisation where he managed research and investments for the Education Technology vertical. His organisation focusses on parent involvement for better outcomes in children’s education.

According to UNICEF, at least 40 million children worldwide, of which nearly 22 million are from South Asia, have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year as COVID-19 shuttered childcare and early education facilities.

“Early childhood can be determined as the most important part of a child’s life. 85 per cent of cognitive development of the brain happens at this age. Pre-school years are formative years of a child’s life wherein they require guidance. We have to come together to exchange best practices amongst organisations and countries to formulate a holistic strategy to reach out to millions of children in South Asia and the world,” he concluded.