On April 1, 2020, I received a call from a friend Samina Quettawala- a primary teacher at Wadibunder Mumbai Public School. Samina was trying very hard to ensure that her students wouldn’t miss out on learning even during the COVID 19 lockdown. For this, Samina and her colleagues were recording video and audio lessons that they would send to parents via WhatsApp. The challenge, however, was that not all parents of Samina’s students owned smartphones. Even the ones who did could afford data packs for some days of the month only.
There is a significant divide between the rich and poor when it comes to access to education. COVID-19 has made this divide worse. On one side of this divide, children of well to do families are able to continue learning and communicating with their teachers over Zoom or WhatsApp or other digital tools. On the other side, children of low-income families are losing out in this COVID-19 lockdown.
As a former educator of at-risk students myself, I couldn’t tolerate imagining the faces of children from low-income families returning to school with this unexpected gap in learning, trying to remember the last thing they learned – the table of 4 or why trees are important for our planet. I couldn’t bear to think of the teacher whose months of hard work could go undone due to this unexpected gap. Teachers of at-risk students spend months inculcating an interest in formal learning among their students. This is mainly because there are many other competing demands on the child, like earning a livelihood. Once that barrier is crossed, teachers spend more effort to inculcate confidence in a child that they can learn.
This is where I knew that eArth Samvarta Foundation (eSF) had to act. So eSF immediately contacted their friend and technology advisor Vachan Kudmule, Founder, Krazy Devil Creationz (KDC). Vachan believes that everything can and must be designed, especially when it involves solving a social problem. KDC quickly came up with the technology for a solution to help children from low-income families continue learning even during the lockdown. “Students can simply call a Toll Free number and choose their grade and the subject they want to learn and hear recorded lessons free of cost,” explains Vachan. This is how PhoneShaala by eSF and KDC was born.
eArth Samvarta Foundation is an award-winning NGO dedicated to environmental conservation and climate change mitigation. eSF leads public policy reforms for sustainable development through research and development of community-driven solutions. For eSF, education policy has been especially important for environmental conservation. “Under the Sentinels program at eSF we harness the power of education to raise eco-conscious citizens for our planet earth. But when a majority of children cannot access education due to the lockdown, even the mission to educate and train future leaders in environment conservation suffers,” explains eSF’s Chief of Operations and an educator herself, Vaishali Singh. PhoneShaala lessons will thus incorporate important lessons on environment and climate change too.
PhoneShaala, in fact, also aims to help at-risk students from low-income families cope with any child abuse or trauma that goes on. eSF’s Chief Strategy Officer and renowned mental health expert Deepa Singh highlighted how for many at-risk students, school provided an escape from abuse at home. Thus, PhoneShaala lessons will also inculcate exercises on mental health for the children, explains Deepa.
Lessons on PhoneShaala would be board and region agnostic so that children across the country can dial in and learn. eSF and KDC aim to help the children learn important concepts, life skills and values instead of an exam-oriented or syllabus oriented focus. Mrunal Raiborde, Headmistress of Vanita Vishram Primary School in Mumbai thus highlights that PhoneShaala will in fact be very useful even after the COVID lockdown as it will allow teachers to provide after school assistance and also help parents be more involved in their child’s education.
eArth Samvarta Foundation’s ultimate goal is to harness education to drive environmental awareness and conservation. Chairman & Managing Director & co-founder of eSF Abhishek Singh, highlights that this goal cannot be achieved fully without breaking the barriers in access to education for all. He says, “In a way, COVID-19 made the existing barriers to education more known and urgent. The sacrifices made to fight the pandemic would go to waste if we don’t learn valuable lessons from it. PhoneShaala by eSF and KDC thus turns crisis into a ray of hope by improving access to education for children of low-income families so they never stop learning – seekthe raho being the motto of PhoneShaala.”
PhoneShaala is currently under Beta Testing and the NGO is looking for funders to support this cause of reducing inequalities in education and education lesson curators. To take a demo of the technology: please email email@example.com
eSF is also working tirelessly for COVID Control with governments in 5 districts of India. To know more about work and impact for COVID 19 control please visit: https://www.esf.ngo/covid-19