By Meenal Sarda, Associate Director of Room to Read’s Literacy Program; Sourav Banerjee, Country Director, Room to Read India
COVID-19 has changed our lives in innumerable ways. School closures have posed several questions on the continuity of learning for children. Even where school openings are being considered, the focus is on secondary and tertiary education. The early primary grades, where children are in their foundational years, will probably be the last to come back to school. The children bearing the highest brunt of the pandemic are the ones who need access to high-quality education the most.
As an organization committed to serving low-income communities, Room to Read is striving to compensate for the learning loss through a combination of online and offline initiatives. Here are the top ten strategies we are working on:
The government has set up an online portal, DIKSHA, to provide high-quality content on education and various organizations have contributed content to this platform. Through our network of field offices and staff, we have been raising awareness in communities and teachers on the content that is available online and ways of using it with children.
There is a recognition that a vast majority of households do not have access to the internet or devices like smartphones. Hence, media such as community radio, local cable TV network and Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) can be utilized to deliver learning content to parents and children.
We pivoted to develop worksheets that are delivered to children at their home, with social distancing norms being followed. These worksheets help children stay connected with concepts they already know and practise reading skills through self-learning and involving minimal parental intervention.
Parents’ contribution to the education of their children is more significant than ever right now. Many of them find themselves thrust in the forefront with little understanding or preparation of ways to engage children. Parents and caregivers need to be supported on ways to engage children at home, which can be done by sending them messages, sharing stories and literacy-related games that they can involve children in.
Teachers continue to be important stakeholders in the process of education. Teacher training can be sustained through blended methods which can include online discussions, utilizing existing Whatsapp platforms and sharing videos with teachers on instructional content. These will help in ongoing capacity building, so teachers can support children now, and also when they come back to school, through differential teaching methods.
Eventually, when children do start to attend school, they would require support to catch up with the learning requirements of their grade. Preempting that scenario, it is important to develop a remedial package for children which would help them attain the learning levels of their grade and enable their progress to the next one.
COVID, and its repercussions, have been stressful and traumatic for many children and communities. In addition to the focus on literacy and reading, we need to address the social and emotional well-being of children. This initiative will be relevant post COVID and is being done through varied resources such as worksheets, stories where children get space to talk about emotions and expressing gratitude. It is critical to sensitize parents and teachers on the significance of emotional well-being and ways to take it forward with children.
Literacy Cloud is the online library of Room to Read’s children’s books, as well as read-aloud videos and professional development resources for educators. This resource has become even more relevant now and we are prioritizing uploading content in local languages so it can benefit more people. We are also linking this up with existing government platforms and apps.
Room to Read conducted its annual reading campaign, starting from Independence Day (August 15th) and culminating on International Literacy Day (September 8th) to retain the focus on literacy and reading. We received a great response from all the participants with pledges for dedicated reading time.
While government partnerships have always been a priority for Room to Read, we are leveraging our existing relationships to work with all levels of educators, including the academic resource coordinators and teachers to reach children. During this crisis, we are working harder than ever to ensure that the most vulnerable children are not left behind.
We are all aware of the digital divide present in many low-income communities, and often it is the government schools which cater to the most marginalized communities. These strategies have been developed keeping in mind the children we target and their access (or lack of) to digital resources. The pandemic has pushed the underserved even further to the periphery and it is critical to focus on the children who stand to gain from these educational interventions the most.