A few days ago, I was traveling via flight and thinking: are we able to comprehend the amount of changes and impacts that have happened in last seven to nine months? Certainly, we are able to recognise the changes in our routine and routine interactions, but there must be deep, long-lasting impact of the pandemic on our thinking, behaviour and culture. Many things will play a definite role in the years to come. Some of them are positive, while some are negative, and that too depends on one’s outlook.
Education, especially public education, has been exploring modern scientific methods of teaching and learning for quite some time now. But the pandemic has accelerated this shift from classrooms to the digital space. The “no alternative” has acted like a boon for many of our village children. Attending classes on smartphones, sending assignments over WhatsApp or giving online tests — online teaching has opened the vast world of the internet for these children. This change was long due and often avoided or deemed unimportant.
Evidence suggests that not just children, but even school teachers, especially female teachers, have found self-worth through the use of technology and digital content creation. I work with teachers and students of 24 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Awasiya Vidyalayas in Jharkhand, impacting 12,000 adolescent girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. The closure of all schools forced our team to think, evaluate and devise new ways of reaching these girls. We call it ‘Reach.Teach.Support’ and have been implementing this model in collaboration with district administrations.
Every day, we hear heart warming stories from teachers, wardens and students.
Sangeeta Chaudhary, a teacher at KGBV Jamshedpur, said,
“I joined KGBV two months ago. I had not even familiarised myself with the faces of my students when the lockdown happened. Initially, when I called a few students, I was perplexed as I couldn’t recall their faces. It bothered me so I searched on internet about how to use Google Meet to hold meetings. I added three students to my first Google Meet classroom and I can’t explain the joy I felt when I saw my students. The present adverse situation has taught us new ways to connect with our students.”
Fortunately, one of the most beautiful districts in Jharkhand, East Singhbhum, is our karm bhumi. The cultural richness makes it one of a kind. There is a fine blend of modern industrial culture and age old tribal culture. Santhali is the most widely spoken language among the tribes here. Most of the KGBV students speak Santhali.
While the new National Education Policy has only recently started laying emphasis on instructions in mother tongue up to Class 5, states such as Odisha have been working on multilingual education (MLE) for more than two decades now.
Over 26.3% of the Jharkhand population consists of different tribes. Hopefully, the state government will soon focus on creating educational videos having different mediums of instruction. Meanwhile, Mohan Soren, the Santhali language teacher from KGBV Potka, learned video creation through our virtual training and is now creating beautiful videos in Santhali for his students.
Sombari Hansda, another Santhali language teacher from the remote KGBV Chakulia, travels five kilometers every day to get internet connectivity to interact with her students, provide social emotional support to them and create videos in Santhali.
Students have shared beautiful self portraits and hand drawings under our girl empowerment programme from their homes in the hilly villages, struggling with basic necessities like power and network. What was seemingly difficult, impractical or even impossible is coming out to be delightfully possible. Teachers are devising ways of reaching as many students as possible, as we stand with them to support them and train them with the help of our peers and the District administration.
Many more stories of resilience are coming in. More power to our teachers, students and their parents.
About the author: Kena Holkar is the Program Head of Ugam Education Foundation.