To say that it’s been a tough few months would be to state the obvious.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken everybody’s lives, from migrant workers and students to businesses across the country.
But when the lockdown was first announced, few people thought of the greater impact on the education of children from marginalized backgrounds.
Naman Bansal was one of the exceptions. The 28-year-old educator and entrepreneur immediately recognized that shutting down schools for marginalized communities and keeping children at home would lead to a huge loss of learning for them.
He knew he had to do something to help students continue their education. He says he and his team then thought to themselves, “Even in these trying times, we can't give up. We need to buckle up and give the children and their communities what they deserve.”
Naman works as a program manager at the Solar Digital Night Schools program run by the non-profit organization Barefoot College in Tilonia in Rajasthan. This initiative runs 49 schools in remote areas across 11 states to bring education to students from marginalized backgrounds using solar-powered projectors and tablets.
When the lockdown began, the Solar Digital Night Schools were closed overnight. And more than 1,400 children suddenly had no access to education.
While the world has moved towards online education, students in rural India couldn’t make the switch as most didn’t have access to a steady internet connection and devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers.
That’s when Naman and his team decided to rise to the challenge of providing a seamless education for these children. He and his team of around 100 people launched an initiative to send the students activities in alternative ways to keep their education going. They created paper worksheets, voice messages, and digital stories to teach the students lessons from various subjects.
Naman’s extraordinary efforts to fight the odds and ensure that children from marginalized families continued to learn despite the lockdown and digital divide is the reason why he is one of Harappa’s 10 Habit Heroes.
The Habit Heroes initiative recognizes the can-do spirit of people whose attitude and initiatives have inspired us during the coronavirus crisis.
The Habit Heroes used Harappa’s five Habits—Think, Solve, Communicate, Collaborate, and Lead—for a range of initiatives, from feeding migrant workers to building face shields to deal with the crisis.
So how did Naman do it? He says, “We decided to distribute the one big problem into three smaller problems and figure out solutions." So, 25% of the children did not have access to any type of cell phone, 55% had access to a basic feature phone and only 20% to a smartphone.
Different problems, different solutions.
For around 175 children who did not have access to cell phones, Naman activated their group of teachers to create worksheets and deliver them to students’ homes every two weeks.
Over half the students had access to a basic feature phone. The teachers gave them simple activities as audio messages, using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology, for their English, Mathematics, and Hindi subjects every three days. Around 600 students have been sent 19 activities so far.
For the remaining one-fifth who had access to smartphones, Naman and his team partnered with story-reading organization Worldreader to create fascinating stories for the children to read with their parents. They have sent 14 stories for over 200 children.
Naman had help from the network of community teachers in the villages. These teacher-volunteers created audio messages, delivered activities to students, and followed up with them. Soon, the parents too started getting involved in their efforts.
He and his team knew they had achieved something remarkable one month into their initiative when they received a photograph of a child engrossed in completing the worksheet. At that moment, they realized they had successfully ensured that the child had something to learn even in these unprecedented times.
How’s that for heroic?
Tanvi Khemani is Specialist, Curriculum, at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in Media and Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and enjoys eating street-side chaat and writing fiction.
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