Learners Today, Leaders Tomorrow

Jawhar, a rural taluka located in Palghar District of Maharashtra, has traditionally been inhabited by tribals, engaged in agriculture, getting by on their meagre earnings. Children and youth from Jawhar have faced a dual shock because of the COVID-19 pandemic – witnessing their family members grappling with the stress of migration and lost livelihoods, and simultaneously, missing out on access to education in their prime developing years.

Due to a combination of factors– schools lacking infrastructure for remote education, teachers not being trained in the online model, lack of access to digital devices, and poor internet connectivity– the progress of many bright, industrious learners in Jawhar had almost halted. Just then, the Road to School program team swung into action to remedy the situation.

The Road To School Program in Jawhar (an initiative of Hinduja Foundation – implemented by Learning Links Foundation) has been a beacon of hope in many a student’s life. It offers remedial lessons to improve literacy and numeracy skills, addressing the learning gaps of students. Additionally, with sessions on wellness, art and craft, and physical education, it fosters all-round personal development. The program benefits over 4000 children from 14 schools and 16 communities spread across Jawhar.

When schools closed down, the Road to School team began visiting students in their villages. Learning was imparted in community spaces, while following COVID-19 safety protocols. At times, however, lockdown restrictions prevented the team from visiting students’ villages. In such cases, students nominated as peer leaders would mobilize the local children for group learning sessions. A shared digital device would link many learners to online classes, under the peer leader’s supervision. This innovative model was given the name ‘iLead Student Leadership Initiative’.

One of the many beneficiaries of the Road to School program was Rani, a Grade 10 student from an intervention school in Jawhar. Having lost her mother when she was a toddler, she had been raised by her paternal uncle and aunt. Since the program’s inception, Rani had transformed – from a shy reclusive girl to a proactive student. However, once lockdown was imposed, she became confined to her home. She was tasked with daily household chores and had limited exposure to the program activities. With no sign of schools reopening, her father insisted she leave her studies and help support the family.

Hearing of her situation, a Road To School Resource Person visited her family to counsel them on the benefits of her continued education – which proved to be a turning point in Rani’s life. Much to her delight, she could get back to doing things she loved – learning new concepts and skills. Her own determination to study further, along with support from her uncle and aunt, made it possible for her to continue education.

Rani began to undertake an arduous journey of 6 kms. to reach the location where face-to-face engagement was conducted for small cohorts of students, adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines. Rather than despairing, Rani used this opportunity to demonstrate fine leadership skills – now coordinating to get the location and schedule of the next class, then informing her classmates from nearby hamlets. With her potential being recognized, she was appointed as a student leader of her community, under the iLead Student Leadership Initiative. With dedicated art sessions every week, Rani was able to enhance her creativity using different forms of art. She even participated in an online poster-making competition organized by Maharashtra State Board Council, wherein she secured the second place. Rani has now become a young leader, who takes initiative to spread awareness about COVID-19, encouraging her classmates and community residents to wear masks and take all safety precautions. She also ensures all her classmates attend classes regularly. She is positive about clearing her academic examinations with flying colors, and aspires to become an engineer while continuing to learn different art forms.

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