When Anushya heard that her school would remain closed due to the ongoing pandemic, she wept uncontrollably. Her school, teachers, friends, and her precious books, meant the world to her. In a lockdown, all she held dear would be taken away from her. Anushya S, from Guttur, Tamil Nadu was 11 at the time. Her parents, Shankar and Muthamma, farmers owning a small patch of land, also felt a deep concern for their daughter’s future. They had always wanted her to become an IAS officer. How could they help a first-generation learner continue her academic journey on their own?
Little did Anushya and her parents know that the Resource Persons (RPs) in the Road to School (RTS) Program, which was running at her school had pre-empted this situation and already had an action plan chalked out. Virtual classes began soon after. Everything seemed just the same, except that the fun of learning, activities and discussions was now brought to students’ homes and children saw their friends and teachers on a 5-inch by 5-inch screen. Mrs. Malathi, the RP managing Anushya’s class, stayed in constant touch with Anushya and her family. At first Anushya, couldn’t join in the fun of virtual learning as her parents didn’t have a smartphone. But her parents were quick to take a decision.
Selling some of their personal belongings, they bought a smart phone with support from the RTS team. While the classes focused on academic subjects like Math, English and Tamil, virtual events like quizzes and competitions were also conducted on a regular basis. Participation in the virtual classes and events didn’t come naturally to many children as it was very different from what they were accustomed to. So, the RPs of the RTS program made a WhatsApp group with the school principal and teachers to motivate the students. They communicated with the students daily, ensuring that they continue to attend the classes and learn. “I am happy to see my child studying every day. I can also see the joy on her face when she connects virtually with her friends and teachers,” says Muthamma, Anushya’s mother.
“My students enjoy themselves thoroughly. They can engage with their friends, talk to us, their teachers and experience their classroom in a whole new way. This has helped them not only continue their journey of learning but also relieve the boredom and monotony of being locked up at home for months on end. The interactions we have in the class are crucial for students to cope with this unexpected and unsettling change in their lives,” says Mrs Malathi, RP, Road to School.
Learning Links Foundation, in partnership with Ashok Leyland, has been conducting the Road to School program in Hosur, Tamil Nadu since 2015. The program follows a holistic child development model. It focusses on learning enhancement through remedial, scholastic and co scholastic interventions. RTS has diverse offerings like the wellness initiative, nutrition support, arts such as music, and physical development through sports. The program annually benefits 56,000 students from 714 communities located around the schools. Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic hit India, the RTS program has engaged with school students via digital and hybrid outreach models. It had a modest start of 1800 students at the beginning of the pandemic, but today it reaches out to over 38,000 students daily. These students are engaged using multiple modes including online teaching, video conferencing, audio conferencing and in some cases individually as well.