COVID-19 has affected millions of people worldwide. As the global pandemic hit India, a nationwide lockdown was imposed on 24th March. Among the first things to close down even before the lockdown were educational institutions, in view of the susceptibility of children towards the disease. Since then and now, the situation has not been better, children are still at home and reopening of schools, especially for the primary grades is still in the distant future. Education since then has taken a new road with virtual classes and remote learning options available throughout the country. To some extent the presence of organisations having online mediums for education has been a boon in the crisis. Millions of students across India are now connected through these mediums while educators and educational organisations are now building up various online platforms for the long run.
While students across the country are adjusting to this new form of education, there is a huge population of children who are left behind due to the existing digital divide in the country. Mobile platforms and online classrooms require smartphones and good internet accessibility. Both of these requirements are a luxury to the students across the rural areas in India, where the penetration of smartphones is a mere 20-25%.
While innovations in the digital space are booming, we need ways to curb this digital divide and make education accessible everywhere. In this whole situation there is an added disadvantage for children in their pre-primary and primary grades. This is the age group which requires mentorship and constant companionship, which they receive in schools and anganwadis.
For a while now, ThinkZone, a social organisation based out of Cuttack has been working towards improving the educational outcomes of children from under-resourced communities using a ‘tech plus touch’ model and activity-based methodology. It enables community educators, Anganwadi workers and primary school teachers to deliver quality early-grade education programs by using ThinkZone’s technology, teaching resources and learning activities.
As COVID-19 hit India, ThinkZone has been implementing its home-based model of learning so that no child’s education is left out during this crisis. This long-term planning of the team just came in handy during the crisis as the initiative is targeted at families in under-resourced communities who have limited access to smartphones and the internet who are the most affected. Designed for children aged 3-10 years, our program empowers the parents to continue engaging and teaching their children. The user-friendly modules can be understood and delivered by the parent regardless of their literacy level or type of mobile phone. There are 2 types of voice-call features in this program. Parents can either call on +91-8750-829-829 and access daily learning modules which they can use to educate their children or they can receive daily 1-2 minutes voice-based calls and SMS on their mobile phones regarding DIY (do-it-yourself) learning modules. These are based on the age level and class of the child.
Since the lockdown, ThinkZone has seen a 4-fold increase in the number of calls received by the parents, and the average duration of calls has doubled. This has happened with our limited outreach activities. Our multilingual program (i.e. it is available in Hindi and English apart from Odia language) has helped us to increase the geographic reach of our program to multiple states apart from Odisha. ThinkZone’s radio-based education program which is an extension of the same program has also been a massive hit among communities and the scale at which we are able to reach out to children is huge. The number of new families calling to their IVR number has significantly increased after April 3rd week, the time from which they started implementing our program. They partnered with local radio stations to deliver educational activities to parents. While their efforts have received an overall positive feedback, they are constantly looking to make our modules better and more engaging for parents and children.