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Mohalla School and A Rag-Picker

Sanjay Singh
Sashi, a rag picker in Grade 1, went to school for a few days before the pandemic broke out and school shut down. He is only six years old and yet works for long hours to segregate items of value from the waste on the outskirts of Gaurinagar area adjacent to Rajnandgaon railway station in Chhattisgarh.  One day, he was rag-picking from the railway track, when his attention was drawn to a voice saying “aaj hum jungle ke kudku ki kahani sunenge”.  He started following the voice and reached the place where some children were listening to stories over the phone. So rag tag was his condition that the other children started making fun of him. But Sashi had ears for no one else; he was entranced and captivated by the amusing story. Seeing his eagerness, Nikki Yadav, who was organising these classes felt that something should be done for him. She spoke to him and asked him if he would like to listen to another story. The boy nodded excitedly, sat there and listened to three other stories in one go. He requested Nikki if he could join this reading session with a few friends from his locality. Sashi belongs to a rag-picking community living in the slums in the nearby areas of Gaurinagar. Listening to the innocent request of Sashi, Nikki’s eyes became moist and she couldn’t utter a word. That day she kept thinking how to support Sashi and to engage him along with his friends in reading stories. Nikki, a cook in the government school at Gauri Nagar where the Literacy Program of Room to Read operates, is an active member of her community. During the lockdown, she undertook the initiative of organizing Mohalla classes in her community to engage students in studies. She was engaged in one such class when she met Sashi. On 15th August, Room to Read’s Reading Campaign started to retain the focus on literacy and reading for children. The Reading Campaign along with a chance meeting with Sashi inspired Nikki to engage more children from the slums. She discussed her idea with the ladies of her neighborhood and motivated them to contribute and support her in this campaign. Shradha and Rukmani joined hands with Nikki to start mohalla classes for underprivileged children during the pandemic.  Together, they visited Sashi in the slums and spoke to other parents there. They motivated them to send their children to the community classes. Furthermore, Nikki requested Room to Read to issue them some of the storybooks that could be used for reading by the students, which was met with eagerly. “Room to Read works in 4234 government schools have distributed  more than 13 lakh age appropriate books through libraries and have befitted more than five lakhs children. I am happy that our quality reading materials and toll-free numbers are used for Mohalla Classes as well,” Says Sourav Banerjee, Country Director, Room to Read, At first, only a few children joined the Mohalla Classes from the slums, but gradually when other children and their parents came to know about them, the participation and involvement of children increased on a daily basis. While the classes started by sharing online stories, they soon spread to reading-writing with the support of the community members and books issued from Room to Read’s Library.  Children are now not only listening to stories but also reading colorful storybooks. Sashi soon came to know about the toll-free number for listening to the stories that has been started as a part of the Reading Campaign.  He enjoys listening to these stories and has become the brand ambassador for this toll-free number. He also encourages other children rag-picking to join the Mohalla Classes. Everyone within the community of Gaurinagar and the slums are appreciating this effort made for children by Nikki and her team. 
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Library Enraptures Three Generations

Library Enraptures Three Generations Like tufts of cotton, different layers of cirrus and cumulous clouds can be seen drifting with the breeze against the azure sky. A sparkling light blue river snakes past the valley forming a picture perfect setting. The van for the Reading Campaign, full of books, followed the undulating roads along the contours of the hills that presented breath-taking views of the valley with terraced fields. The van with books constitutes a mobile library that is a part of Room to Read’s three-week-long reading campaign. “To reach out to remote areas, a mobile library was conceptualized as one of the means to encourage children and expose them to good quality reading material,” says Country Director of Room to Read. He further added, “The most effective solution to end illiteracy is to build a culture of reading and Room to Read’s Reading Campaign aims to do just that. Launched on 15th August 2020 and concluding on the occasion of the International Literacy Day on 8th September 2020, this unique initiative aims to bring together people from all walks of life – students, teachers, parents, working professionals, celebrities and government representatives in a celebration of the magic of reading and through it the joy of learning.” The van reaches Burua village and the employees quietly set up the Mobile library with colourful books under a canopy.  Burua is a beautiful village in Bageshwar district of Uttarakhand. There are a lot of onlookers. The first person to arrive is a 76-year-old old man whohas the distinction of being the first person in the village to have cleared grade 5. He looks surprised after seeing the library, which is a very different experience for him. The excitement to explore the books is palpable on his face throughout the introductory session given by the principal cum cluster coordinator. He rushes to the mobile library after the address of the principal, picking up a book “Andhi” and reading it. After finishing it, he takes another book “Phool Ugana” and repeats the same process until he completes six books. As excited as a child, his eyes sparkle in the gloom of pandemic. “I have never seen books like these in my life and these are interesting books,” says Chait Singh in Burua village during the reading campaign event on 3rd of September. He wore a smile on his face and shared, “My children also studied in this school and right now my third generation that is my grand daughter is here in school. She is in Grade one”. He pointed his finger towards his granddaughter Sakshi who is engrossed in the books with her mother. He paused for a while as though bringing up the blurred memories of his school days, “I am very grateful and will surely discuss these stories with my grandchildren. I am an ardent newspaper reader but due to the pandemic, newspapers have stopped coming. Now, there is nothing to read”. He thanked Room to Read for providing this opportunity and reflected that he feels indebted as something good is happening for children after the pandemic started. He read 7-8 books during the event. He even took a walk around the children engrossed in reading and helped them to read more. The curiosity and the reading enthusiasm was not just limited to Chait Singh, but clearly visible in the whole family. His daughter-in-law Santoshi Devi was also there with her daughter Sakshi. Santoshi shared that the mobile library was a new experience for her but helping her daughter in reading was one of the best experiences she ever had. She added, “I am feeling proud and extend my gratitude to Room to Read”. Sakshi, who is in Grade 1, has never been to school for the pandemic broke out just when she was about to start schooling. The day of the mobile library set up in her school premises is her first day at school during the pandemic. She looks very happy as she enjoys the stories read out to her by her mother. The mobile library has gifted her the sweet experience of exciting stories during her first day in school. 
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Grannies of learning go digital

After winning national recognition, the mascots of women empowerment are now at the forefront of popularising online education. Moving with the Covid times, ‘Nari Shakti Puraskar’ winners 106-year-old Bhageerathi Amma from Kollam and 98-year-old Karthyayani Amma from Alappuzha have taken up the online mode of instruction to realise their dream of clearing the Class X equivalency exam.Determined to fulfil their goals come what may, the elderly women are now learning through the computer screen instead of the blackboard. Though they took some time to get familiarised with the new learning method, the duo are now quite at ease with the ‘new normal’ that Covid times has offered.The grannies were presented with the Nari Shakthi Puraskar, a national award to recognise exceptional work for women empowerment, earlier this year. Bhageerathi Amma, who cleared the Class IV equivalency exam of the Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority (KSLMA), made news as the oldest equivalency course student. Karthyayani Amma too hit the headlines after she cleared the same exam by scoring 98 out of 100 and emerging state topper. Centenarian Bhageerathi Amma finds it hard to concentrate on her online classes, especially when her grandchildren are running around and playing in the house. So she and her literacy instructor Sherly spend time behind closed doors during mornings and evenings. Meanwhile, Karthyayani Amma is making full use of the online mode. “She spends most of her time in front of the laptop, either reading the online study material or watching ‘Aksharam’ Youtube channel of the Literacy Mission. The channel has a number of pre-recorded classroom videos and she diligently takes notes,” said Sathi, her literacy instructor, about the nonagenarian’s routine. KSLMA director P S Sreekala had called up the instructors to know their progress on the eve of International Literacy Day.  Both are presently pursuing their eight-month-long ‘Class VII equivalency course’. Once they clear this course, they will be eligible for the Class X equivalency course which is recognised as equivalent to matriculation.The story has been extracted from
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Press Release: Mainstreaming the Discourse on Water and Livelihood Security for An Atmanirbhar Bharat - A Dialogue Series by ISC and Tarun Bharat Sangh

Water security is the adaptive capacity to safeguard the sustainable availability of, access to, and safe use of water for health, livelihoods, ecosystems, and productive economies. In light of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of water for overall human development is even more relevant. Recognizing the need to build a timely discourse and action framework to effectively address the emerging challenges that are at the intersection of water, environment and community resilience, international non-profit organization, the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) in collaboration with Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS) has initiated a new dialogue series titled ‘Water and Livelihood Security: The Foundation to Make India Atmanirbhar.’The aim of the dialogue series is to bring together practitioners, representatives from government, civil society, academia and communities to discuss, ideate and share experiences on enhancing and improving water and livelihood security in India.  The first session was conducted today in the august presence of Shri. U. P. Singh (IAS), Secretary, Department of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation (DoWRRDGR), and Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation (DDWS), Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, who delivered the keynote address.Shri. U. P. Singh (IAS), Secretary, DoWRRDGR and DDWS, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India“Discourses and collective deliberations are important. It helps eliminate the ‘Us vs. Them’ perspective and allows for the government, non-government organizations and various relevant stakeholders to discuss and come together to address water issues collaboratively.Rather than looking at water as a challenge, it is imperative to generate a discourse on how we can work harmoniously to make water intrinsic to the conversations on development.”The key note address was followed by a rousing thematic address by Magsaysay Awardee, Stockholm Water Prize Winner and the ‘Waterman of India’, Dr. Rajendra Singh. He spoke at length on the topic of ‘Nature, The Pandemic and Security’.Shri. Jalpurush Dr. Rajendra Singh, Chairperson, Tarun Bharat Sangh (TBS)“Due to COVID-19, the people who were displaced and had left their villages to work in cities are returning – this is a revolution. But revolution by itself is not enough, it needs to be combined with action for change, to transform it into rejuvenation and eternal or sustainable development.Atmanirbharta or self-sufficiency needs to begin from India’s villages. Self-sufficiency in villages is possible through land, soil and forest conservation. The traditional wisdom of how this can be done still exists in India and is visible through various examples, wherein even rivers have been revived due to water conservation and agriculture possibilities increased.”This was followed by a panel discussion moderated by ISC’s Associate Director, Water Programs, Mr. Romit Sen. The discussion featured an expert panel comprising of Dr. Indira Khurana, Vice Chairperson of Tarun Bharat Sangh, Shri. Subhash Tamboli, Executive Director at Action for Agricultural Renewal in Maharashtra (AFARM) and Mr. Vivek Adhia, Country Director – India, ISC.Their conversations largely focused on the following key areas:1.    Securing agriculture-based livelihoods2.    Pathway to rejuvenation – making our villages and urban centers resilient3.    Role of government, civil society and partnerships to achieve scale4.    Inter-connectedness of water and livelihood with other aspects of Atmanirbhar Bharat Mr. Vivek P. Adhia, Country Director-India, Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC)“Access to clean and secure water has far-reaching influence on how quickly we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Traditionally, water has been the fulcrum across a range of issues - hunger, health, livelihoods or economic growth. For India to truly become Atmanirbhar, we will need to address competing and complementary uses of water. Now is the time to unlock the true role of water, and actualising its positive impact towards addressing the most basic human needs, rather than being looked at as a commodity for fair consumption across sectors.ISC and TBS will host several sessions as part of the dialogue series over the next six months, covering a range of topics. We will develop a paper at the end of the series highlighting curated solutions as part of a roadmap to ensure water and livelihood security.”The session also hosted the launch of the e-book, ‘Can migrants find livelihood security in their villages?’ co-authored by Shri. Jalpurush Dr. Rajendra Singh and Dr. Indira Khurana. An audience Q & A was conducted and the session concluded with a Vote of Thanks by Mr. Romit Sen.
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Telangana Man’s Innovation Could Help Villages Save 30% on Electricity Bills

Growing up in Gopalapuram village in Warangal (Rural) district, Raju Mupparapu noticed how streetlights in his village, which were switched on as early as 5 pm in the evening, weren’t switched off in the morning. While most residents overlooked the fact that streetlights were on even during the day, what Raju saw was an immense waste of electricity.That’s why he felt compelled to do something about it once he grew up and obtained the technical know-how to fix this problem.Today, the 30-year-old has installed his own device equipped with a Light Dependent Resistor (LDR) sensor in 120 panchayats and the Warangal municipality. The device automatically detects the presence or absence of light and shuts off the main system controlling streetlights.“My device (Natural Street Lights Switch), which has a photosensor, is attached to this system. It automatically detects the presence or absence of light to shut off the main system controlling the street lights. Based on whatever data I could collect from electricity meters in these villages, we witnessed a 30% drop in their power bills. This is not an exact figure for every village since each one has a different number of streetlights and usage levels. But this volume of saving is significant for gram panchayats as the government insists that they pay their electricity dues monthly – which some are unable to do,” says Raju. Early Days, Innovation, ChallengesRaju always evinced a keen interest in electronics ever since his teenage years and went on to complete his BSc in a college located at the nearby town of Narsampet. For some time, his father also worked as an electrician, which he believes influenced his interest in electronics.“I worked on the electricity-saving system in 2014 and tried to get it implemented in my own village. But I had to drop the idea due to lack of finances in the panchayat. When my innovation was picked up by a local publication in 2016, the former Collector of Warangal (Urban), Prashanth Patil, called me and asked me to install two of these devices each in 10 gram panchayats. My father was an electrician, and so that helped a bit. For this particular device, however, I did not take inputs from anyone and built it myself. I just felt it was such a waste if street lights were on during the day. My device can be implemented all across India and it only costs between Rs 3000 and Rs 3500,” says Raju.Egging Raju along the way was Patil, who witnessed this innovative device work first hand.“Sometime in 2016, Raju came to my office and asked whether he could demonstrate his innovation. More than an innovation, it’s a simple, yet very effective, intervention. Once the sunlight falls upon the PVC cells in this device, it automatically switches off the street lights, and when the sun goes down, his system switches on the street lights automatically. Normally in villages, since there are no switches to either turn the power on or off for their streetlights, all the bulbs and tube lights are on 24/7. It causes a serious wastage of expenditure. Electricity charges are high for the gram panchayat, and the lifespan of tube lights and bulbs also diminish.So, Raju’s simple intervention gave us hope. Initially, we installed his device in 10 gram panchayats, tested it out for five to six months, took feedback from sarpanches and other village officials, and eventually, other sarpanches reached out to me saying they want this device installed in their villages. Subjecting this palm-sized equipment to a field test was important because we had to see whether it would withstand the vagaries of nature, and it did,” says Patil, who is currently the Collector of Nalgonda district.On whether he had faced any challenges, Raju says he hasn’t but notes that there were power outage issues as small transformers set up in the village would frequently cause short circuit problems.“This would affect the street lights also and so I explained the issue with these transformers to the villagers,” informs Raju.“Currently, my system is working in about 120 panchayats, one municipality (Warangal Urban), and about 8 to 10 rice mills in Warangal (Urban), Warangal (Rural), Mahbubabad, and Mulugu districts. I first implemented this in my own village Gopalapuram,” he adds.“A key lesson we can learn from Raju’s innovations is that raw talent exists in rural areas. Normally, we see recognition for people from premier institutes like the IITs. But these innovators are aware of local problems and they think of solutions that can best address them. Eventually, his device was implemented in another 100 villages and also introduced in hospitals, government offices and of course gram panchayats as well,” says Patil.Other innovationsThe LDR sensor is not the only device that Raju has developed. There are solar-powered charging systems for mobile phones in public places, remote control to switch on water pumps in fields sitting at home and a theft-tracking device for homes based on heat sensing that you can track through your phone sitting anywhere.In the last few months, however, he gained recognition for his solar-powered grass cutting machine, solar-powered spraying machines for pesticides and a pedal-operated hand wash and sanitation system.In fact, the National Innovation Foundation called the pedal-operated system “a timely solution in response to the need for contactless devices in the prevailing COVID-19 environment.”Nonetheless, the 30-year-old innovator feels this is only the beginning. He believes there are some exciting innovations on the way, although he didn’t chime in with any details.The story has been extracted from
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How Haryana has used an inter-block competitive model to improve student learning levels

IntroductionHow does a state with 14000+ government schools, 60000 teachers and more than 15 lakh students create momentum to achieve a common goal: improving learning levels? This was the question to which the Government of Haryana was seeking an answer. To substantially improve the learning levels of students in government schools, the state government launched the Saksham Haryana campaign with the objective of making 80% of the students in the state grade-level competent. Towards this end the Saksham Ghoshna campaign was launched in December 2017 which devolved ownership and accountability to blocks for ensuring that 80% of students in each block became grade-level competent. Samagra’s Saksham Haryana team supports the state government in implementing Saksham Ghoshna as part of the state’s Saksham Haryana programme. Samagra | Transforming Governance is a mission-driven governance consulting firm. Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates (CMGGA) Programme, which deputes 1 young professional in every district, has been critical in the onground implementation of interventions under Saksham Haryana.Blocks that meet a certain cut off  are declared Saksham and felicitated. By introducing a competitive framework among blocks to attain Saksham status, the state government has been able to generate momentum on the ground and spur multiple stakeholders in the system to work towards improving learning outcomes.DesignIn the simplest terms, the campaign is based on leveraging a nomination-based, third-party assessment of students in government schools that allows performance comparison across blocks and districts. These assessments are conducted periodically by a designated third-party across the state. The question paper, evaluation and analysis of results is done by the third-party independent of the state. Till May 2019, at the start of every round of assessment, the state’s education department declared the nomination window for Saksham status open. Blocks which believed 80% students in their respective blocks are grade-level competent nominated themselves to be evaluated. Starting in September 2019, all 119 blocks are assessed simultaneously.It is important to recognize here how a competitive assessment model is separate from regular student assessments, which are also equally important. A competitive framework that rewards blocks for taking initiative and achieving targets, spurs the entire system into action.  The questions for the test are based on competencies that have been taught up to one month before the Ghoshna exam. The competencies are defined by SCERT in a learning outcome framework, Saksham Taalika, for the respective classes. Till May 2019, the test was conducted for Classes- 3, 5 and 7 to assess Hindi and Maths. Starting in September 2019, it is being conducted for all Classes from 3 to 8 to assess Hindi, Maths, EVS/Science and SST. ImplementationImproving the learning levels of government school students by using a quantifiable metric is the essence of Saksham Ghoshna. However, to achieve this objective, schools and blocks across the state are encouraged to carry out certain academic interventions. Among other things, this includes:Holding daily structured remedial classes to help weaker studentsMaking the shift from rote-based learning aimed at syllabus completion to competency-based teachingProviding mentoring and training support to teachers to improve the quality of classroom instructionAnalysing assessment data to keep track of weaker students who need more support as well as weaker competencies and subjects that require more attention.Three to five days prior to the exam, vocational teachers are trained on how to administer the test. Measures are taken to ensure the sanctity of the test instruments as well as to curb cheating during the assessment. This includes sending in flying squads on the day of the test. DCs, ADCs, SDMs, DEOs, Deputy DEOs, BEOs and BEEOs (from other blocks), DIET principals, lecturers, Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates and Saksham Haryana team members from Samagra are all part of flying squads. All the answer sheets undergo an advanced post-test data analysis which identifies patterns and flags tests which indicate the possibility of cheating.The third-party assessor sets a cut-off and establishes a measurement scale. If at least 80% of the students achieve the required cut off, the block is declared ‘Saksham’ or grade-level competent. A district becomes Saksham when all blocks in the district are declared Saksham. Saksham blocks receive recognition from officials in the Chief Minister’s Office, the state’s education department. They are felicitated in multiple ways, through media articles, social media posts, congratulatory WhatsApp messages and appreciation at district and state level review meetings.ImpactSince December 2017, ten rounds of assessment have been conducted.Wave 1: 2017-19During Wave 1, all 119 blocks were assessed in Hindi and Maths at least once, some sitting for the exam multiple times before being declared Saksham. At the end of  wave 1.0, third-party assessment declared 107 of 119 blocks ‘Saksham’  in Hindi and Maths.Wave 2 - 2019-20During Wave 2, all 119 blocks sat for the exam twice for Hindi, Maths, EVS/Science and SST.  In the second wave, results have been declared grade-wise. Two exams were conducted during the 2019-20 Academic Year, one in September 2019 and the second in February 2020. Saksham Ghoshna results show a significant improvement in performance through the course of the academic year. Through this assessment, learning levels of students are measured and tracked, and block and district-level performance can be compared.Low-performing blocks are identified for targeted interventions and resource allocation. As a consequence, block and district-level strategies are formed to improve learning outcomesWhen teachers and administrative officials are rewarded for innovative practices and achieving good results, they are automatically motivated to sustain their performance or better it. This translates into each individual stakeholder having more skin in the game and knowing that their glory is in their hands. A mechanism of self-nomination puts the onus solely on blocks and teachers to do well.An overarching benefit of providing recognition to teachers and blocks is through a demonstration effect. Blocks that are lagging behind are also motivated to do better so that they can achieve Saksham status in subsequent assessment rounds.Transforming a government school system is predicated upon all actors within the system having an aligned vision and being motivated to perform their role to the best of their abilities. Under Saksham Ghoshna because the recognition for success of a block is given directly to key stakeholders within the system, they are motivated to meet a specific target, truly believing that their glory lies in their hands. To know further about this, please write to [email protected]
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From Maggi to Movement to Magic!

Magic Poshan is an initiative, started by Inika Kandwal, Tanya Gupta and Shruti Koundinya, to provide underprivileged schoolchildren with essential nutrition as they don't have access to school mid-day meals during the lockdown in India. The JourneyOur story begins with one balcony, a cold night breeze, glistening stars, and 3 bowls of steaming Maggi. We were spending just another night of the community lockdown together, and we drifted into conversations about school, university and our lives. Naturally, we came around to talking about the pandemic and how it had taken away things we had looked forward to the most this year - whether it was starting university, going back to university, or just meeting the people we hadn’t seen in a long time. We sighed, ended this fruitless discussion, and joked “at least we get to enjoy our bowls of Maggi!” That’s when it clicked: Do the 400 students of our neighbourhood government school also have access to steaming bowls of food? How are they including nutrition in their meals at home during the lockdown? Turning Interest Into ActionAs we started with just the three of us, a passion for food, and a will to provide, we ran a self-funded pilot with 40 children to assess what would work. We created a snack pack made of eco-friendly handmade newspaper bags that contained Soya chunks, We-Mana protein bar and fruits. Our personal cherry on top was the comic strips we made for the children that were easy to understand, bilingual and illustrated the use of each snack.A week later we received news that the children wanted more. Magic Poshan was now alive and running! Immediately, we sent word out to our community for donations and were overwhelmed by the support - from not only Bangalore but also India and around the world! Because of these generous donations, we collected around 2 lakhs!This support enabled us to magnify our reach to more children and for a longer period of time. We are now reaching out to over 800 children from the Ramagondanhalli government school, Immadihalli government school and Siddapura government school. Additionally, we supplied WeMana bars to over 120 daily wagers, orphans, and frontline workers in our community. Our donors and supporters have helped us reach to more than double of what we had initially planned. Furthermore, through the generous people at the Annapoorna Trust, we are able to provide a 2 month supply of Saisure, a malt-based protein powder to be had with milk to children.Our journey doesn’t end here, however. These children have yet to endure upcoming months of lockdown and the realities of a post-COVID world.  We believe that magic lies in all of us, and since you’ve taken the time to read this, you’ve already begun your magical journey with us and the 800 children. We are committed to stay determined and provide essential nutrition for as long as possible and need your support to help make our vision a reality. 200 Rupees is enough for one child for one month. But your support is not only limited to donations. We are looking for support on our Instagram, Youtube and LinkedIn pages, as every follower can enhance our reach by hundreds. Last but not the least, we are looking to partner with brands or products that would prove beneficial to children during the lockdown. A little magic goes a long way. Help us spread the word.Who we areInika Kandwal is a second-year undergraduate student at The Hong Kong University of Science and technology, pursuing Environmental Management. Tanya Gupta is a first-year Economics and mathematics undergraduate student studying at The University of Toronto.Shruti Kundaniya is a first-year Design student at the Strate School of Design. Each one of us brings a set of unique skills and ideas to our team, along with our collective drive to spread some magic through happy and healthy smiles. We’re always pushing ourselves to reach out to more children and improve the quality of life for as many children as possible. Know more:We've documented our journey, who we are, our work and sources on our website: us on Instagram @magic_poshan, LinkedIn, and Youtube
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Home Schooling and Online teaching giving solution to shortage of Science and Math teachers

Subject: Home Schooling in Sikkim to bridge the digital divide When the schools were closed in March 2020 on account of the Covid-19 pandemic in Sikkim, little did we realise then that it's going to be so prolonged. In fact the situation started getting worse with each passing day, in terms of the spread of the infection in the country and the associated uncertainty. We quickly realised that the school closure is going to be a prolonged one. We immediately discussed the situation arising out of closure of schools and loss of studies for the students and decided to go for the online education, using all available platforms. One app, by the name "SikkimEduTech" which was in the pipeline was quickly launched along with the widespread use of whatsApp. We also decided to use one local cable TV, by the name Samvaad TV for telecasting pre-recorded lectures. We also used All India Radio for broadcasting lessons over radio. However, despite all these efforts, we found that our reach was limited to not more than 50-60% of the students and a glaring digital divide was evident between urban and rural areas of the state. The reasons were manifold, like poor network in rural areas, non-availability or poor quality of gadgets in many homes etc. Children were also missing their school atmosphere dearly. We then thought of a unique solution which was without any cost and very much doable. We discussed and considered the option of school coming to the homes of students if they were not able to go to schools. The idea came from some of our dedicated teachers who had started teaching children, either by going to their homes or calling 4-5 students to their homes, or some third place like a panchayat office, or even a flat ground in the village. We made it official and issued a circular encouraging teachers to do home schooling, in the way it was feasible for them. The whole idea was to enable the children to study who were victims of the digital divide. The safeguards and protocols issued by the Health Department were being adhered to scrupulously while teaching the children in this mode. The best part was that most of our teachers took to this enthusiastically. Today, I am personally a satisfied person that we could do something for our underprivileged and children located in difficult areas. The idea was successful since most of the teachers were residing in their school localities due to restrictions and fear of travel due to the pandemic and their enthusiastic cooperation. This was a simple no cost solution for us apart from being very effective. Another great opportunity came to us during this pandemic to deal with the chronic shortage of Science and Maths teachers in Sikkim. Sikkim and indeed the entire North East region suffers from a chronic shortage of good science and maths teachers. In fact, many schools, specially in rural and remote areas used to go either without them for most part of the academic year or to manage with sub standard teachers. With online teaching gaining traction, we suddenly discovered that one good Maths or Science teacher could easily cover 4 to 5 schools comfortably. This discovery suddenly provided us with a great solution at practically no cost. Now, we are able to teach our children Science and Maths, even in remote and rural area schools effectively. I hope this solution will help many areas of our country.  G P UpadhyayaAdditional Chief SecretaryEducation
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Transforming compassion into action: Supporting learning through e-volunteering

In these unprecedented times when life has come to a standstill owing to months of lockdown period in the country, people across diverse social classes are withstanding the worst of the social, emotional, and economic slowdown. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been critical in the country’s overall development as the growth momentum across varied sectors remains halted. One of the worst affected is the education sector, which saw sudden closure of all the educational institutes, thus interrupting the learning journey of millions of children across the country. School going children are undoubtedly the most vulnerable of the lot who are lagging not only in their studies amid physical closure of schools but are restricted to limit their social engagements like meeting their friends, teachers, or simply playing outside in the playground. Seizing this moment of the Covid-19 crisis, Learning Links Foundation turned challenges into an opportunity, as it embraced uncertainty and sought to reach out to their most important stakeholders, the students. To make this goal a reality, Learning Links Foundation teamed up with its partner organization, Hinduja Foundation. Together both the organizations charted a path to a shared future by conceptualizing an idea in the form of ‘iCare: Volunteer From Home’ program. Both the organizations mobilized their resources and talents to develop an inclusive, citizen-driven volunteering program built on the pillars of collaboration and compassion.iCare: Volunteer from Home is a unique initiative that offers an opportunity of volunteering where the citizens are given a chance to contribute to society and make a difference in the lives of those who are less privileged and need our support in these uncertain times. In the face of lockdowns and social distancing, the iCare program ensures the safety of all the volunteers as all the activities are conducted on a ‘volunteer from home’ basis, meaning that the volunteers need not leave their homes for conducting the activities. As far as the beneficiaries are concerned, social distancing norms and hygiene standards are adhered to for every activity session that is conducted in large groups. States covered: Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, TelanganaBeneficiaries: Students (grade 4 to 8 level) and their familiesLanguages used: Hindi, Marathi, Odiya, Kannada, Tamil and TeluguThe iCare program was launched with 11 Hinduja Group Companies getting their employees on-board as volunteers for the iCare journey. Learning Links Foundation carried out all the on-field coordination and implementation of session activities. Learning Links Foundation oriented the volunteers and appointed a support group comprising of volunteering coordinators to provide on-field assistance to the volunteers and ensure the smooth execution of the program.The program was conducted across 8 states in the country with 309 volunteers completing more than 1200 hours of volunteering activities. The volunteers interacted with children from government schools and their families and engaged them in a wide range of activities using technology-based online and offline interactive modes. The volunteers had the flexibility to either choose from conducting live audio/video calls through WhatsApp or share a pre-recorded audio/video of the activity of their choice. A multi-lingual interaction approach was encouraged where the volunteers opted for language preferences that children were most comfortable in. Around 1000+ students were impacted through online interaction mode. Children were engaged in diverse activities that focused on helping them learn subject-based content and build important life skills crucial in these challenging times. Efforts were made to address children’s unique needs while building their strengths. Many activities were centred around the theme of Covid-19, which were aimed at generating awareness on preventive measures to be taken during the pandemic. Children were given yoga lessons to motivate them to stay safe, healthy, and fit at home. Also, sessions on story-telling, poetry, communication skills, wellness, and craft kept students interested and gave a boost to their self-esteem and confidence while also nurturing their physical and emotional wellbeing.All the volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure that the beneficiaries were provided a source of engagement and learning during the pandemic lockdown phase. Throughout the iCare journey, the volunteering opportunities proved to be highly satisfying for the employees and incredibly motivating for all the beneficiaries. The contribution of each volunteer has been immensely acknowledged by the children. The parents have expressed gratitude for the sheer enthusiasm shown by the iCare team to support their children’s learning. “I participated in COVID-19 awareness video and Neeranjanmurthy sir from Bharat Financial Inclusion Ltd. told us about the disease and gave information on handwashing, wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing etc. I liked the session very much. It was very informative. I would like to say my thanks to Neeranjanmurthy sir.”Lakshmi, student, grade 7GHS, Tholanawadi, Karnataka “I am grateful for this opportunity. My son is extremely happy and could not stop talking about the session. I want to personally thank each one of the team members for their efforts.”Father of Vinod (student of GUPS Lakhon ka Kheda, Rajasthan)“It was a very satisfying experience for me. I am planning to organize another session, hoping it to be very fruitful for the students.”Anand, volunteerAshok LeylandMore than 90% volunteers have expressed their keenness to pursue volunteering with iCare and if given another opportunity, would like to conduct more activities. This suggests a huge success of this program as it has provided new means of digitally connecting with stakeholders, engaging them in a common cause, and helping them make a positive change in people’s lives. For all the disadvantaged children and their families with limited or no access to technology, the iCare program has indeed become a symbol of hope and joy as their learning journey continues while gaining important life skills to face challenges in these extraordinary times. With the iCare program, the Learning Links Foundation and the Hinduja Foundation endeavours to connect and bring more and more people together who are willing to join the iCare journey and collaborate for a better future. The program offerings include support in terms of digital connect with the children and their families in rural parts of the country, customized content for activities, training sessions to understand grass-root level challenges, and ready at hand committed on-ground support group to ensure guidance at every stage of the program. This program, in all its uniqueness, is sure to guarantee the development of values and commitments while fostering a sense of responsibility and engagement in all the participating stakeholders. For the volunteers, the very act of contribution and giving one’s time and effort is a gesture of immeasurable value and satisfaction. For the students, this program is a source of learning and motivation while developing new knowledge and skills. For the parents and the larger community, it is a sense of relief for them to see their children being active and engaged in productive learning when the schools have shut for an indefinite period.Learning Links Foundation and Hinduja Foundation aspires to bring together and welcome energetic, selfless, and compassionate individuals and groups to join them on this beautiful journey and make this program a greater success.  
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Gratitude for a compassionate community!

As we continue to wait for the lockdown to be lifted, I hope you all are doing well and staying safe. The daily updates of the impact of COVID-19 takes me through a tsunami of emotions. At the same time, my heart is filled with gratitude for the resilience of our youngsters and the dedication of our volunteers. It is amazing to see that everyone, irrespective of their other commitments, have come together to do their best and ensure that learning continues.Every other day, we have online sessions scheduled on various topics and it is fulfilling to see the enthusiasm and zeal of the youngsters towards learning. There is a spark in their eyes, a love for learning irrespective of the method and their questions have left me awestruck. And, yes, there is fun and laughter in the sessions too. At times, we have internet glitches. On one such occasion, the youngsters commented, “Oh! Sir, has got struck! He has become a statue. Oh God! What to do now? Let’s say ‘release’ and see if he unfreezes.” The best part was that the minute they said the word, the facilitator was back online again! The joke was shared with the faculty and the session was magically filled with laughter.These youngsters are not only enthusiastic about learning but also love teaching Kannada words to facilitators who don’t know the language. I have never noticed such unbridled enthusiasm in a long time; it brings out their authentic character through the things that excite them. Their enthusiasm is infectious and beyond words or stresses that sometimes take hold of life.The most resounding compliment I heard recently was from Krishnan, who heads the Shiksha program at Udhyam. He told me that our online efforts were effective and wanted to know more about how we overcame the challenges of dance sessions through webinar. Well, what do I say? Thanks to our volunteers Smita and Srilaxmi who facilitate the session on dance, it is amazing to see how seamlessly the youngsters learn the steps and enjoy every minute. We are happy to see their continuous zeal in all our virtual learning sessions and are sure that giving them access to joy in learning will make it a lifelong journey.The enthusiasm and eagerness to learn are uplifting and propel us to want to do all that we can to ensure that learning continues through this crisis.A heartfelt thanks to all our volunteers -- Santhosh, Radha Radhakrishnan, Amit Jain, Ravi Maney, Divya Raghavan, Dileep V, Naveen Bhargav, Sunitha, Anchal, Anjali Prayag, Brijesh Patel, Srikala Bhashyam, Nita Thadaka, Preeti Prayag, Shamya Dasgupta, Dr Shashi Rao, Srilaxmi, Smita, Aditya Bose, Jyothi Kunjoor, Jean, Malarkodi , Arunima Chandra, Lakshmi SS, Sherly Kumar, Shalika ,Shilpa N, Venkatesh Murthy & Nagaraj Deshpande -- as their support is an expression of our wish to sustain the learning process. The compassion you have shown towards the youngsters we work with is an inspiration for us all. Thank you for helping us out, truly grateful to you.I am aware that it is a very difficult time to ask for volunteer support, but it is also a time to spread the joy of learning and making a difference. There is no joy greater than lending a helping hand. So, if one wishes to share his/her journey, or is willing to facilitate online sessions, do write to us at – [email protected] or call me on +919945602202 
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