New Challenges, New Solutions!

August-September is the start of the festive season. It is the time when we have a lot of special events in our school calendar. What would you say if I told you that we did not compromise on the special celebration for even a single one of those events? Be it Independence Day, Ganesh Chaturthi, Id or Teachers Day, we celebrated them all with the same gusto as pre-pandemic times. How did we do that? Read on to find out!

In the last quarter, we started taking online classes for the students, wherein the teachers used their laptops or mobile phones to teach, and the children used their parents’ phones and logged in from their homes.  This was probably a first for any non-profit education organization anywhere.

But we did not stop there. Interruptions in classes due to network issues or unavailability of the phones made continuous classes difficult. Given the constraints at the students’ ends, there was very little they could do to mitigate this.

So what could we do to come up with an out-of-the-box safe solution during these times?

That is when we thought of using the premises at our centre to set up remote learning devices so that dependency on the parents’ phones need not hamper the childrens’ learning. By bringing in the kids in small batches of 4 or 5 at different time slots throughout the day, we are able to conduct the classes without compromising on safety.

Generous donors enabled us to equip our centre with a few laptops, tablets and mobile phones. We set up internet connectivity and employed a couple full-time supervisors from the community itself.  There are 4 rooms in the centre and each room was set up with a device – either a laptop or tablet – with an internet connection. Individual mats were procured for each child, so that they remember to maintain social distancing while in class. The supervisors were trained to use the devices and to use infra-red thermometers to monitor the temperatures when the students come in. Sanitizer bottles were stocked up to enable hygienic use of the shared space.

We carefully drew up a time-table so that each child who needs support at the centre gets a fair share of time, and yet, at any given point, there are no more than four or five students in any given room. With time, the students got comfortable with the new system. They now come at their designated time slot, set up the call and attend the classes without network interruptions or other distractions usually found at home.

Amazingly, something which we never, ever thought would happen during this time – regular online classes conducted in a safe way, without any compromise, was underway!

No longer did we have to deal with dropped calls, or background noise, or absenteeism. Punctuality, better focus and uninterrupted classes are now the new norm.

With this infrastructure in place, we are eager to expand the learning possibilities of our students. Watch this space for more exciting news in the coming months.

The highlight of this month was undoubtedly the Independence Day celebrations. For the first time, we had an occasion like this, with volunteers, management, teachers and students across grades, coming together on a digital platform to celebrate India’s 74th  Independence Day from the safety of their own homes. The children shared pictures on this theme drawn by them. We also had a talent show with children reading out speeches, singing songs and even presenting a dance. Our founders encouraged and motivated us with inspiring words. It was a wonderful and memorable occasion for all.

Another occasion we celebrated was Ganesh Chaturthi. The children had fun making clay idols of Ganesha and decorating them.

We observed a holiday for Id and the children talked about their celebrations.

The crowning glory for us teachers was Teacher’s Day. Our students spent hours making the most beautiful cards and ‘gave’ them to us digitally. We were absolutely touched and delighted by their affection!

Our team is now more than 20 strong – we have 16 teaching volunteers, 2 support volunteers and 6 paid staff.  Our goal is to have more volunteers engaging the children for longer hours, thereby utilising their time creatively. Apart from academic lessons, we are also teaching them music, Spoken English and hope to introduce computers very soon.  We continue to support the children and their families in various ways ensuring wellness and discipline. Our ongoing conversations help to keep their morale up as well as ours.

Schools the world over are reinventing what education is. The challenges are many, the roadblocks hefty. But what it means to be an educator right now is to chip away at those and leave no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored in supporting the learning of our students. And then, hope and pray that we did enough.