Kajol Barik, a Grade 8 child from Madhapur village, Odisha, is at home during the lockdown. It’s Tuesday and she’s eagerly looking forward to the biweekly visit from Rakhee, her teacher. Rakhee brings a set of learning tasks to Kajol on her smartphone. Some of these tasks require internet search, and that is what is of interest to young Kajol.
Prior to the lockdown, Kajol attended a government school, and when schools closed, she lost access to her teachers and classroom. To overcome this problem, the 1000 Schools Project, which is run by ASPIRE and Tata Steel Foundation, reorganised one of its programmes. They developed a range of activities to engage children like Kajol at home, using just their local resources and the internet. They also encouraged their teachers to go to children’s homes and teach them via smartphones.
Kajol’s family cannot afford a smartphone, and so Kajol uses either her teacher’s or her uncle’s smartphone to study. The phone is now her window to the world. Whenever she has access to it, she spends her time reading up for the tasks Rakhee gives her.
Kajol recently completed a project on how the house fly, the chameleon, the polar bear, the whale, the praying mantis, and the kestrel adapt themselves to their habitats. She read with enthusiasm about these animals—from the familiar to the completely new—and wrote short essays about them. She chose to write all of them in English.
Nine months ago, Kajol could barely copy half a page in English. Now, having spent time searching and reading on the internet, she has taught herself the language and can write four pages in English!
As we come out of the COVID-19 crisis, it is important to think about how giving children agency and the necessary tools can help them to learn beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Smita Agarwal is Head Education, Tata Steel CSR.