Pratham Mysore shows the way…
By Ashvini Ranjan & Bhamy V. Shenoy
Never before have we been so concerned and confused about children’s education as we are today. The lockdown and the consequent closure of Schools due to the Coronavirus pandemic has caught us all unawares and unprepared to address the situation. Though many are predicting return to normalcy in a short span of time, there are others who think otherwise.
Be that as it may, educationists across the board are in a damage- control mode to develop ways to contain loss of learning and keep the children engaged in novel ways of acquiring knowledge. Any disruption to the rhythm in learning, particularly of School children, takes a long time to return to normalcy. With regard to rural children, besides loss of learning, an even greater concern is to ensure children come back to School when they re-open.
Private Schools rushed to use technology to impart lessons online both to ensure continuity of learning and also to possibly justify the fee that the students were called upon to pay. But the haste with which the lessons were modified or designed and the method of teaching may have lacked careful thought and application of mind.
Initially, the parents too were unhappy with the prospect of their child having to stare at the electronic screen for long hours. This fear of the parent was also endorsed by Dr. Gangadhar, Director of Nimhans, Bengaluru, also a Professor of Psychiatry and a Padma Shri awardee. He observed: “Online education is not recommendable for school children.” And for LKG and UKG children, a definite no.
But after a number of flip flop decisions by the Government and possibly a change of mind by the parents, children in most urban Schools have started attending online classes conducted by their respective Schools, including Pre-School children as young as two years.
But rural children with neither an access to expensive computers nor internet connectivity and with illiterate parents, are the worst sufferers.
An out-of-the-box idea being developed by Pratham Mysore, an NGO, deserves serious consideration. A model that focusses on rural students requiring only a common smart phone to deliver the lesson. This model neither interferes nor disturbs any of the existing curriculum or systems of learning in Schools and yet enriches the child’s knowledge. A knowledge that is relevant to the child’s day- to-day life and the environment that he or she lives in.
The method being developed contemplates upon tapping into the indigenous knowledge that already exists in the parents of the child. Knowledge that is vital to the child’s existence and well-being and yet remaining dormant. To illustrate with an example, a parent in a village has natural knowledge of essential ingredients around which life in the village exists and functions. Knowledge about crops grown locally, soil composition, crop cycles and what fertilizers to administer, monsoon patterns, schemes offered by the Government to help the farming community, crop loans, banking, importance of livestock, functions of a Village Panchayat, Aadhaar Card etc.
Such knowledge is naturally acquired by the parent though not fully, over a period of time. However important and essential this information is in the child’s life, neither does the parent consciously talks about it nor is it taught in the classroom. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage the parent to function as a teacher and facilitate in the transfer of this indigenous information in a structured manner.
The question that is likely to be posed is what if the parent is literate or the indigenous information he possesses is faulty? While they are valid fears, the following measures are aimed to overcome these possible difficulties. For purpose of a trial, fifty topics have been shortlisted that is familiar to most parents or have a practical knowledge of it. The topics are either narrated or presented in a discussion mode between two participants in an easy to understand conversation and recorded on phone. The audio or video recording is then sent to the parent on WhatsApp. Field trials will also provide an opportunity to refine, alter or add to the content.
To encourage greater participation, a village-level competition will be organised to recognise and award families that have absorbed the information best. The event will be given wide publicity to draw attention of other villages. Since the family as a whole is required to participate, all members of the family will make an effort in the preparatory learning process.
Besides a certificate that will be issued to all participants in public, it provides an opportunity to the parents to enhance their image that will prove attractive. It is this pride in the rural people that will encourage more parents and more villages to participate. However challenging this initiative of a parent functioning as a teacher may appear initially, it is very feasible and can be implemented with minimal investment and in a shortest possible time. The ongoing field trials of this model in Muthathi village in Mysuru District is very encouraging.
Needless to say, the primary responsibility to educate a child in the current circumstance both in the urban and rural locations, has shifted without doubt to the parent.
[Ashvini Ranjan is a Founder- Trustee of Pratham Mysore and Dr. Bhamy Shenoy is an Adviser to Pratham Mysore]