DIGITAL learning for young children is a challenge, period. But when the child belongs to a low-income group family or one that lives in an area with poor connectivity this becomes a real hurdle. And this has been the reality of millions of children since schools across India closed in March.
But this closure brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of children and experts claim it is likely to widen the learning gap between children from high-income and low-income families even more. While those who have access to technology and the internet are using online education to continue learning at home, others who are not able to, are bearing the brunt as their families cannot even afford a smartphone or basic internet access.
Yuvi and Bunty are two such children who studied at a local school in Kaspur village of Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district. Like millions of children across India, their learning was abruptly brought to a halt as the school closed down. There was no other alternative until they heard about a digital learning program from their friends.
At first, they wondered ‘How could one learn from a phone?’ Eventually, they learned about the remote learning program – Thodi Masti, Thodi Padhai (Bit of Fun, Bit of Study) – that was helping children in more than 12,000 communities across 20 states of India learn every day through SMS texts, phone calls, video calls, WhatsApp messages, radio and TV broadcast.
Through this initiative by Pratham Education Foundation, many parents in the village have become part of a WhatsApp group where they receive a daily task for their children. Tejram, Yuvi and Bunty’s father, also joined the group by borrowing his brother’s smartphone. Now, Yuvi and Bunty learn something new every day and enjoy completing their tasks sent through WhatsApp.
As schools across the country start to reopen, as long as there is uncertainty about the effect on their health and the spread of coronavirus through them the immediate future of education remains in the balance. In the meantime, it is incumbent upon us to make sure that children continue to learn. The need of the hour is to reach out and engage with them through fun-filled digital learning activities so that they are ready when their classes begin again in school.
Since Pratham’s remote learning initiative is through WhatsApp and SMSs it is easily accessible, simple to use and consumes less data. While Whatsapp requires a smartphone, SMS is inclusive of a large number of families who do not have smartphones and technology. Through these media, children are taught the fundamentals in maths, science and languages along with activities focused on theatre, art and music. Simple learning activities shared in the form of a message are helping children like Yuvi and Bunty learn despite school closure.
Another advantage of digital learning is that it doesn’t have to stop when children return to school. Teachers can continue to use these practices and enhance their students’ learning abilities even after coronavirus goes away.
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