Sukma Creating Digital Learning Opportunitiesin The Times Of Corona

The ongoing global outbreak of COVID19 has shaken mankind and no domain is untouched by the adverse impact of this worldwide crisis. Sadly, amidst the debate between economy and healthcare, education has still not captured the attention of the most decision makers. Even before the outbreak, there was ample evidence confirming the existing learning crisis that has done visible damage to the children’s future. Children are undoubtedly the most vulnerable group in this situation, especially because they neither have a voice nor any power in this scenario. Very little has been said and noticed about their losses during these threatening times.

The ‘Seekh’ Initiative

District Collector (IAS) of Sukma Mr. Chandan Kumar recognizes this as an issue and emphasises that this pandemic would further deteriorate the state of education if creative solutions are not implemented at the earliest. Under his leadership, District Administration Sukma has taken a special initiative ‘Seekh’ to give equal attention to the children who are away from school since few weeks now,and little hope of schools getting reopened any sooner. The District Administration has partnered with UNICEF to explore distance education platforms for the children under the ‘Seekh’ program. District level team has been constituted to work along with UNICEF to deploy alternate learning solutions in current circumstances so as to keep the momentum going.

To realize this shared goal, few teachers and Cluster Academic Coordinators (CACs) were consulted in order to identify the potential platforms to engage with the community in the simplest way to facilitate learning at home. After few participatory discussions with teachers and education department functionaries, it was decided by the education department that mobile and internet technology needs to be first exploited to reach the children and parents. The underlying strategy of this initiative is to capitalize strengths of both the district workforce and UNICEF’s large network of partner organizations by establishing a structured communication channel with the parents and children. The SMC (School Management Committee) members and Panchayat members are also being involved with the help of teachers.

There are three major components of the initiative: establishing a communication channel right from the UNICEF to the parents/children, finalizing learning content with emphasis on creating child’s learning trajectory and developing a program structure to streamline the content flow to maximize the program impact.

Implementing the ‘Seekh’ initiative

The contact details of the parents along with handset type were collected while distributing dry ration by the education field functionaries to make available village wise updated database. The learning content would be limited to language, mathematics and science subjects with more examples from child’s current context. For an instance there are videos where things such as utensils, clothes, grains etc are used to teach basic arithmetic. These are some of the learning aids available in the closest proximity. There is a common understanding that this kind of learning would be best facilitated with parents’ involvement. This is why the content selected is simple and contextual to avoid any complications at the best.

There is now a ready database of around 5000 parents/children whose school-wise groups are being created by the teachers. Furthermore, the digital program is scheduled to be launched in the third week of April month with an opening message by the District Collector to express concern and to request community support to make the initiative successful. Two videos will be circulated every week to avoid information/content overload and to maintain the aspect of simplicity.

There is great amount of focus on ensuring that everyone in the hierarchy ranging from district team block level functionaries, cluster coordinator and school teachers are part of the content flow mechanism. This is to create a joint accountability and also to ensure multiple stakeholder engagement. This was done through official communication issued by the District Collector with clear role and responsibilities. There is a mechanism designed to take feedback from the parents so as to make the content more useful for the communities.

Uniqueness of the ‘Seekh’ initiative

The ‘Seekh’ initiative is unique in the sense that it mostly relies more on collective efforts and less on financials. The attempt to create a collective responsibility is critical aspect of the program. Early grade literacy (EGL) program that was launched in September, 2019 has started to show promising results in a very short time due to due to collaborative efforts of education department functionaries and UNICEF’s continuous support. This is why District Administration is confident of realizing the impact potential of ‘Seekh’ through team spirit. The data-driven progress reviews held for EGL every month under the leadership of District Collector have contributed to the EGL program success and thus this intervention will also have definite structures in place. The systemic inputs have allowed continuous nurturing of culture of mutual responsibility, active coordination and meaningful engagement, thus opening doors to achieve the desired outcomes of this e-learning initiative during the COVID19 outbreak.

The following table highlights the three major program specifics of ‘Seekh’

Distance learning for children at home
  • To promote learning opportunities for children at home by reaching out to the families and communities via phone and internet technology.
  • E-learning content containing interactive videos and do-it-at-home learning activities would be shared through digital platforms such as WhatsApp.
Capacity Building of Teachers and CACs on Early Grade Literacy components
  • WhatsApp based peer group learning in the mentor-mentee mode.
  • More than 100 teachers and 50 CACs have already completed two modules on the relevance of oral language development and phonetics in early year education.
Professional course on language learning for teachers
  • 5-week distance learning course on language development for primary school teachers in collaboration with the Language Learning Foundation (LLF) and UNICEF.
  • Long term goal is to the smoothen integration of multi-lingual approach in a multi-dialect context such as Sukma’s.

Meanwhile in the background, the district level team and the UNICEF team are constantly working to create feedback mechanisms and robust structures to make it a two-way learning with clear set of expected outcomes. There is also in process an impact assessment strategy to assess this program as an emergency response in unprecedented situations such as these. District Administration expects to train all primary school teachers and reach at least 10,000 parents/students through this initiative.