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Community Engagement during COVID-19: Education in Remote Geographies

Report by i-Saksham Education and Learning Foundation, Bihar.


The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented and has caused severe damage to health, lives and livelihoods of billions across the world [1]. In education, while those with resources can fill some gaps through the plethora of online content and learning services, children of poor, esp. girls are even more vulnerable [2]. Schools are closed (and may remain closed for months), parents have fewer resources and the opportunities to learn are curtailed because of social distancing and related norms. The situation demands creative solutions to ensure children continue to learn and their life chances are not affected.

Various models of distance learning are being attempted across the globe to deal with the present crisis. The selection of right technology and the right delivery model is important to ensure that poor people with limited access to the internet, or smartphones do not get excluded widening the prevalent educational inequity. The involvement of parents/caregivers, elder siblings, and community youths who are closer to children becomes extremely critical to provide the last mile assistance. Children get significantly benefited wherever parents can provide support for learning [3]. Providing space for training and capacity building of parents, right communication strategy, and appropriate learning delivery model can positively impact their willingness and ability to engage in the education of their children [4].


The article describes one of the possible roadmaps to design an effective strategy during COVID to engage community/parents in backward areas with limited access to digital infrastructure.


Reaching out to the community to assess the ground situation


Knowing the community, their thoughts and on-going efforts during the lockdown towards the education of their children must be an important ingredient towards building an effective engagement strategy [5]. For example, a survey of 500 parents by an education NGO based in Bihar revealed that 70% of children were engaged in some sort of learning activities at home during the lockdown and were being helped by parents/caregivers, and while all surveyed families had basic phones, 50% of children’s’ families had smartphones/ jio-phones which they were happy to share for a couple of hours for learning. Such insights can be immensely helpful to guide intervention design in the right direction.


Create effective session plans



The mere distribution of digital content or worksheets can provide sporadic information but not education. It would need structured and planned learning activities to bring out desirable educational outcomes in children. Some of the learning strategies that have shown a statistically significant positive effect on student outcome include targeted shared reading between parents-children, engaging parent to check homework and teacher’s parent communication [6].


The learning session plans should deliver content adapted to the context of the children, facilitate interventions with other members of the family and encourage them to seek support. For example, language learning sessions can involve storytelling sessions by Grandmother, parents can be facilitated to ask various factual/analytical questions [7]; and learning of numbers may be based on concrete objects, like utensils available at home.


Prepare a cadre of community education leaders/facilitators


Volunteers from a pool of government school teachers, youths from the community, parents-peers, or leaders from community institutions like School Management Committees (SMC) / Self-Help Groups (SHGs)/ Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) may be nurtured to lead the initiative.


They should be trained on pedagogy skills, facilitation skills, and get access to educational resources to demonstrate the new models of community engagement and share learning with the wider net of public schools to replicate the model.


Select the right technology


While technology can empower, its non-availability shouldn’t be a constraint for children’s learning in underserved areas. The right mix of human facilitation along with the appropriate technology-community radio, basic phone conference calls, online digital content, etc.- should be selected given the infrastructural and demographic profile of the intervention area under consideration.


For example, a model to distribute digital content would not be relevant in tribal areas of Jharkhand where the majority would not have smartphones or access to the internet. However, conference calls through basic phones may be used to do story-telling with children on specific themes, share engaging home assignments that require parental involvement, etc.


The Way Forward


These challenging times push us to the wider limits of our imagination. We should use the constraint of physical distancing as an opportunity to come up with an innovative model of community/parental engagement that plays a critical role in the educational improvement of children with the aid of right pedagogy practices and the right technology. Disadvantaged students are likely to gain more benefit from an increase in parental involvement than middle-class students [8]. It is only when the community participates and takes ownership of the educational outcomes of children that any large-scale change becomes sustainable in the long run.

References

  1. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/health/where-does-the-world-stand-4-months-into-covid-19--70821

  2. United Nations (2020)

  3. The New South Wales Department of Education and Training (November 2010)

  4. The New South Wales Department of Education and Training (November 2010)

  5. Amy C. Berg (2006)

  6. Hanover Research (March 2014)

  7. Refer Bloom’s taxonomy to understand classification of learning hierarchies.

  8. Hanover Research (March 2014)

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