Agastya Foundation’s work amid School Lockdown

Notes from Agastya:

Education is often neglected in response to emergency situations, not generally being seen
as immediately life-saving. Yet, the value of education to those affected by emergency
situations should not be underestimated and is consistently highlighted by parents and
learners themselves as crucial in bringing stability, emotional and physical protection, and
continuity. Education has to be considered top priority and only once children are educated
the entire community gets benefited.

Agastya’s continued Mission and combat to the School Lockdown

As a rapid response to the unprecedented lockdown, Agastya team without any delay shifted
its service delivery entirely on digital platforms with its fast pace digital content creation,
trainings and reach-out mechanisms amongst economically and technologically backward
students having limited opportunities of continuing their education. Continuing the mission
to make India Creative by boosting curiosity, instilling confidence and care, Agastya has
delivered the quality digital hands-on science learning experience to students across India,
using familiar amongst the beneficiaries and cost-effective platforms like WhatsApp, Google
meet etc.

Yet a clear focus has to be on few prioritized areas which would help make us quick inroads,
and they are as follows

1. Mental health of children

Having been away from school for so long and lived through some very trying times at
home (possible loss of a dear one or loss of job for parents and so on), several of them are
likely to be scarred mentally and this would be a priority area for all other initiatives to
have an impact.

Awareness programs on Mental Health and Life Skills
When schools are closed, many children miss out of on social contact that is essential
to learning and development. This will have an impact on their behaviour as well.
Students tend to become arrogant and may lose focus towards learning. Some
initiatives can be

  • Organising workshops for students through volunteers to help to keep up their mental health supported with activities and worksheets.
  • Story based intervention – telecasting in radio or TV

2. Students not having Access to Devices

(Merely 8.5% school students in India have internet access, education disruption due to
COVID-19 second worst in South Asia: UNICEF)
Given that significant number of children don’t have access to a device, a focus on self-
learning as an approach and creating the necessary content & delivery mechanism to
enable self-learning would be critical.

a. Volunteer Engagement

The global pandemic lockdown due to Covid-19 spread has pushed thousands of
students out from the school this year. While many wait for schools to reopen to
continue learning, thousand are waiting to get enrolled this year. Although the long
lockdown of schools has surely brought uncertainty, but it did not bring opportunities
of learning for children to a standstill. The situation has once again drawn attention
towards the importance and effectiveness of community learning for ensuring
accessibility, affordability and continuity of learning to every student.

Students like to be in school when it comes to learning. They feel schools provide safe
spaces for them to build friendships, play and learn. Building a volunteer network in
villages and towns will help students to group together and learn. Equipping
volunteers (subject knowledge/usage of materials etc.) with necessary trainings would
help them to engage students in learning activities joyfully. Only education can
empower students by giving them a voice, and a safe space to communicate their
feelings and concerns.

At Agastya in order to create learning opportunity and continuity amidst the uncertain
lockdown of schools we initiated a Voluntary Community teaching and learning
program. In this program multiple multi-grade small groups were created comprising
of 10-12 students per group, which will be mentored by a volunteer from the
community. The expected grade participation is from grade 1 students to grade 9
students. The curriculum and pedagogy involve hands-on science teaching with an
equivalent focus on developing skills like problem solving, design thinking and decision
making. As a multi-grade classroom, the methodologies involve similar practices,
however different outcomes for different grades.

(Also, a UNICEF press release stated that online education was not an option for these
children as only one in four children (25 per cent) in the world had mobile phone and
internet facilities, and most of them were from socially and economically
disadvantaged communities.)

b. Self-learning Kits to students

  • Distributing activity manuals, activity materials, reading materials, worksheets etc. through school system to continue their learning.
  • Creating a support mechanism to monitor students’ progress and assessment

3. Parent Engagement

A clear strategy for engaging parents would be crucial as in the current situation, they can
play a very important enabling role. Parents are often asked to facilitate the learning of
children at home and they struggle to perform this task. This is especially true for parents
with limited education and resources both in urban and rural areas.
Working parents often leave children alone at home with the gadgets during this situation
where children have to continue learning online, which can lead to distraction, substance
abuse and risky behaviours.

  1. Awareness on importance of continuity in learning during the pandemic
  2. Sensitizing the Parents for home schooling
  3. Preparing/Training parents on home schooling
  4. Creating opportunities for parent and child to work together on a project

4. Influencing Policy Makers on Need Based Education

In country like India, we are not very equipped to run online classes. Neither teachers
nor the textbooks have been prepared to support online class. Considering all the
situations, it is important to

  1. Prioritize on lessons in curriculum
  2. Know that the enthusiasm for online learning could exclude many children who do not have access to computers and the internet.
  3. Use TV and Radios for reaching out to children who are deprived of internet connectivity

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