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November 03, 2020 Tuesday 10:38:38 AM IST

NGOs and Challenge of Inclusive Learning in Pandemic

Rajagiri Round Table

The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in third week of March 2020 paralysed the economy and education sector was one of the worst affected.  Apart from the trauma of being confined to home for days together, our children were unable to go to school on reopening of the academic year. Online learning required the simultaneous use of gadgets such as mobiles, laptops and TV apart from cable or internet connectivity. The digital divide in the economy came to the forefront. Many children unable to bear the shame of not able to attend online classes committed suicide.

The Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)  played a stellar role in ensuring education for marginalised communities during pandemic.

The 64th Rajagiri Round Table International was organised on 24th October from 3 -5 PM via Zoom on the topic 'NGO's and Inclusive Learning during Pandemic.‘ It was attended by over a dozen NGOs in the country, corporate trainers and teachers. Societree, a Bangalore based social venture of  students of RV College of Engineering was the Knowledge Partner for the event.  It is a free, one-stop platform where NGOs, organisations, initiatives, volunteers and donors can all interact.

The Covid-19 had taken everyone by surprise and NGO's were unprepared to carry on teaching activities. Their home situation was not conducive to learning as parents only had a mobile device and they went out for work.

Mitali Bose, Executive Program Manager, Ektara:

Children responded positively to activity-based learning. The projects were given over phone as voice message, SMS or Whatsapp. The activities stretched for five days a week. Each day the teacher would call up hte students at a specific time and explain the project to be completed on that day. In case they had problems, they would call up the teacher. The activity based learning were child friendly although it was very stressful for teachers. Gradually, when some of the children of mainstream schools had to undergo online classes it was very difficult without devices. Soon we opened up our facility and allowed children to come in a staggered way and use the computers to continue learning.

Manjusmita Bagchi, Associate Director, Ektara:

We never imagined doing remote classes with the children under our care. But the pandemic forced us to work with new options. We are a grassroots level organisation and doesn't specialise in designing curriculums. And we partnered with an organisation called 'Education Above all' and used their internet free education research bank to take on different project based learning methods (PBLs) and modified or adapted it to suit the needs of our children

Neeraj Naidu, Shiksharth:

We faced the same problem as other NGOs with respect to gadgets and connectivity. We created lot of worksheets and books for children to be read and completed independently or with the help of parents or village volunteers in Chattisgarh. We had college students volunteering to teach children in their own villages. We felt that it is alright if children don't learn too much about what they learnt in school rather practice what they learnt.

Problems with Virtual Learning
As the education sector was suddenly pushed into full-fledged remote learning all of a sudden, teachers couldn’t cope with the new technologies and pedagogical requires of virtual learning. Most  often they tried to replicate an offline experience into an online experience.

Janani Ramanathan, Research Analyst at Mother’s Service Society:
 We can use these challenging times to give education the much needed overhaul. Some of you will remember when Doordarshan began   TV news used to be pretty much like radio news. There was just a news reader reading out the news. Apart from the audio were just seeing the news reader. Now in TV we get the picture in picture, graphics, tickers scrawling and flash news. The same happened with Information Communication Technology (ICT)-instead of a teacher teaching in class, they were delivering through internet. There is so much more potential in online learning.

Community and Parents

NGO's benefitted immensely from participation of the communities in which they worked for. Lot of high school and college students volunteered to teach children. Parents were involved in a major way. It was earlier thought that education can happen only with teachers and schools. But NGO's worked closely with parents during lockdown to make them part of their child's learning process, according to Neeraj Naidu of Shiksharth.

Blended Learning

One of the best things about that it is it promotes independent learning. Only a small number of students in the country are going to benefit from and large number of children will  fall back in this system of edtech revolution, Neeraj Naidu said.  Now it is uncharted territory for everyone. “Until now we never looked at parents as educators. The pandemic pushed us into understanding this and involve parents or train them.  We need to think of bringing their experience and skills in the learning of children,” Manjusmita Bagchi said.

Online learning helps us enter a new world - how visually impaired children can create music, using their heads and fingers- these are just underutilised, Neeraj Naidu said.  Online is not just a medium and there is lot more we can do with it by way of creativity while imparting lessons, he added.

NGO’s and Curriculum Building
What NGO’s do in education has to be in sync with what government schools are doing or in tune with education policies in vogue. They have to be comfortable when they return to their normal school whether it is a CSBSE, Government or ICSE School. NGOs need expertise in developing proper blended learning curriculum. It is not just about teaching methodogies but how children can look forward to their higher studies, Mitali Bose of Ektara said. While Manjusmita Bagchi was of the view that NGOs were providing skilling to students as per the New Education Policy but if there is an overarching guideline which they could follow, the results would better.  There is need for organisations to brain storm and find what works and what doesn't work. Government can then think of what will work in rural areas, what in urban areas.

Savitha Ranganathan, Secretary, Mitraz Foundation:

We should be involved in curriculum development and we skill rural people in Puttaparthi in Anantpur district in Andhra Pradesh. We have partnered with Tata Strive and there are times when we tweak the curriculum to meet the needs of the rural youth around. It would be good if we are involved because we understand their requirements and we are actually hands on with them rather than policy makers in state capital or in Delhi. We train graduates or pass outs of 10th standard- we train them and give job opportunities such as in Banking Financial Services  and Insurance (BFSI), tally etc.

Neeraj Naidu: How can children do more to connect with school and curriculum? We at Shiksharth contextualise a lot on what is already there in the curriculum. Our children know a lot about trees and insects. For eg. they can name ten ants which is connected to EVS learning. And that is how we begin the learning process in each lesson.

Shivi Pathak, External Affairs at Societree: We should go hand in hand with the government but the hierarchy system is so much that we can't reach them and increase the productivity. NGO's can get into the community and if community, parental participation increases, school dropout rates can fall

Fund Crisis
NGOs have found the going tough with corporate social responsibility funds (CSR) mostly going to PM CARES fund and other forms of donations declining.  Some NGOs like Ektara pointed out that infrastructure support they are able to provide but needs help in meeting the running costs of internet charges or teacher salaries.

Philip Daniel, Corporate Trainer: Government is strapped of resources, there are lot more controls on the NGOs by the government. And in this scenario, the ability of NGOs to address the educational issues will become limited. And government needs to clarify on which NGOs to be controlled and which are not. We have to avoid the crisis of large part of students will be left behind in learning.

Thomas George, Corporate Trainer: I think the government should allow CSR funding for development of online resources- wi -fi, routers can be setup in villages. For the next one year lot of children will be lagging behind others because of lack of technology access.  There is need for urgent CSR funding.

Prashant Abbi, Co-Founder, Societree: Two main things we do for NGOs- one is connect volunteers with NGOs for skill based volunteering opportunities. We have opportunities like content writing and graphic designing, web development social media marketing. We provide them volunteers for them. Second is that we try to connect different organisations to each other working on similar interests. Those in education we encourage them to collaborate for an event wherein a teacher in an organisation can help students in another.

#NGOs need huge requirement of funds to sustain their activities and hence government should enable flow of CSR funds to NGOs in education

#NGO’s need expertise in blended learning curriculum and Edtech start-ups can help

#NGO’s can be involved in curriculum building especially for rural schools as they are closely connected with stakeholders and know their requirements
# More volunteering support is needed for NGOs.
#Parents and the community should be involved in education of children
#Retired armed forces personnel, teachers, doctors, engineers can be inducted as volunteers to teach disadvantaged sections.
#Volunteering for students can be part of AICTE grading.