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New class acts in Covid times to beat connectivity issues

Radheshyam Jadhav, Shobha Roy Pune/Kolkata | Updated on September 27, 2020

An open air class in progress at a tea estate in Assam

A temple in Solapur whose loudspeakers are used to teach school children

Locals use temple loudspeakers in Solapur, open air classes in Assam tea gardens to teach their school kids

Temple loudspeakers in tiny Badole village in Solapur district of Maharashtra, which once aired religious songs and prayers, are now singing a different tune. Blaring from these public address systems are school lessons.

Out of 350 students in the village, only 80 have access to smartphones, making online education impossible. Unfazed, a solution has been found by the village school teachers, who are recording educational content for students and playing it on the loudspeakers in a staggered manner every day.

 

Like many other schools in rural Maharashtra, the KP Gaikwad Secondary School in Badole was finding it difficult to run online classes to continue with education during the lockdown. School teacher Mayur Dantkale and his colleagues came up with the idea of recording poems, tables and instructions and playing them on loudspeakers. The principal convinced the temple authorities.

“The next challenge,” says Dantkale, “was to convince parents and students about this mode of education.” So the teachers went door-to-door and explained to villagers that this was the only way they could continue with academics. “We started recording and also gathering readymade content for the PA system. Teachers and youth in the village chipped in with recording and editing skills,” he says. Content for each class is played separately at a fixed time during the day. The content is repeated on loudspeakers so that students understand it clearly.

The Assam model

Meanwhile, in the tea estates of Assam, where again poor connectivity posed a barrier to online classes, the estate management and school teachers brainstormed to find ways to keep the school lessons going for the kids residing there. At the sprawling Dikom Estate owned by Rossell Tea, education is being imparted to children in open fields or in the community hall in small batches, where ensuring social distancing and other safety protocols is possible.

There are three lower primary schools on the Dikom Estate that provide education to close to 800 children. “All of them have been covered under this initiative,” says Samar Chaliha, Manager of Dikom Tea Estate.

The teachers have divided the children into batches of five-to-six and the classes are conducted either in the open fields or the community hall. The average duration of the class is about an hour.

Key challenge

For 27-year-old Phoolbanti Gupta, a teacher at the primary school in Rossell Tea’s estate, the challenge was to break the curriculum into capsules to fit into a shorter time span.

She also uses art and craft as a medium to keep the children of the tea garden workers occupied.

Apart from students of the lower primary school, the estate has also been able to facilitate educational support for children of classes VI-VIII by roping in boys and girls who are now studying in colleges.

“There are seven or eight of us who are engaged in helping students of classes VI, VII and VIII,” says Ismita Keot, who is also the daughter of a tea garden worker.

Amalgamated Plantations Pvt Ltd (APPL), an associate company of Tata Consumer Product Ltd (TCPL), feels the Dikom model is a “good” one and can be replicated at its estates as well. The company has 25 estates spread across Assam (21) and Dooars (4) in West Bengal.

“There are network issues at most of these gardens and unless those are addressed these children would be left out. So I have written to the MP to get the telecom operators to address the network issues. I also feel that the Dikom model is a good one and I plan to speak to my team to see what can be done. We can use our people, who are qualified, to teach the younger kids,” said Vikram Singh Gulia, MD & CEO, APPL.

No end to learning

At Solapur, parents who were initially anxious about the loudspeaker class experiment are happy. There is a side effect to the experiment. Many of the parents who never studied tables or poems are learning with their kids!

Published on August 28, 2020

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