Pratham’s Community-based Campaign for Learning Readiness & “Catch-up”
Due to the pandemic, pre-schools and schools across the country have now been closed for more than a year. Teachers have attempted to send children learning materials using whatever means were available. At their end, families have tried to support the education of their children in the best way they could. Yet, there is widespread agreement that these efforts have been largely ineffective and significantly uneven. Across the globe, there is serious concern about whether all children will come back to school when once schools reopen. Schools, families, and policymakers are worried about the impact of the pandemic on children’s socio-emotional development and the extent of learning loss that may have occurred.
As far as schooling is concerned, the COVID crisis has brought unprecedented challenges: for example, children who are enrolled in Grade II today have never been to school and possibly have not had much exposure to pre-school education either. Children in today’s Grade V were finishing Grade III when the pandemic struck. Data from India indicates that even in 2018, more than half of all children in Grade IV could not read a Grade II level text or perform simple 2-digit subtraction. It is very likely at the situation will have worsened in the past year and a half.
By June-July in a regular year, summer vacations are over, and schools have re-opened after the holidays. Children look forward to this time. Keeping in mind this usual school calendar timeline, and aligned with the expectations of children, parents, and teachers, we at Pratham feel it is time for learning to begin again – and importantly, in a fun and engaging way!
To this end, whether schools open or not, during August & September Pratham will carry out a community-based learning campaign in over 10,000 rural and urban communities across the country. The campaign rolled out across the country in the beginning of August 2021, and is encouraging parents and family members as well as others in the community to join children, engage with them in interesting and fun activities, and help them learn.
The campaign has two focus areas:
(1) Early years learning readiness for children currently in Grade I and II; via mothers individually and in groups
(2) “Catch up” campaign for children currently in Grade III to VI via local volunteers who conduct instructional activities and games with small groups in the neighborhood. Volunteers or youth are conducting Mohalla Math Learning Camp this month and will be conducting the Mohalla Language Learning Camp in September to help children build/re-build foundational reading and math skills.
The campaign will be carried out in over 10,000 communities in August and September. Given the uncertainty around movement due to the pandemic, the team is working through multiple scenarios as described below.
Based on the experiences of the past year, there are three likely scenarios outlined below: It is likely that any of these scenarios may prevail at any time, and hence the education sector needs to be prepared. After a year of school closure, we should be in a position to answer questions like What kind of activities are possible in each scenario? And with what kind of outcomes? Here are the possible scenarios:
- Complete lockdown: Only remote activity is possible.
- Restricted movement: Local movement possible. Teachers are in school but not children.
- No restrictions: Teachers and children can both come to school.
Pratham’s current community learning campaign will contribute to finding some of these answers in the next few months, especially in terms of what can be achieved in communities by local people.
- Home connect: Daily phone messages are going directly to families. Ongoing follow-up and feedback conversations with each family are being done. The content for the messages is aligned with the overall goals for this phase.
- Mohalla/neighborhood activity: Volunteers are interacting with small groups of children for 1-1.5 hours a day doing simple instructional activities and games. Mothers of younger children are meeting weekly to share experiences and do activities together.
- Community support: Panchayats, local Anganwadi workers, pre-school instructors, and schoolteachers are being informed. Content & activities shared with them, and their support sought.
In addition to the primary goal of addressing children’s learning needs, Pratham is also initiating special exercises for community volunteers so that capability for digital interactions is enhanced in these communities for future work.
As part of Pratham’s Education for Education program (EfE), volunteers who give time for helping children learn are being offered a basic course in digital literacy. The course is available to interested volunteers and mothers. After registering on Pratham Digital’s YouthNet portal, a participant completes the course via online content and assignments. The course will cover basic digital knowledge like: Internet behaviour, WhatsApp, email, zoom and uploading data.
Whether schools open or not, keeping safety of all in mind, we hope that Pratham’s community campaign for learning will help young children “leap forward” and older children “catch up”. These community-based activities can act as a “warm up” before school opens. A rise in overall digital capability will enable families and communities to support their children and to accompany them on their journey of growth and development, in school and in life.