Mohalla Gatividhi Kendras: Alternate strategies to ensure learning in the times of Covid19 -Written by Deep Ranjani Rai

Eklavya, (www.eklavya.in) one of the projects we partner within Madhya Pradesh, was set up in 1982 and is an organization deeply embedded in concepts, notions, thoughts, and actions, all geared towards a better education for children. Their focus has not been only on academic development but has also emphasized the need for the holistic development of children.  Eklavya’s intention is to develop children’s faculty to learn, which they believe is not possible without helping push their abilities of creative thinking, problem-solving, inquiry, and curiosity. Eklavya also believes that public education falls under the realm of the government, the work of organizations such as theirs are the helping hands and stepping stones. In no way, do they think or want to replace the duties and responsibilities of the government towards children and their fundamental right to education.

Against this philosophy and thought process, Eklavya’s programs are designed to be thought-provoking, community-oriented, and aimed at systemic change in the public education system. Parents and the community at large are seen as equally important stakeholders who can play a vital role in the continuing learning of their children.

Vibha (www.vibha.org) began its journey with Eklavya in the latter half of 2014 when Eklavya was in the process of experimenting with the concept of Shiksha Prohatsan Kendra or SPKs (literally, Centers to Encourage Learning). These SPKs are in Shahpur of Betul District in Madhya Pradesh, predominantly a tribal population. These SPKs run for two hours before school time and caters to the learning needs of children who are struggling to keep pace with their peers. There are a plethora of reasons, but the primary one being the inability of school teachers to cope with different learning levels of children. At SPKs, run by Eklavya teachers, children learn at their own pace and level but with the end goal of reaching grade-level competency so that they can participate and learn in their respective classes, back in school.

SPKs are designed to focus on individual child learning paths through focused attention, peer group support, and a non-threatening learning environment. The learning path is geared towards building the child’s capabilities to reach grade-level competency. SPKs are envisioned as a short term intervention based on the assumption that these approaches and methodologies will become part of the regular school system through gradual hand over of responsibility to teachers and school authorities. SPKs have an estimated span of three to four years after which the entire process is handed over to the government school. SPKs transform into Gatividhi Kendras inside the school managed entirely by teachers and students. SPKS activities are also supported by training to teachers/school management and awareness building for mobilization of parents and community leaders.

The process of transition has already begun in 2019.

2020 arrived and brought with it the onslaught of COVID19 and the restrictive environment to carry out all the carefully worked out plans. Unexpected situations caught many of us unprepared for an education scenario where everything turned uncertain. We also did not expect a prolonged impact. Schools shut down, lockdown phases 1, 2, 3,4,5, and continuing.

Eklavya, (www.eklavya.in) one of the projects we partner within Madhya Pradesh, was set up in 1982 and is an organization deeply embedded in concepts, notions, thoughts, and actions, all geared towards a better education for children. Their focus has not been only on academic development but has also emphasized the need for the holistic development of children.  Eklavya’s intention is to develop children’s faculty to learn, which they believe is not possible without helping push their abilities of creative thinking, problem-solving, inquiry, and curiosity. Eklavya also believes that public education falls under the realm of the government, the work of organizations such as theirs are the helping hands and stepping stones. In no way, do they think or want to replace the duties and responsibilities of the government towards children and their fundamental right to education.

Against this philosophy and thought process, Eklavya’s programs are designed to be thought-provoking, community-oriented, and aimed at systemic change in the public education system. Parents and the community at large are seen as equally important stakeholders who can play a vital role in the continuing learning of their children.

Vibha (www.vibha.org) began its journey with Eklavya in the latter half of 2014 when Eklavya was in the process of experimenting with the concept of Shiksha Prohatsan Kendra or SPKs (literally, Centers to Encourage Learning). These SPKs are in Shahpur of Betul District in Madhya Pradesh, predominantly a tribal population. These SPKs run for two hours before school time and caters to the learning needs of children who are struggling to keep pace with their peers. There are a plethora of reasons, but the primary one being the inability of school teachers to cope with different learning levels of children. At SPKs, run by Eklavya teachers, children learn at their own pace and level but with the end goal of reaching grade-level competency so that they can participate and learn in their respective classes, back in school.

SPKs are designed to focus on individual child learning paths through focused attention, peer group support, and a non-threatening learning environment. The learning path is geared towards building the child’s capabilities to reach grade-level competency. SPKs are envisioned as a short term intervention based on the assumption that these approaches and methodologies will become part of the regular school system through gradual hand over of responsibility to teachers and school authorities. SPKs have an estimated span of three to four years after which the entire process is handed over to the government school. SPKs transform into Gatividhi Kendras inside the school managed entirely by teachers and students. SPKS activities are also supported by training to teachers/school management and awareness building for mobilization of parents and community leaders.

The process of transition has already begun in 2019.

2020 arrived and brought with it the onslaught of COVID19 and the restrictive environment to carry out all the carefully worked out plans. Unexpected situations caught many of us unprepared for an education scenario where everything turned uncertain. We also did not expect a prolonged impact. Schools shut down, lockdown phases 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and continuing.

Eklavya’s approach of strengthening community participation particularly those of parents, in children’s education reached an interesting high in recent times. Eklavya was approached by parents from the communities where they work, with a barrage of questions “ How long are our children going to just roam around? What will happen to their education?  What is Eklavya thinking about doing? and why have you not started the SPKs? What is stopping you?” When explained that the current situation with Covid19 does not allow for the gathering of children, the school are closed, the government has explicitly ordered that all educational establishment including nongovernmental centers cannot be operated during this time, it is, therefore, difficult to conduct activities, the parents and community leaders emphatically stated that they would take over any coordination of the centers and will be the ones to answer to any government authority. Eklavya need not worry on that front. What an incredible answer!!

A couple of years ago, when I visited Eklavya centers, I was fascinated not only by the vibrant environment of the center but also by some of the children! It was captivating to see these young leaders sharing their knowledge with their peers, helping them understand math or word/language construction, and the easy acceptance of these “teachers” by the learners. These young ‘teachers” were those who had reached their competency level, or were some A-grade students who came to the SPKs just because they loved being there! It struck me that these young ones were a very competent pool of resources for Eklavya and there really was no need to look any further.  I suggested that to Mr. Ghanshyam Tiwari, the Project Manager, Eklavya. There already was the intention to mobilize such children inside the schools.

A near-perfect opportunity presented itself, as mentioned above. Eklavya organized a series of meetings with parents and community leaders to brainstorm and work out a plan for running the centers. Great participation by the community and a greater excitement amongst the children resource persons! A public acknowledgment of their abilities and a feather in the cap being called ‘guruji” teacher by the other children.

Within a short while, 163 Mohalla Gatividhi kendras had been set up reaching out to over nearly 2200 children. These kendras run for 2 or 3 hours a day and are overseen by parents or a designated community leader. Eklavya provides the materials and some guidance. (Training materials, videos, worksheets, etc.). Mobile is used for showing videos, the visual is enlarged through simple technology – a plastic sheet for larger projection in front of the mobile to increase visibility for the children without having to crowd around 6 six screens.  Pre-recorded or accessed videos are given to children so that they do not have to rely on network connectivity. A lot of worksheets are used for teaching.

Each Mohalla kendra brings 8-14 children and classes are conducted by the Child Resource Person. Parents/elders/others take care of extracurricular activities: storytelling, poetry, singing, dancing other activities that are common across all children.

An interesting point to note is that the area where Eklavya works in Shahpur is totally Covid free. Nevertheless, children and community practice all precautionary measures. Children who come to these Mohalla centres are made to frequently wash hands and feet, wear masks and maintain distancing.

Mohalla Kendras are flourishing, with  more demand coming in from parents! Eklavya has completed a first assessment to capture how learning is happening and what are the outcomes. Collated report will be shared soon.

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