At a time when the academic process has been disrupted intermittently across two waves of the pandemic, a voluntary teachers group is playing the Good Samaritan, coming up with enterprising methods and tools to keep the learning process in the remotest corners not just going, but "entertaining".
The group, Xoikhik Got Gyanam, Kamrup, in collaboration with Samagra Siksha, Kamrup, has sprinkled elements of fun, organising cultural events and inculcating the reading habit through story fairs under the "Porhok Aru Porhuaok" initiative in areas near the Assam-Meghalaya border with poor mobile phone network connectivity.
As a part of the "Porhok Aru Porhuaok" initiative, the Xoikhik Got recently conducted the storytelling sessions and distributed books to students in two interior villages, Lampi and Jimirigaon, which are yet have access to mobile phone/Internet connectivity.
With the help of their teacher resources, the group has also conducted online workshops on art and craft, pronunciation, learning science the joyful way, et al.
Likewise, music, dance, recitation and fancy dress competitions among students of the different blocks have been organised.
During this year, more emphasis was given to the mental health of these children. Owing to this, the virtual platform was used more for co-curricular interactions.
"By now, we have adapted to the virtual mode of education and explored every technology available to us. Teachers have also been trained to use technology for online classes. This situation is a blessing in disguise as it has widened the perspective of teaching beyond textbooks," District Programme Officer (CP) Kamrup, Phulpahi Nath, said.
In order to engage the teachers and students in creative thinking and expression, the Gyanam e-magazine was published by this group of enterprising teachers. Six issues have so far been published.
"Our mission is to reach out to every student of our district, keep them motivated and ensure continuity in their learning. Through e-magazines like Gyanam, we have also endeavoured to keep the morale of our teachers high by providing a forum whereby they can unleash their creative ideas," says Sukanya Bharadwaj, secretary of Xoikhik Got Gyanam Kamrup.
As for the students in these border and semi-rural areas, many of whom would have otherwise been deprived of education in the absence of smart-phones and Internet connectivity, learning has become interesting.
"By now, we have adapted to the virtual mode of education and explored every technology available to us. Teachers have also been trained to use technology for online classes," said District Programme Officer (CP) Kamrup, Phulpahi Nath.Abhijit Boro, a Class IX student of Upperdani High School in the Rani area says, "We can easily understand the lessons even as physical classes have been suspended. Nowadays, everyone likes to use smartphones. So without even realising that we have a task at hand while learning, we gain a lot of additional information regarding the topics."
The online mode of teaching among students of government schools in remote areas was brought upon by the abrupt and indefinite closure of schools in March last year. There were several hiccups as neither the students nor teachers were prepared for the virtual mode of instruction. Gradually, there was a realisation that for the continuity of education the only option was to make a paradigm shift to the online mode of teaching and learning.
"Whatsapp groups of students were formed and teachers sent videos, audio and images relevant to their subjects. Small group classes were taken through con-calls. Yet just a handful of students were able to reap its benefits. As majority of the students belonged to BPL (below poverty line) families they could not afford smartphones to join these classes," recalls Sukanya.
"Besides poor network, the problem was that in most households there was only one phone that belonged to the guardians. Students could not attend classes at the scheduled time when they went out to work," she says.
Subsequently, the DIKSHA app designed by the Union ministry of education helped considerably. Competent tech-savvy teachers were handpicked and deputed by SCERT, Assam for creating e-content relevant to their subjects and the state's syllabus.
"The advantage of this app was that the e-contents of each lesson could be downloaded and viewed offline. So if the houses of students are located in an area with poor connectivity, they can download the lessons whenever they are in a better connectivity zone and watch it anytime later," she says.
Between October to April, schools opened phase wise and offline classes resumed. This time however as the fear of the next wave was looming large the state was a tad better prepared to face it.
"Kamrup district started the "Kiran" initiative whereby activity-based worksheets on respective subjects with explanations were prepared for those students who were not connected by mobile network. These worksheets were distributed with the help of the head teachers and local teachers," Sukanya informs.
To supplement the lessons of textbooks, a YouTube channel, Y-Kiran having chapter-wise explanatory and interactive videos for Classes I to X, was started.
"Learning has now become very enjoyable with the help of the Youtube videos of Y-Kiran," quips Abhijit.