Eighteen months ago when the COVID pandemic hit India and schools had to be closed indefinitely, non-profit organisations like the Akanksha Foundation, Study Hall Educational Foundation, TejasAsia and Teach For India took the onus on themselves to ensure that learning is not affected, especially for those children from underprivileged communities.
Up to 575 teachers associated with the Akanksha Foundation across 27 schools in Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur adapted to the online learning model and continued teaching nearly 10,000 students. Over 2,600 smart devices were distributed to students from the 7th to 10th grade.
Teachers have been the unsung heroes during this pandemic. From embracing the online shift to now returning to the classrooms, they have taken every challenge head-on to ensure students don't suffer.
TejasAsia is running a mobile school called the 'Hope Bus' for underprivileged kids. The bus with teachers, blackboards, pens and notebooks sets up an onboard classroom to give children basic lessons in math, English and Hindi, along with the daily meals.
Although online learning helped students to cope up with their studies, physical learning is irreplaceable. In a survey conducted by the Akanksha Foundation, 41 percent of students said that access to devices, the internet, and other technical issues were the biggest challenges in online learning.
Some states have reopened schools from the 1st of September and we saw ecstatic students returning to their classrooms. To ensure cases don't spike again, we have seen vaccination camps being organised for the parents and their staff.
So from switching to digital classrooms to embracing the new normal, teachers are the unsung heroes of COVID-19. CNBC-TV18 spoke to the top educators to talk about teachers' role in bridging the learning gap and playbook for reopening schools.
Urvashi Sahni, founding president of Study Hall Edu Foundation said, "Lot parent hesitancy was there. We asked for a consent form and we got about 50 percent and then 53 percent out of which only 50 percent of the children actually showed up. Now slowly, the secondary and senior secondary children classes 9 to 12 that is gone up to 70 percent. Middle school is inching up and the primary school class 1 to 5 is still under 25 to 30 percent though 50 percent parents have given consent."
Shaheen Mistri, CEO, Teach For India said, "It is just so exciting to see the governments reopened schools. The implications and the damage to kids have been significant. I think we need to think about that very carefully as we bring kids back to school. There are huge learning gaps, there are gaps in terms of socialisation, there are gaps in terms of their even understanding of how to be in a physical classroom and I think these gaps are going to deeply impact our teachers."
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Saurabh Taneja, CEO, The Akanksha Foundation said, "We really hope that this is an opportunity to celebrate all the work that has gone in over the past 18 months and it is not been easy. Having been an educator myself, I share the struggles as well as the successes that they have experienced. At Akanksha Foundation, we realised that, at the onset of the pandemic, our goals had to shift from just thinking about the whole child impact to the whole family impact. The frontline staff members in this case are our social workers as well as the teachers and at Akanksha Foundation, we began by focusing on just teaching the basics of COVID appropriate behaviour, pivoting towards providing the ration supplies and now more recently, post the second wave in really identifying the vaccine hesitancy that has been prevalent amongst the urban poor, especially in the communities where Akanksha has been working.”
Marlo Philip, founder and Lead Strategist of TejasAsia said, "When we restarted our ‘Hope Buses’ programme in the many large underserved communities of New Delhi, I can tell you that it has been encouraging for us. It is literally we could see a lot of hopelessness in the communities with the children and families. The moment we were able to get back kids to the schooling programme, they were so excited, and they were waiting with their school bags and the parents were just waiting for the school bus."
For full interview, watch the accompanying video...