All educational institutions in Kashmir have been closed since August 2019. The educational institutions were closed immediately after the abrogation of Article 370 and then again this year in March due to Covid-19. In Kashmir whenever any untoward incident or unrest happens, shutting down of schools is the first response to the situation. In 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016, 2019 and 2020, schools were closed for whole sessions or months together. In addition to these lengthy closures, the schools remained closed for weeks together at different times for different reasons. The government either decided to grant mass promotion or hold open-choice question papers, which affected the learning abilities of students badly.
To cope with the huge academic loss and to improve the learning abilities of students, the School Education Department and a number of NGOs have been working at community level or via virtual mode. Among all the organisations, trusts and foundations working for the betterment of education and improving the learning levels of students, the Pratham Education Foundation is one of the best and most influential. Established in 1995 to provide education to children in the slums of Mumbai, Pratham has grown in both scope and scale, with programmes today reaching children and youth across the country. Pratham has been working with the J&K school education department since Oct 2015 to improve learning levels of students across Jammu and Kashmir. In addition to the work done in government schools, Pratham is working in village-level communities through direct programmes. During untoward situations when all educational institutions are closed, Pratham works in village communities via its Nayi Raah Library Programme. During crises and unrest, Pratham’s community classes work in every educational zone of Kashmir. In every community library class Pratham provides study material like worksheets, manuals, charts, letter/ number flash cards, etc. Under Pradigi, its Hybrid Learning Programme, Pratham provides digital devices (mobile tablets) to engage in choice-based learning. Children learn on tablets and do projects or conduct activities guided by volunteers in the communities.
During the 2016 unrest, about 400 community classes were working in Kashmir. After the abrogation of Article 370 when all educational institutions were closed, Pratham with the help of local youth, who volunteered to work in the community library classes, worked in about 600 communities across Kashmir. In 2020 when all the educational institutions were closed because of the lockdown announced by the government to prevent coronavirus transmission, Pratham’s community classes were also closed. In this unprecedented challenge, Pratham didn’t stop working and instead used its experience to navigate the difficult situation. Pratham started sharing digital content with volunteers, parents, teachers and students. The exercise of sharing digital content helped parents, teachers and community volunteers to make children learn even at their home. Pratham created digital content to encourage children to remain in touch with their textbooks and do projects by themselves.
Pratham has prepared individual assignments for children which are being shared with parents through community volunteers and even directly with the parents. They are also sharing this content to those parents who don’t have access to internet or smartphone, through SMS. The digital content has something for everyone in the age group of 3 to 14 years, that is, for students from KG to Class 8th. The content shared through WhatsApp and SMS includes daily projects, assignments, activities, etc, curated from the textbooks of the respective classes. If the children find any difficulty in understanding the content, Pratham team members make phone calls almost every day to help the children understand it. These calls boost spirits, spur conversation around the activities, and provide an opportunity for family members to ask questions about the materials they have received. In addition to the normal assignments and SMSes, the volunteers also share an engagement activity twice or thrice in a week with the parents to be done with the children. These WhatsApp messages are these days called ‘Karona: Thodi Masti, Thodi Padhai; (a little fun, a little study). They feature video and audio content that facilitates hands-on activities in various subjects. The ‘Masti’ videos/audios engage students in art, music, and theatre; the ‘Padhai’ ones focus on language, math, English and science learning. These messages are available in both Urdu and English languages.
In short, Pratham didn’t stop working, no matter what the circumstances. Pratham adapted its working according to the situation. Thanks to the Pratham Kashmir Team for their great service.
—The writer is working as Coordinator for Pratham Education Foundation. [email protected]