The year 2020 took us all by surprise – no one was ready for what was to come. Everything came to a standstill – and education was just one of the collaterals. But our children are not regular children, their families don’t come from regular socio-economic backgrounds, and hence, the situation demanded swift and timely action, and solutions that were out of the box – and that’s what we did!
The food crisis
The day the city announced the first lockdown, we started distributing food supplies and medical aid to families across 100 slums in Bangalore. We continued to do this even after the lockdown was removed because most of our parents were daily wage workers and had lost their jobs.
Served: 900k meals
*Consistently for over 8 months
The crisis of money
Providing basic food rations is one, but what about the absence of money? We understood that in many households, both the parents had lost their jobs. We did not want to provide them with money, hence, helped the mothers stitch bags and paid them for the same. We then gave all the rations to the families in the same bags that they had stitched thereby enabling some fluid cash made available to the mothers.
Mothers could buy medicines and other supplies from the money they earned
The psychological crisis
Most of our children live in really small homes sharing space with over 3-5 family members. With no access to their teachers and counsellors, and with many parents having lost their jobs – children and mothers were being subjected to abuse, alcoholism, etc. We established an SOS call system, made it accessible to all families with some of our best counsellors on call at all times.
Some of Parikrma’s older girl students were being forced into early marriages, in an attempt to get them out of the house and decrease the number of mouths to feed. Parikrma started handing out storybooks, magazines, art material and schoolwork assignments to the children, asserting that the school was not on a break – right from the Month of April.
We launched the ‘we are listening’ initiative for teachers – which brings groups of 10-12 teachers into a round table discussion format with Parikrma’s team of psychologists, either during or after school hours’ They are being encouraged to discuss their fears and insecurities about the pandemic, their ability to handle online teaching and any other problems. This has helped keep the teacher motivation high since they are not only able to open up about their problems, but also realise that they are not alone in their fears.
“COVID Listening Post” for children
“We Are Listening” initiative for teachers
The education crisis
With (school) reopening dates being postponed indefinitely, it was made clear that online was the way to go. This digital shift might have been an easier transcend for most elite schools, but for our children and teachers, this was not so. Our children do not own cell phones or laptops, and many parents owned basic phones. But we saw this coming in April and were working on a contingency plan all along.
On May 4 we did a never-done-before virtual orientation program for about 123 teachers on digital know-how including Blooms Taxonomy, Multiple Intelligence, and Class Management Techniques
In April, we started training the teachers and a quick tech-know-how was conducted giving them a low-down on Apps, video editing, and sessions on engaging children online creatively. While organisations all around, including educational institutions, were announcing salary cuts and/or layoffs, Parikrma announced that employees would neither be laid off nor experience any reduction in salaries. In many households, Parikrma teachers became the sole bread-winners as spouses lost their jobs.
When most teachers across the globe were losing jobs – Parikrma promised to keep every teacher, and further trained them in new skills
The average Parikrma parent has only about 6-7 years of formal school education. Educating them on the need for ReachV™ (online classes) and eliciting their cooperation required a great effort from our Community Development Services (CDS) team that began holding one-to-one counselling sessions with the families in April.
The next stage was training them in handling smart devices given to their children. While many were familiar with accessing the internet, they needed detailed coaching on downloading Google Meet and using it to connect to Reach-V™.
Parents committed to encouraging their children to study and stopped forcing them to marry or get jobs.
Mobilising alumni support
When we kicked off the ReachV™ program by May 22nd – we approached our alumni for assistance. Many Parikrma alumni, who were working pre-pandemic, had lost their jobs during the lockdown, while those still in college did not have classes. These alumni were brought in as mobile technology problem solvers, moving around the slum during school hours and helping parents and children fix whatever issues they were facing.
Alumni got busy during the lockdown, also, were giving back to Parikrma willingly and happily. It was very heartening
While we continued to train our teachers, we were simultaneously raising funds and taking donations for second-hand phones and laptops. We raised funds to procure over 300 tablets. From May onwards, we started providing students with Rs.250 worth of `mobile data recharge’ per month, allowing them to stay logged in for about 3-4 hours per day, 5 days a week.
WhatsApp groups were created for every class of 30 children so that their teachers can interact with them easily. Study periods were finalised to 5 hours a day – one period each for the core subjects of math, science and social studies, one period for language and one for co-curricular activities or life-skills. The format of the PE classes had to be modified so that they did not involve much movement but could be done in one spot. Since art materials are not available, teachers modified their classes such that students use the floor as their palette and available cooking items such as turmeric or chilli powder as colouring agents. Similarly, science teachers modified science experiments and practical lab work such that activities may be done in student homes using available materials.
- There seems to have been some decline in the absolute marks obtained this year, when compared to those obtained by students of the same grade in 2019, especially in middle school
- High school students seem to have adapted well to virtual school, showing little decline in their marks
- Similar patterns are seen in all 4 subjects
- ReachV™ is certainly ensuring that learning related to the 2020-21 curriculums content continues for Parikrma students, unlike their peer-group enrolled in Government schools
While many mainstream schools included, were prioritising covering the syllabus, we at Parikrma were looking at the crisis with a more longitudinal view and focus. We plan to slowly move from industrial education to nature education. We need to develop a curriculum that is more linked to nature and the natural way of living. Visits to the forest must replace visits to malls. Education is for not just knowing and doing but also being. We believe it is time to switch roles between a student and a teacher and we are going to be experimenting with that. We are looking at developing a curriculum that will encourage active learners, curious learners, independent learners, and continuous lifelong learners. This work has already begun..
- By June 2020, we had attendance across all schools and junior college averaging between 85-90%
- The Parikrma ReachV™ model was publically lauded by several practitioners and was extensively covered in the national media including in The Forbes, Mint India, The Deccan Herald etc.
Going digital might have been challenging, but we are quick learners – we are using these tech channels to kick-start new initiatives.
Parikrma Book Trekkers Club: Monthly twice, we have eminent authors reading out stories from their own books and having discussions with our children. We hope this will ignite in many children the love of reading and writing. We will have authors in English, Kannada and Hindi conducting these sessions.
Parikrma Globe Trekkers Club: Monthly twice, we have experts in diverse fields – like economics, politics, current affairs, science etc. holding debates and talks with our children and sometimes, follow-up quizzes, and workshops too. This is how we bring the world into the classroom.
Enrichment Program: Every day, mentors, speakers, spend 45 minutes with our children and share information and hold interactive, fun sessions covering themes like math remedial, interesting quizzes, fun language building sessions etc.
Annual Reading Program: We are holding several reading programs – including the HABS London -Parikrma Student Interactions (where students from the HABS school, London, and Parikrma children read books and share their inputs, opinions etc.), the Globe Reads (a UNESCO initiative), and the Neev Literature Festival etc.
Support for parents
Most of our parents have been daily-wage labourers, cab drivers, maids, vegetable vendors etc. Post lockdown, a majority of them lost their jobs. To be able to help them back on their feet – we ran several campaigns, and continue to do so – some of which are driving support to fund sewing machines, vegetable carts, equipment, tool-kits etc. – thereby enabling them to be independent and earn money on their own.
1 mother tuned an entrepreneur – after receiving a sewing machine
1 father was back on the road selling vegetables once we bought him a vegetable cart
1 mother started her own portable shop after we bought her a fully-equipped cobbler’s kit
The alumni situation
Many of our alumni, who had landed their first jobs in 2019, have been laid off post COVID19. A few, who were running their own enterprises, have also been forced to shut down. This has been a big challenge and a very costly one to the alumni, their families, and Parikrma. We are now trying to help many of the alumni that have reached out to us for advice and support, by finding them jobs, and by offering more skill-based training to improve their scope and preparedness for diverse occupations.
This crisis has inspired a whole new channel of undertakings – we are now gearing for multi-skill training, leadership training and similar programs made available to our children and alumni to prepare them for the unforeseen
Two papers published
Both the papers talk about COVID19 challenges and how poor children have been impacted and what measures have been taken to ensure everyone has access to free education and healthcare in Bangalore. One paper highlights the success of Parikrma ReachV™ initiative and the other, on the gendered impact of COVID19 and the future for girls from marginal communities.
We want to thank each one of you, our long-term donors and supporters, volunteers, mentors for selflessly coming forward and helping us during this difficult time.
You can make a difference and help us with all the initiatives mentioned above by donating.