A brave new world of online learning
Many of our Isha Vidhya students come from low-income families. Home resources, such as Internet connectivity, smartphones, computers or a stable home life, are not always the norm in these rural communities. Despite all the challenges, our students have given us some much-needed reason to cheer in the difficult year that was 2020. From fun virtual activities and Whatsapp quizzes, to interactive webinars and video lessons, even the teachers continued to work tirelessly to help the students adapt to the new world of learning.
As Isha Vidhya entered a brave new world of online learning, where smartphones became a replacement for the classroom, the students, teachers and the administration worked around a myriad challenges to ensure that learning did not stop during the pandemic. When the lockdown closed schools across the country this year, education at Isha Vidhya shifted online. With virtual learning, came obvious and daily struggles like patchy connections, lack of computers, technical problems, costly data plans and the price of mobile devices. But for the students it is about moving forward and focusing on their goals.
At Isha Vidhya, most of the children come from remote villages across the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. And when it comes to communication technology, rural India is not as fortunate as the urban parts of the country. Only 24% of households in the country have internet connections to access virtual education, according to a UNICEF report. Most of the students at Isha Vidhya are from humble backgrounds and over 90% of the families were severely impacted by loss of work and incomes due to the pandemic.
Behind the screens
After the lockdown was announced earlier this year, Isha Vidhya adopted new technologies and devised a distance learning regime to help the students adapt to online learning. Besides the numerous logistical issues, the school’s academic team also worked tirelessly to motivate the students to attend daily online classes, and create and sustain their interest level. Moreover, the team educated the parents on a regular basis about the new virtual education scenario and involved them equally in the process.
With donations of smartphones coming in from generous volunteers all over the world, the school was able to include many more students in this virtual learning environment. Books were printed and distributed to the students who did not have smartphones. The academic team recorded and shared short videos, assignments and quizzes on WhatsApp, and encouraged the students to participate in TV lessons. Interactive webinars with eminent speakers were organized twice a week, with Isha’s global volunteer support. These sessions created curiosity in both students and teachers, drawing large numbers to attend them.
Staying up till midnight
Ms. Sridevi, a teacher at Isha Vidhya, Erode, had no experience with online classes and, like many teachers in the world, had to experiment. With all the internet problems, she decided that she would stay up till midnight to record audio messages so that her students can download them later.
“In the beginning, I found it very difficult to conduct the classes. We faced many problems such as technical difficulties, network problems, mobile recharging, and availability of mobiles for kids. Though we live in an interior village, downloading and posting videos also became very difficult for me. So, sometimes I stayed up till midnight to record the audio messages. During that time, the network is somewhat better,” said the teacher.
“The expectations and eagerness of the students makes me want to work till midnight. Working time does not matter, but the message we are giving to the children is very important. This situation teaches everyone a great lesson and we should be flexible to face and adapt to any circumstance.”
An empty wallet but a heart full of ambition
Durga is a Class 11 student at Isha Vidhya, Cuddalore. Her mother, Rajalakshmi, runs a small grocery store in their village in Tamil Nadu.
“Since the lockdown, I earned little to nothing. Customers don’t earn and so I could not earn any money. I am finding it difficult to make ends meet – we are even falling short of food for the children. But I want Durga to study well, so I let her use my smartphone for her online lessons. It makes me so happy to see my child learning so many things.”
“I want her to study well and become a doctor one day, this is my dream for her,” she added.
Logeshwari misses school
Speaking of her troubles, Logeshwari from Class 12, shares, “I struggle with the online classes because of the poor internet, my mobile battery running low and most importantly – no direct connection with my teachers.”
She recounts fondly, “I really miss school. I want to meet my teachers and be in the classroom when they teach, although they make sure I understand everything in the online classes. Attending the school assembly gives me a sense of peace and being in school with friends and teachers is so much more fun. With all these challenges too, I feel that I will do all right in my exams, I want to score well in the final exams and take up a Bachelor of Commerce degree in college next year,” she added.
A battle far from over
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over and so are the challenges it has thrown for schools and academic institutions. We are facing the daunting task of securing donations for over 5,000 students. As corporate donations run dry, major expenses at Isha Vidhya still remain – salaries, purchase of learning material, building repairs and maintenance.
For students with limited resources, learning has suddenly become more difficult. We must not let education be out of reach for those children with no internet access. With your support, we can uplift the lives of many and help them traverse into a brighter future.