Gyan­tantra, the e-plat­form to ed­u­cate street and slum kids

Business Standard - - ECONOMY & PUBLIC AFFAIRS - ANJULI BHARGAVA

Up in the skies, In­drani Singh, a se­nior com­man­der with Air In­dia, found she was quite at peace with what she saw around her. It was on the ground that things seemed less happy.

In the Palam Vi­har area in Gurugram, where she lived, she saw a lot of poor chil­dren with no hope for the fu­ture and ac­cess to only dis­mal ed­u­ca­tion, if they at­tended school at all. Dozens of chil­dren on the streets quite reg­u­larly begged, wan­dered aim­lessly, hun­gry all the time. Some­how what ev­ery­one else took for granted in many cities across In­dia — and seemed quite im­mune — to trou­bled Singh.

In 1995, Singh used her own funds and round­ing up a bunch of chil­dren, started help­ing them with their stud­ies and tu­ition, with a hand­ful of teach­ers in a rented premise at Gurugram.

She started small, and ex­pected to stay small (as she had a full-time job as a pi­lot), but soon she found the whole move­ment had ac­quired a mo­men­tum of its own. What started as a small neigh­bour­hood ini­tia­tive just kept grow­ing.

The ini­tia­tive ac­quired the name “Lit­er­acy In­dia”. To start with, one of its core pro­grammes was Vidyapeeth, a school where stu­dents who couldn’t af­ford bet­ter were given as good an ed­u­ca­tion as other pri­vate ones. The stu­dents ap­pear for board ex­am­i­na­tions through Na­tional Open School.

Vidyapeeth is run out of a build­ing at Ba­jghera, New Palam Vi­har. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries come from the low­est eco­nomic and so­cial strata. Most are first-gen­er­a­tion learn­ers. They are oth­er­wise likely to be en­gaged in child labour or other me­nial labour.

Lit­er­acy In­dia works on three “E”s — em­pow­er­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, and em­ploy­a­bil­ity. Slowly new ini­tia­tives have been added and now there are eight pro­grammes that the or­gan­i­sa­tion op­er­ates in 11 states. A to­tal of 400,000 lives have been touched in the past 22 years. It now has 200 em­ploy­ees. The or­gan­i­sa­tion has a board chaired by Air Mar­shal Den­zil Keelor.

More re­cently, it started work­ing closely with PVRs and other cine­mas in the city where they of­ten found sev­eral home­less chil­dren, many of them ad­dicted to drugs.

These chil­dren had a very low at­ten­tion span — 15-20 min­utes. Most didn’t go to school. A in­ter­ac­tive soft­ware was de­vel­oped to teach these chil­dren.

That’s how Gyan­tantra Dig­i­tal Dost came about. The self-paced in­ter­ac­tive and highly en­gag­ing pro­gramme uses the main el­e­ments of the K5 cur­ricu­lum and in­fuses it with prob­lems that these kids typ­i­cally face: Child abuse, health prob­lems in­clud­ing HIV-pos­i­tive symp­toms, fo­cus­ing on value ed­u­ca­tion, and teach­ing them about life skills.

Lit­er­acy In­dia pulled in Dell to help it de­velop the pro­gramme.

“We find that tech­nol­ogy helps buy back lost time. Within a year we find chil­dren able to cover any gaps if they use this dig­i­tal plat­form. The choice is be­tween sit­ting still for hours in a class­room ver­sus work­ing on an in­ter­ac­tive tablet,” said Singh. She also said the dig­i­tal plat­form was a nat­u­ral win­ner.

Lit­er­acy In­dia’s big­gest push and cur­rent en­ergy was fo­cused mostly on this pro­gramme, as they saw the high­est scope for scal­ing and a quick spread.

The Gyan­tantra pro­gramme, which has so far reached 100,000 chil­dren, is the most scal­able and Lit­er­acy In­dia is now work­ing to get state gov­ern­ments where it al­ready op­er­ates to adopt it.

The pro­gramme is largely self-taught and can be run with some guid­ance from any­one who has passed Class 12. So the at­tempt is to make state gov­ern­ment use it to pull in their street and labour­ers chil­dren as well as of­fer it in the state gov­ern­ment schools to help those stu­dents who lag be­hind to bridge the gap with their peers. Just over 100 schools — where Lit­er­acy In­dia — is al­ready di­rectly run­ning some pro­grammes will be adopt­ing the new soft­ware. In ad­di­tion to this, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has tied up with nine NGOs who are adapt­ing the dig­i­tal plat­form for their own needs.

Singh says that the pro­gramme also acts as a re­fresher by help­ing stu­dents who may have for­got­ten a cer­tain con­cept and don’t have ac­cess to some­one who can sit and clar­ify it for them. “Chil­dren some­times for­get how to take out the LCM or HCF or some con­cept in frac­tions”, she ex­plains. The dig­i­tal plat­form al­lows them to re­vert back and re-learn some­thing they may have for­got­ten. That works for the teach­ers as well who of­ten deal with Class 3 and Class 6 level stu­dents in the same space and time, an im­pos­si­ble task for most. By us­ing a plat­form like this, some of the dis­tance be­tween the learn­ing of two chil­dren of dif­fer­ent ages or even of the same age can be bridged.

The suc­cess of the pro­gramme with stu­dents de­pends on its right us­age. For in­stance the pro­gramme will not achieve the same re­sults if any short cuts or quick fixes are adopted. Any child who has to go through it has to spend a cer­tain amount of time to ac­tu­ally learn. Teach­ers at times get im­pa­tient and try and skip sec­tions to reach the end of the pro­gramme but then re­sults suf­fer, says Singh.

Lit­er­acy In­dia is of­fer­ing the Gyan­tantra soft­ware and plat­form for free to any­one who wants to adopt it. There is a small ba­sic cost to be cov­ered by the school or NGO for the ini­tial in­tro­duc­tion by a trainer of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Singh has seen the pull of Gyan­tantra in her own lo­cal­ity.

A num­ber of homemak­ers re­quested ac­cess to the soft­ware from her and started teach­ing their own house help and at times their chil­dren. Soon, she found some of them cleared their Class V ex­ams and a few wanted to tackle higher lev­els such as Class VIII. This even helped 25-30-year-olds who have never at­tended a day of school.

The Gyan­tantra pro­gramme, which has so far reached 100,000 chil­dren, is the most scal­able and Lit­er­acy In­dia is now work­ing to get state gov­ern­ments where it al­ready op­er­ates to adopt it

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