CHENNAI: Agathiyan Manivasagam, a class 5 student at a government school in the city, like most children from the margins, bore the brunt of unprecedented school closures amid the global pandemic. With little to no access to tools and basic infrastructure to education, the son of daily-wage labourers says that he was “confused” during the previous academic year. “I couldn’t cope and grew irritable. I didn’t have access to a smartphone or the Internet. My parents are considering discontinuing my education,” he says, echoing the alarming situation at several low-income households.
With the closure of schools impacting around 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in the country, children in class 5, who are on the brink of a transition to middle school, are at the highest risk of loss in foundational skills, it seems. As declining nutritional levels, psychological well-being and educational vulnerability further compound the problem, Nalandaway Foundation, an award-winning NGO working towards promoting education through arts, has stepped in with a solution.
A recent study by Azim Premji Foundation on ‘The loss of Learning during the Pandemic’ (conducted across five states), projected that 92 per cent of children have lost at least one specific language ability from the previous year across all classes. These abilities include describing a picture or their experiences orally; reading familiar words; reading with comprehension; writing simple sentences based on a picture. The report also revealed more such deficits.
The 15-year-old foundation aims to fix the learning deficit and help children overcome the alienation they might face as they go back to school, by taking an approach to recognise the health and happiness of the child along with academic learning through a holistic arts-based intervention programme. This, Sriram, founder of the NGO says, will not only bridge the learning gap but also enhance their cognitive, emotional and physical well-being.
In line with the vision, the NGO has identified 560 students from the most marginalised homes across 20 government schools in Chennai to provide age-specific learning. To influence this change that can impact the learning and development of the chosen children, the Foundation has flagged a fundraiser to raise resources to provide a teaching assistant, learning aids, workbooks, and art materials for each child for an entire year (app. `7,500 per child). “The primary strategy is to help class 5 children achieve age-appropriate and grade-wise learning of all subjects by the year-end and move upwards into middle school and not drop out due to a cycle of poverty. These subjects will be taught through arts and story-telling —via a fun and joyful model than in a didactic way,” he shares.
During the pandemic, the foundation worked with close to 32,000 children on a learn at home model, wherein learning kits were provided to every house and the children were supported through WhatsApp and audio-based lessons. “However, out of the 32,000 working with us, consistent learning and interaction were possible only with less than 5,000 to 6,000 children due to different reasons including lack of educational infrastructure at the child’s home. This is one of the reasons we need more focused intervention,” he says.
To streamline the process, the foundation has identified, recruited and trained dedicated Nalandaway Teaching Assistants (TA), who will be available in each classroom to work along and support the school teachers. “The Nalandaway TA will not only assist the teacher but also integrate arts-based learning for improving academic learning and the emotional well-being of the children. Another aspect that will be focused on is familial intervention, wherein the TA’s will also work with parents. With most marginalised children not receiving education support at home, the challenge enhances and focus on the learning and behaviour changes at homes become a crucial part of the intervention,” he details.
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