“Access to education through online is a privilege I can’t afford, as my family doesn’t have smart phones and we are also not well equipped with the functionalities of smart phones. Amid the fear of losing contact with education when the schools are shut, Learning Centre has come as savior where I am learning counting, creating words from a letter, poems, stories etc. I love to come here and participate in joyful fun activities”
–Pooja, a student of Learning Centre, from Jhiri hamlet of Mandla district, Madhya Pradesh
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on education across the country, and more so for marginalized children of vulnerable groups. The closure of schools and introduction of online classes are not only increasing learning inequalities among children, it is also pushing a large number of children out of school leading to age old bad practices such as child labour.
In a bid to recover from the educational halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and digital divide, NEG-FIRE has established Learning Centres for the marginalized children who are left behind residing on the margins of the society. It offers the primary education to the children from marginalized communities. Each Learning Centre is managed by a trained Learning Facilitator (LF) who teaches languages, mathematics and environment to the children along with some play activities. The LF is selected from the community and they use mother languages of the children and they gradually transition the children to the State’s mandated language as per the children’s learning capacity and comfort. The class room transactions are facilitated bearing in mind children’s culture, their pre-knowledge and environment to instill and retain their interest in the classroom discussions and activities. This inspires hope and encourages them to conserve their traditional culture and associate pride in it. Poems are recited and stories are narrated with the maximum participation of children. Under the Khel Se Mel activities, children are involved in various activities enabling them to learn together, and value social inclusion.
Parents-facilitator meeting conducted every month, provides individual feedback which is recognised by the parents and they become united in improving the child’s learning curve. The parents are also counselled and encouraged to spend time with their children at home when they study. They are also counselled to encourage their neighbours to send their children to learning centres.
Sarita Devi states, “I feel so good that every morning my children get ready and go to the learning centre. They study, learn mathematics, poems, health and hygiene practices and so on. When they come home, they also teach us the importance of cleanliness. At home also, they revise the lessons. I now feel my children are going to school”.
Saraswati Salil, the Learning Facilitator from the Lakhanpur Bandi hamlet, Mandla district, Madhya Pradesh states, “At the outset, children used to sit quietly without uttering a word due to fear and low self-esteem. Gradually, they liked the activities; started speaking and participating in the activities. Now, they are confident enough to share their views and voices in front of the whole class. They are no longer hesitant to speak to outsiders also.”
To keep the COVID-19’s impact away, all the precautionary measures are followed strictly In the Learning Centres. It is ensured children put on masks and sanitize their hands before entering the centre. There is a board placed in the centre mentioning all the required measures for protection from COVID-19.
NEG-FIRE is running a total of 209 Learning Centres in four states of India i.e. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. They also maintain an attendance register to monitor the children presence and ensure zero dropouts to ensure learning continuity.