LEARNING AGAINST ODDS

Insights from STEM for Girls India Program in Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan

IBM Private Limited and the American India Foundation (AIF) are working in partnership in Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan, under the IBM STEM for Girls India (SFGI) program. It aims to bridge the learning gaps, by enabling technological capabilities and pedagogical reforms in the schools, while motivating girls to engage in STEM careers.

Mansi is a Class 9th student in Bhuna School in Kaithal district, Haryana. She has a versatile interest and participates in all school related activities. Since, the COVID-19 crisis, she like her other peers, is home-bound. The closure of schools and the looming uncertainty about the future does make her anxious but doesn’t deter her to put her efforts through. She regularly participates in the remote learning session organized by the IBM STEM for Girls Program team in Haryana. Her father Mamraj Prajapati has studied till Class 3 and mother Sushila Rani till Class 8, they share that pottery making is their family occupation for  generations. They sell utensils made of clay. Mansi works hard to cope with her lessons through the WhatsApp classes and assignments. Her parents are elated with the idea that she is able to continue learning and are hopeful for her to carve a better future for herself.

Mansi is among the group of students who are participating in the remote learning initiated by the IBM STEM for Girls Program in India (IBM- SFGI).

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented lockdown impacting 1,186 million learners i.e. 67.7% of total enrolled learners across 144 countrywide closures.[1] In India 320 million students have been affected by COVID-19 school closures.[2] The closure of schools is impacting education gains that states have acquired after striving for long.

The closing of schools has forced the government to explore options for remote learning and use of other educational resources to mitigate the loss of learning. The state government of Haryana has 14,424 government run schools serving 1.8 million students[3], Punjab has 28,805 schools and 4.2 million students[4] and in Rajasthan there are 69,405 schools and 8.4 million students[5] impacted due to the crisis.

In a recent survey conducted by the American India Foundation (AIF)[6] 3 out of the 10 states – Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan demonstrate some key insights, which can help understand the context. As stated in Fig 1 access to resources play a critical role in determining the mode of intervention for remote learning, TV is the most accessible resource in Haryana (70%) followed by feature phone (69%) and internet smart phone (61%). In Punjab (93%) respondents have TV followed by feature phone (76%) and smartphone (72%). Rajasthan Smart Phone (86%) is the most accessible asset followed by TV (80%) and Feature phone (57%) in the community. Also, Rajasthan has the highest Internet reach in the community at 86% followed by Punjab (65%) and Haryana (61%). Radio is an asset, which is least available in the three states.  Fig 2 elaborates the preferred medium of choice for remote learning, asserting on mobile-based learning and smart phone – Internet based options, using WhatsApp groups as a preference over TV and other mediums.

Figure 1: Asset Availability in the Community

Figure 2: Community Aspiration and Choice of Media for Remote Learning

IBM STEM for Girl’s India Program’s response to the Crisis and Remote Learning

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can” ~Arthur Ashe 

The IBM ‘STEM for Girls’ is IBM India’s CSR campaign to empower 2,00,000 government schoolgirls across 10 states over a span of 3 years. IBM Private Limited and the American India Foundation (AIF) are working in partnership in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan to bridge the learning gaps by enabling technological capabilities and pedagogical reforms in the schools to motivate girls to engage in STEM careers.

Why is it important to engage with Students during COVID-19 and the Need for Facilitators?  

As mentioned in Fig 3 majority of the students attending government schools are first generation learners, and do not have support at home to anchor the learning process thus there is an severe need support. The program facilitators have emerged as critical support in the field to anchor and help the learning process during this disruption. It is expected that the crisis is going to disproportionately impact school girls and their retention in the education processes, thus, the need to engage and support stakeholders is more evident than before and the field facilitators are best placed to lead the process and serve the community uphold the education interface during the crisis.

IBM SFGI program, despite the economic strains posed by the pandemic, is committed to invest in building capabilities of the stakeholders to bridge differences and address disparities with an equitable approach.

IBM SFGI Response Strategy

SFGI proposes a two-prong strategy firstly, working with the teachers and field facilitators and building their capacity to address the remote learning requirements. Secondly, anchoring child friendly and activity-based content by propelling critical thinking and problem solving, which is conducive and responds to the technology debt in communities.

Thus, based on the insights regarding the COVID-19 Survey Fig 2 emphasizes the availability of the smartphones and WhatsApp emerges as the most accessible and preferred choice for remote learning among the students considering that it provides possibilities for a two-way communication unlike television, which is also a commonly available asset at the household. Thus, the program has galvanized on the potential and access of the technology and has customized the delivery using whatsApp groups in the school as a key platform for student engagement. The success of remote learning largely depends on facilitation – which helps in building capacity of the stakeholders to contribute effectively and bring change, which impacts learning outcomes in the desired manner.

Figure 3: Gender wise Education Status of Parents in Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan

Figure 4: Gender wise Occupation Details of Parents in Haryana, Punjab, and Rajasthan

It is also important to note that the pandemic has impacted livelihoods is a grave manner and has hurt the economic means of the families where the children come from in Fig 4 demonstrate high rates of unemployment or engagement into casual work is prevalent among the parents which also deters their efforts to support the education of their children.

Why Anuradha’s father is trying hard to ensure she has access to Remote learning

Anuradha studies in GGSSS Aurangabad, Palwal district of Haryana. Her father Manoj Kumar has studied till class 10 and is a lab attendant in a construction company and her mother Jaiviri has studied till class 8 is a homemaker. She lives with her parents and siblings. Her father has one smartphone mobile, which is also used by the children for studies since the closure of schools. According to him, the prices of mobile phones have increased during the lockdown. He planned to buy an extra phone that would help his children in studies, but he experienced a salary cut in his company, he is unable to buy a phone. Thus, he leaves his phone at home when he goes to work. Anuradha is good in mathematics and sciences and has the support of her parents which according to her is the biggest motivation for her to participate in remote learning activities given as a part of SFGI program.

There are 43 SFGI schools in Haryana with an outreach of 3,033 students and in Rajasthan, the intervention is reaching 63 schools, 5,403 students. Communities across geographies and social stratification are leveraging means to support the education of children; the aspiration for a better future is a key driver propelling interest and efforts, striving the hardships that have unfolded for them. The systemic barriers like community technology debt in addition to a more equitable and inclusive technology ecosystem for stakeholders – students, parents and teachers and building their capabilities to participate in it is required more than ever.

Building Capabilities, Stewarding Change

Ms. Manju Lata (Govt. Girls Senior Secondary School Amer, Jaipur) is working as an educator for past 21 years and is serving as a Head Mistress (HM) for past 5 years in Jaipur, the SFGI training got her exposed to new digital technologies and has helped her and her team to explore ways to engage effectively with remote learning. According to her, SFGI brings possibilities for the students who otherwise do not get exposure and have resources in the world of technology.

Thus, 345 Teachers in Haryana and 521 in Rajasthan (STEM and non – STEM fields) are part of the remote learning initiative.

Vanita (Haryana) is a B. Tech, B.Ed. but it is during her assignment at SFGI that she learnt working through digital medium and most importantly ways to interact and design activities for remote learning. She said she found her niche to work in education sector and synergize her knowledge and skills to help and motivate young girls. Shinni is from management field; she said in addition to the technical skills, she learned teamwork and is able to evolve her facilitation skills, working with the government schools and with students has been the most rewarding part of her job.

Vanita and Shinni are among the 22 facilitators working for the SFGI in Haryana placed across 7 districts in the state.

 

Bhawna who is one of the 11 facilitators in Punjab has the opportunity to explore and learn using the Open P-TECH platform by IBM. She feels proud of her badge earned while completing the courses and is enthusiastic to impart her learning with others.  In addition, the team has 21 field facilitators for Rajasthan.

The pandemic has emphasized the need to build knowledge and skills required to cope with the crisis which is expected to disproportionately impact girl students and other excluded groups to the margins of developmental discourse. The need to create avenues to address the structural disparity resulting in gender-based discrimination is essential.

 

Mahesh, a facilitator in SFGI Haryana, holds a B. Tech degree, during the SFGI training for the first time he was oriented about gender and life skills, it did help him change his perspective and made him conscious about stereotypes, he now anchors and advocates gender education in schools and believes that it can help transform the perspectives of students and parents both which can help bargain for an equitable future. 

SFGI field team are the key exponents of the program and with their newfound knowledge, skills and perspective are empowering stakeholders through remote learning engagement in the schools, acting as a catalyst defining the trajectory of change.

Conclusion

The SFGI efforts are aimed to capitalize on the available resources and content to address the challenges like degrees of accessibility within communities to ensure support and partnerships for an incremental change can be explored. The efforts to engage in remote learning are helping to engage with the stakeholders in mitigating the effect of the crisis. This is a long road and small steps can only help us to move forward.

 

[1]  UNESCO https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

[2]  COVID -19 in India – Brookings India

[3] Shaksham Haryana

[4] http://www.epunjabschool.gov.in

[5] Government of Rajasthan – School Report Cards

[6] The telephonic survey was organized in April 2020 by AIF across 12 states in India by talking to 4403 parents. The survey was conducted with parents who had access to any kind of phone- landline or mobile, smart phone or feature/ button phone)

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