‘Corporates Should Sponsor eLearning For Slum Kids’
Rajneesh Verma, 24, an Engineering graduate from Noida, speaks about the challenges Covid-19 brought for his initiative to teach underprivileged children, and how he overcame them
Though I recently completed my Engineering course , I have been running an NGO called Slum Swaraj for the last five years. It is a Delhi-based initiative to teach underprivileged children which I started along with a college senior and friend Shivam.
When the pandemic broke out there was tremendous concern about how residents of slums would be able to maintain social distancing and follow other precautions, given their meagre resources and space crunch. It was feared that infection would go out of control in such areas. But those concerns proved to be unfounded medically.
However, the education of the young children was greatly affected. Majority of slum households own a basic phone, mostly used by the bread earner. We had stopped many slum children from being sent to work and take up formal education. We were worried that once the pattern of their regular education is broken, they might fall back in the rut of their old lives, where education is low on priority.
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In the initial days of lockdown, we had no clue how to cope up with the situation. Children had no phone for online learning and we could not risk a gathering of children for a real-time class. Finally, we devised a method. While earlier a volunteer would be teaching a batch of several students, we worked out an ‘Each One, Teach One’ method. A volunteer was assigned to each student and the classes went for an hour daily.
The few with access to smartphones were given online coaching and those with access to basic phones were provided classes through a regular call. We realised that in one-on-one interaction or in online classes, children were more confident of asking questions, which they may have been scared of asking for the fear of being judged by their peers in regular classrooms.
We were hoping that in these trying times, corporate groups would come forward to sponsor smartphones or laptops for poor children under their CSR budgets but sadly that didn’t happen. It is easy for poor children to exit the classroom and get sucked into the cycle for survival.
Apart from formal education, we provide children updates on how to prevent or fight Covid-19 and ensure that they respect the state guidelines stay in place. Education is not just text-book learning. In pre-pandemic times we used to take children to malls, monuments, zoos, natural water bodies etc. to understand the world in totality but now we have suspended all such trips till situation is conducive for an outdoor activity.
I am happy to say that we have been inundated with offers from people who want to volunteer in teaching poor children. Many people whose commuting time has been cut down because they are working from home are now using the extra time to give back to the community. We hope soon the corporates would step forward to support online education to be made affordable for the underprivileged.