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When schools limp back to normalcy, do we let go of the empowering aspect of digital learning, especially for marginalised girls who have been able to stay in touch with their dreams?
When we started the smartphone donation drive to support the underprivileged girls from Delhi government schools last year, the reason primarily was to ensure that their connect to the school remained. With the forces of poverty and patriarchy strong, there were many of these first-generation learners who faced the risk of losing an opportunity of a lifetime.
Even during the time that the pilot was launched and the first batch of girls could be helped, we had found that many girls couldn’t be traced due to being sent to the villages. We kept supporting those who needed it the most. Now post handholding and mentoring these girls for the past few months, I firmly believe that digital empowerment could be a turning point in the lives of these underprivileged girls even when the schools reopen.
“But now with the pandemic situation improving, the schools opening gradually and continuing to open through the rest of the year, do we still need devices for the education of the girls?”
A few days back, I heard this during my pitch to a potential donor partner who had shown an intent and interest to join us in the journey of digitally empowering underprivileged girls.
My answer was an emphatic yes.
Schools will reopen in the months to come, and they should. A school has its very significant and irreplaceable role in every child’s learning and development. The meeting in person, a teacher’s pat on the back, the black board and the chalk, and the very crucial peer interaction. But should that mean an end to the strive of digitally empowering, especially those who are from the marginal background?
I disagree on that hypothesis.
A silver lining of the pandemic has been how it has made a new hope and possibilities open for the children from marginalized backgrounds. Yes, this percentage is very small compared to the many who have lost their connect with the education. Nevertheless, it is there and we have countable success stories to pin hopes on.
Let me take you to one of my interactions with the underprivileged girls. This is one group from the cohort of girls from 9th-12th classes for whom we had facilitated smartphones in the past few months.
The girls are logged in to the zoom session from their smartphones. I am setting the context for the need and the importance of managing time and goal setting to achieve what we aspire for in life. In the related context, we speak about reflecting and journaling such that we can learn from our actions and plan better for the future.
Diksha, a class 9th student, from a south west Delhi school reads her two-page essay reflecting as to how the last week was for her, what challenges she faced and how she navigated through them. She walks me day by day and shares how she also tried to google to find out more on the power of reflection and how goals could be ‘smarter’. Isn’t that impressive?
My virtual classroom gives me a window to the worlds of these girls which isn’t so easy as that of our children. The numerous distractions and noise that these girls are manoeuvring to leverage the opportunity they have now are immense.
Shaheena, a class 11th student, is trying to adjust the camera of her phone. As she moves it by rotating it from landscape to portrait, she gives me a peek into her little ecosystem. A sewing machine, a gas cylinder with a burner, a TV, a mattress all have found a place in a small unplastered bricked room which is her home. She doesn’t have the luxury of choosing either a bedroom, a living room, or a study to login peacefully into the online interaction like our privileged children have. She doesn’t have the soundproof doors to keep the noises away when she speaks. She has to brave the sound of the TV, those from the street as well the wailing sibling amongst other challenges.
Shaheena aspires to be an air hostess. She sees the interaction as a way to log in from her 7x4inch screen to see a world that gives her hope and direction. This level playing field is what we owe to Shaheena, Diksha and many girls like them which is at par with our girls, isn’t it?
There is a different level of confidence when girls come back with research which they have been able to do because of an access to the device and technology. They are infused with enthusiasm while using an Ed Tech tool which braids learning with fun, or when they rise with confidence to present what they have written outside their classrooms, to an external mentor.
And this is just the beginning. There are stories where because of this empowering access, children from marginalized backgrounds have self-learnt digital marketing and other tools, and are now successfully using these, and earning more than any other family member.
A timely support and help have not only helped them remain connected with the school but also provided an opportunity to the wide world of earning opportunities. They are now able to support the families in a way which they couldn’t even fathom earlier. Isn’t that beautiful?
The basic connect of the girls with their education would hopefully be back to normal in the months to come. We should now think of the innovative solutions which could be possible and put to use such that digital inequalities do not foster another level of education inequity.
How about setting up digital libraries with smartphones/devices in the communities where children can spend time researching, attending to sessions, e- meeting mentors and people from all walks of life? Imagine what all could be achieved if we can digitally connect each of these girls to a mentor; how powerful could it be.
A model of ‘digital daan’ is the need of the hour such that we do not further exacerbate the ever-increasing divide, but rather come out from the pandemic with every attempt to be more equal with respect to education and opportunities for our girls.
Educationists worldwide agree that the future is more of a hybrid, and a blend of both offline and online styles of teaching. It shouldn’t be so for just small percentage of privileged kids, but has to be for everyone.
Poverty and patriarchy have been big roadblocks in realization of the dreams of girls. Pandemic has also done a lot of harm for many. It is time to course correct. There is a complete horizon which is waiting to be explored. The question is will we tap it or let it go and create more inequalities?
Image source: shutterstock
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Present - India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social Activist. Past -
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