‘Dark clouds in the sky of Assam. To Keep the freedom of Assam, free from the destruction of the enemy. Join the war’. Mula Gabharu said to her husband Phrasengmung. The invading army had threatened the Ahom Kingdom. Mula Gabharu was a Tai woman warrior who led the campaign with women warriors like Jayanti, Pamila, Lalita and others to victory. It was year 1532.
Year 2020. Panchi Dutta, from Class VI who studies in a village High School, named after Mulagabharu to commemorate the great lady warrior, also saw dark clouds in the sky above. This time Corona had struck, and her school was closed. But her eyes were shining bright. She said, “I am thankful to OIL India Limited because during this pandemic situation, our schools are closed. We are not able to learn anything. But our OIL Dikhya teachers are teaching us through Dikhya Mobile Vaani and WhatsApp.” Her village in the Charaideo District, once the first permanent capital of the Ahom kingdom, is one of the most remote areas of Assam today.
The impact of the pandemic was felt more in the remote regions that fell in the digital shadow areas like this. Six months has gone by without any study in schools in most of these areas in the hinterland of Assam. OIL India wanted to reach out to such students with a Home-Based Learning program to help them continue their learning journey. Theyentrusted Schoolnet India with the daunting task.
Conventional online education would not work in this area. Schoolnet had to design and deliver a program to create a learning environment that engaged the students with low or no internet connectivity and a paucity of smart devices.
How to make the best use of ed-tech tools and pedagogical strategies to enhance the learning environment for teachers who had the least exposure to it? This was the first concern. Finding ed-tech solutions that worked for the low bandwidth scenario to provide a better learning environment to help students continue their learning at home, with or without the internet was another challenge.
Schoolnet came up with an innovative stack of solutions that, as per their training tagline, aligned people, process and technology in a sweet and robust blend. It had four
1. Capacity building of teachers to understand the nuances of digital pedagogy and ability to use low bandwidth tools appropriately.
2. Create audio and visual learning resources in regional languages.
3. Use Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology to offer lesson audios through a dedicated channel and to share other video lessons through WhatsApp/ YouTube.
4. Outreach strategy to ensure the students are able to engage and learn.
The OIL Dikhya – Home Based Learning Solution was launched in September 2020 with a clearly delineated implementation programme.
Online and remote learning requires a different pedagogical approach. The capacity building of teachers aimed at giving them the ability to break down lessons into smaller concepts and sub-concepts within the identified chapters. Engagement of the learner is the key factor. The central challenge is that the pedagogy must establish a constructive dialogue with the curriculum mediated by technology. So is the issue of achieving learning outcomes. While creating video/audio learning nuggets these twin imperatives had to be kept in mind by the teachers. This is an ability that is acquired through a sustained practice. So, the capacity building exercise was scheduled for every week after which teachers would practice their learnings. The responsive training framework tried to replicate their own online classes to think, organize, plan and collaborate over distance.
The second crucial concern was to identify and use such tools that are effective in the low bandwidth / 2G scenario. Teachers were given exposure to a variety of such tools because no
one tool can provide all that a teacher requires to create an engaging online class. It is important first to know about the tools and then decide the right combination depending upon
the pedagogic needs. But before anything could begin the most important thing was to break the mental barrier. All the teachers had no initiation in online teaching and there were
natural apprehensions which had to be overcome. It was a question of transforming teacher’s attitude to take up digital ownership by giving them autonomy to pick appropriate digital tools based on their pedagogical requirements.
In short, the capacity building exercise was aimed at creating a vibrant community of practice in an atmosphere of trust and develop a core skill of designing learning modules with high quality combination of content and pedagogy; keeping engagement and interaction at the core.
The decision to use IVR technology proved very effective as a learning disseminating tool. So, in addition to pedagogical training, the supplementary teachers also got training on maintaining the quality of audios being shared on the platform. Similarly, they also learnt the use of moderation platform to manage the audio lessons generated by them as well as the questions and doubts raised by the students.
Thus, as part of the programme, the content was disseminated to the students through-
a) digital learning resources / lesson and videos shared through WhatsApp/YouTube and
b) Audio lessons through IVR mediated channels.
Teachers created a number of YouTube channels to share these videos including those given below:
This intervention continued between September to December 2020. During this period over 6000 students across 30 schools were impacted. Teachers followed up with students to guide them on ways of accessing and using the content and giving feedback. Within a month in October, around 62,884 minutes of content was accessed by students just on IVR. The outbound dial outs and call backs were two primary strategies adopted to ensure engagement with IVR. It was found that call back users accessed the content for more than 3 to 4 times a month, which reflects the effectiveness of the content to generate engagement. In all the months, above 50 percent students spent more than 3 minutes on the platform over each call. This is taken to be a good engagement level. The total average use duration of the platform was around 5 minutes per users, the monthly average usage for call-back callers was even more encouraging.
The assessments and evaluations, done monthly, revealed that overall, this intervention proved to be very helpful to students who were completely left alone due to connectivity issues during school closures. During this period, the intervention provided them with the opportunity to continue with their lessons for regular subjects. Apart from the subject areas, students also learnt the topics related to life-skills education. The innovative use of IVR for education in conjunction with a comprehensive pedagogical and academic support by the Schoolnet India team resulted in bringing students back into the learning fold and improve learning outcomes. The commendable intervention could provide an effective model of learning continuity in the areas having low internet bandwidth.
Vagish K Jha
with inputs from
Noopur Middha, Rimpi Vora,
Swati Nirantare & Neha Singh