Stories of Change

Lessons from Rural Odisha: Reimagining Education
during COVID-19

By April 15, 2020 No Comments

When it comes to rural education in India, the statistics paint a grim picture. More than 24 million kids aged between 3-5 lack essential skills required to thrive in school; 25 million primary school children lack age-appropriate learning competencies.

As a consultant to the World Bank, and having spent his childhood in Odisha, a state that ranks extremely low on the HDI, Binayak Acharya was driven to transform the education sector in rural India. In 2014, Binayak set up ThinkZone with the mission to improve the learning outcomes of children from low-income communities through high-quality education programs.

Combining technology with community engagement 

Taking root in four districts in Odisha, Binayak’s idea leverages existing resources- aanganwadi workers and community educators. His team rigorously trains them to deliver quality early-grade education programs by using ThinkZone’s technology, proprietary teaching resources, classroom activities, and management tools.

Keeping in mind the lack of reliable internet connectivity in rural India, Binayak’s school-in-a-box solution includes a mobile application with access to offline educational material. These lesson plans are further aided by charts, maps, and other lesson material included in the proprietary box.

ThinkZone intervenes at two levels:

  1. Early Childhood Education Program
    Aimed at children aged 3-6 attending aanganwadis, this intervention focuses on building the child’s physical (co-ordination), emotional (coping with new environments), social (sociability), linguistic (speaking and understanding spoken communication), and cognitive (memory) skills. The child’s development is assessed on 20-23 parameters across age-levels to understand the impact.
  2. Primary Grade Education Program
    This program adopts an evidence-based ‘Teaching-at-the-Right-Level’ approach. Children are not taught based on their age but on their skill-level. The focus is on developing their language (reading, writing, comprehension) and basic arithmetic skills.

Zoning in on the impact

Over 5000 children from 400+ villages in 4 districts of Odisha – Cuttack, Kendrapara, Khordha, and Bhadrak, have been a part of ThinkZone’s programs.

Over 80% of the children enrolled in the Primary Grade Program climbed two levels in one year. In the Early Childhood Program, 90% of the children developed age-appropriate skills in one year under the four required skills.

That’s not all; over 300 women from the community have found a new source of income by becoming educators, empowering them towards financial and social independence. They have also gained entrepreneurial and communication skills as they are tasked with approaching parents to enrol their children in the ThinkZone Program.

Adapting to a Pandemic

As COVID-19 hit India, aanganwadis and government schools went into lockdown. However, Binayak and his team were ready. They had been developing a home-based model of learning for parents to engage their children. This long-term planning of the team enabled them to quickly act and continue educating children during this crisis.

In this model, low-income group families can call to a number and learn about quality learning modules which they can use to teach their children. Apart from that, the model also has the facility for the parent to receive bi-weekly IVR-based calls and SMSes on their mobile phones regarding DIY learning modules. The user-friendly modules can be understood and delivered by the parent regardless of their literacy level or type of mobile phone. Parents can also schedule these automated calls for ease. The best part, this service is free of cost!

Designed for children aged 3-10 years, this model has the same learning objectives as ThinkZone’s Early Childhood Education Program and Primary Grade Education Program. Binayak welcomes collaborations, so do get in touch with the team if you are working on something similar, and share ideas and learnings!

Since the lockdown, ThinkZone has seen a 4-fold increase in the number of calls received and requested by the parents, and the duration of calls has doubled. So far, they have been able to help more than 5000 families. The program and its delivery over-call ensure both- physical distancing and access to learning.

While India’s educational landscape has come to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic and countrywide quarantine measures, Binayak has swiftly adapted to the situation and is ensuring that rural education in Odisha still goes on.

Thinking Ahead

Soon, Binayak wants to collaborate with the Government to implement ThinkZone’s different programs across different states, utilising the Government’s reach and resources.

Apart from multiplying their efforts in developing the at-home model, Team ThinkZone plans to increase their parental and community engagement programs to more districts.

Get in touch with ThinkZone to contribute, join the team (WFH internships), or collaborate.

UnLtd India

UnLtd India

We find, support and grow early-stage social entrepreneurs to build high-impact organisations and grow as catalysts for social change.

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