For a month, 15-year-old Navin Katti’s house in Hubbali in north Karnataka has turned into a science lab. The local government school has been closed, but the class 8 student who loves science has been doing making models and doing experiments with materials available at home and submitting videos and results online for his teachers to review. In Bidar, Anjali, a class 9 student at the local government school, does the same.
Anjali and Navin are among the 113 million children studying in government schools who have been worst hit by school closures due to the pandemic. Their lessons have been facilitated by Agastya International Foundation, which has been working with one million children in 15 states during the pandemic.
A recent UNESCO report said the education of millions of children across 180 countries had been disrupted and the pandemic has laid bare the inequalities in learning. “The inequality among school children has been exposed like never before. While we discuss online education for urban children, we have missed the millions of children studying in government schools in India, who have little or no access to technology,” said Ramji Raghavan, chairman of Agastya, which was set up in 1999 and won a Google Impact Award for its innovative schooling for rural children in 2013.
Since the covid-19 outbreak, the foundation has trained hundreds of government school teachers and master trainers online in over 15 states on how to do science experiments with in-home available materials. With support from Infosys Foundation, online science content was developed in Odia, Marathi, Telugu, Hindi, English and Kannada.
An Agastya instructor carries a laptop with a portable internet connection, making it possible to show local teachers instructional videos and how to use them to augment the science curriculum. An online community is available to teachers in local languages. The teachers can ask questions and post comments.
Post Covid, experiential online science lessons were conducted for 10 lakh students. “Students do the models and experiments at home from everyday available materials and submit their results via video to their peers and Agastya teachers for review and feedback. In North Karnataka for instance, we have engaged and trained 450 college student volunteers to teach 9,000 children online via mobile phone as well as offline in their villages. We also broadcast hands-on science activities for three days a week on TV to over 30,000 class 10 students who were appearing for their board examinations ” said Raghavan.
They also have a Lab-on-a-Bike where the instructor takes science education and digital literacy to remote villages. Children who have never seen a computer before play simple science games, watch language-neutral videos, participate in multimedia conferencing, and take quizzes.
Mazumdar Shaw Philanthropy is helping Agastya prepare digital education models on covid-19 using an interdisciplinary approach with biology, chemistry, math and social science as the base.
Raghavan said they are in talks with various state governments to permit them to take the lab to the village and conduct science demo sessions.