In an era where the corona pandemic has compelled the government to look for virtual/electronic mediums to ensure India’s children keep learning and stay connected to their curriculum, novel and innovative ways are constantly being explored to engage them in learning, Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank said, addressing a virtual meeting.
The occasion was a landmark partnership between Rotary India and the NCERT (National Council of Educational Research and Training) and the signing of an MoU between the two to provide electronic learning content for students of classes 1–12. This content is now already available in English, Hindi and Punjabi and “we are giving NCERT the rights to translate it in all other Indian languages to reach a much higher number of students,” says RIPN Shekhar Mehta.
Nishank said this MoU had come at a very critical time for the HRD ministry as there are areas in India where there is no internet or mobile connectivity, or access to mobile phones. “So we have resolved to reach our students through radio and TV and this MoU is a big step in that direction to reach quality education to our students more effectively.” He particularly laid stress on the quality of the e-learning content developed by Rotary.
It was explained during the meeting that as part of this partnership, curriculum modules will be telecast for classes 1–12, through 12 national television channels of NCERT, to be available from July 2020.
The Minister said that from March, when Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, “learners, teachers, parents and the entire education community have been gravely affected. The HRD has been working tirelessly to develop the best education system rooted in Indian ethos with technology and innovation as strong pillars.”
Education, he added, is “the backbone of any country,” and to take India back to its glorious past when it was the leader in cultural and educational ethos, the GoI was looking for partners such as Rotary, he added.
Participating in the Zoom meet, Education Secretary Anita Karwal said she was surprised to see the passion and commitment for education and literacy displayed by the Rotarians she had discussed this partnership with. She appealed to Rotary to similarly help the HRD Minister to fulfil the learning needs of special children. On the spot, Mehta gave the commitment that Rotary would do this straightaway.
Sharing with the minister and the NCERT officers Rotary’s passion to see a totally literate India… “a Shikshit Bharat”, by 2025, Mehta said Indian Rotarians had embraced the mission to do so for the last eight years. “We want to do something concrete for India’s children and our mission is to ensure that no child is denied education,” he said.
The software it had developed over the last five years through relentless work and strategic partnerships was now being given to the nation through the NCERT free of cost, so that it could be used as a home-based teaching solution during this pandemic and beyond. “Rotary has a vast experience in e-learning, having installed e-learning software/hardware to over 30,000 government schools across India in the last five years,” he added.
After Rotary had developed e-learning kits, which really captured the children’s imagination, and distributed these to so many schools across India, particularly in Maharashtra, children were saying they “want to go to a projector-wala school, meaning they want to learn through the audio-video medium”.
Similarly Rotary had approached channels such as Animal Planet and Discovery to share with them some of its interesting videos on the animal kingdom. “So many children in these schools cannot subscribe to these channels, so we have got those videos and included them in the electronic content, so that these children are not deprived of this exciting component of learning.”
Explaining the five verticals in the Literacy programme with the acronym TEACH, Mehta said that as teachers form the backbone of the education system, Teachers’ training was a big component of Rotary’s literacy programme. And to motivate them to be more involved in their work, outstanding teachers were being recognised by Rotary through awards.
Explaining the reach and scope of the literacy programme, the RIPN said that along with the Rotaractors, Rotary’s youth wing, community service in India was being rendered “through three lakh families. Add to this our partners, such as the Brahmakumaris, corporates and others who work with us, we have the capability to work alongside the GoI and the State governments and make a difference. In other avenues of service, we Rotarians have decided to do 10 per cent of the work the government does, but in Literacy, we commit to do 50 per cent of your work. Through our Asha Kiran programme, this year we have sent back to school 60,000 children.”
One of the components of the literacy programme was adult literacy; India’s literacy rate was 74 per cent and there were 27 crore adult illiterates in India. If children and others could be involved in making these people functionally literate, we could make a good dent on our illiteracy, Mehta added.
The MoU between NCERT and Rotary India was signed by NCERT Director Prof Hrushikesh Senapaty and PDG Ranjan Dhingra. While Secretary Anita said she was pleasantly surprised that Rotary could give the government such excellent e-learning content in such a short time, Senapaty said it would be excellent to telecast for those children who had no connectivity or smart phones.
PRIP Kalyan Banerjee said Rotarians in India had been working in literacy for the last 10 years and would continue to work with the government. RI Director Kamal Sanghvi said Rotary had worked very hard to develop this software, and “the signing of this MoU brings us so much satisfaction, as this is the sweet fruit we are getting after so many years of hard work.”
PRID Ashok Mahajan said Rotarians were aware how important it was for the GoI to eradicate illiteracy; “we promise to work along with you and we will not disappoint you.”