As Gujarat, a state on the western coast of India, geared up to address coronavirus (COVID-19) related emergencies, its authorities knew that 25-30% of students had limited or no access to remote learning devices. Reaching the unreachable was a challenge. Rapidly responding, the state prepared detailed guidelines to ensure that no student was deprived of education. Learning support was provided at the local levels (villages/hamlets/habitats), pairing students with and without devices; promoting peer learning; creating a mobile bank; offline learning; home-visits by teachers and field staff; providing access to online classes at citizen service centers or village offices; as well as mobile learning vehicles.
Pancholi Hans, a student at a critical milestone of his academic life in grade 10, celebrates as he has just ranked among the top-performers in an online weekly assessment, gauging the impact of another week of engaging virtual classes. Like Pancholi, millions of students in public schools, often from socio-economically disadvantaged groups, confined to the four walls of their homes as a consequence of the COVID-19, are benefitting from the government’s exemplar and proactive contingency response. As the pandemic continues to unfurl, shake up systems, and paralyze operations, it risks leaving a scarring impact on the education sector, already reeling under an astounding learning crisis. However, despite the adversity, stories of progress offer glimmers of hope for a better tomorrow.
Gujarat, India’s fifth largest state, home to Pancholi and 11.48 million students, 0.4 million teachers and 54,000 schools, is leveraging the crisis as an opportunity to catalyze transformation. The state’s Education Department has carefully crafted an amalgamation of policies, weaved into an integrated COVID-19 response strategy, guiding comprehensive action to ensure that learning continues.
A Holistic Home Learning Program
With the spike in coronavirus cases and the onset of school closures, the state expeditiously developed a holistic Home Learning Program. The state realigned the entire syllabus for the first quarter of the revised academic year (June to September 2020) for Grades 1 to 12, breaking it down into chapter- and subject-focused weekly schedules. Teachers and subject experts collaborated to develop high-quality teaching-learning material including presentations for virtual sessions; lesson plans; and key points, summarizing chapters. Practice worksheets with co-curricular activities like drawing, storytelling, and poetry were instituted. Content is available through both digital media – e-content and energized textbooks via state’s websites; YouTube channels; Facebook; web-links circulated on WhatsApp, and through physical media, in print.
With material in place, the next step focused on ensuring it reached every student. Measurement facilitated customized needs-based delivery. Gujarat regularly measures the learning level of students. The state has instituted an incredible system of Periodic Assessment Tests (PAT), which are formative weekly tests on each subject. Question papers, linked to time tables/schedules and mapped to learning outcomes, are delivered digitally to all schools with centralized systems to gauge student responses. Data analysis is used to guide instruction. In 2019-20, over 103 million tests were conducted and now, during COVID-19, PAT is being used to circulate material and personalize remote education to the learning levels of each student.
Secondly, Gujarat undertook an exhaustive device-mapping exercise to measure the type/medium of access to remote education, be it television, smartphones, regular cellphones, tablet, radio, or none of these. For instance, for the 50% of students identified as having access to television, the state collaborated with a national broadcasting channel to stream six hours of daily learning programs, 30 minutes for each grade; and runs a 24/7 broadcast on a dedicated channel.
The government has also leveraged the Microsoft-Teams platform. Technology-proficient teachers form groups of 15 students each and conduct virtual classes. To date, over half million virtual classes have been completed. Its effective implementation is driven by personalized user-credentials for 5 million students and 0.2 million teachers, including a dashboard to enable decentralized monitoring and review.
Further, the state makes extensive use of the national open Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) platform that enables QR-coded textbooks to be scanned with a cellphone, opening up a world of resources in multiple languages for reference and further reading. In fact, Gujarat recorded the highest number of direct plays of e-content, among all other Indian states, between April and October 2020.
Gujarat has thus adopted a multi-modal approach, using a mix of low-tech and high-tech interventions, to deliver personalized, adaptive education.
No One Left Behind: Remote Learning for All
The state’s initiatives are a template for equity. Disability-friendly content is disseminated through several mediums on themes including therapy, activities of daily living, numeracy and literacy etc. Virtual classes have settings to support inclusive learning; special educators ensure regular contact through calls and conducting home visits for targeted support.
The sudden shift to remote learning, posed significant challenges for teachers and the larger community. Training and capacity building workshops were held at decentralized levels to facilitate implementation of home learning. Key themes covered included COVID-19 preparedness, online teaching practices, community engagement and awareness generation.
Realizing Education’s Promise; Building Systemic Resilience
Gujarat’s comprehensive COVID-19 response has been successful due to its well-thought out and decentralized implementation framework, with streamlined activities from the state-level to the student. With the development of suitable content, disseminated through multiple channels, customized to the needs of student, and through stakeholder engagement, Gujarat is helping realize education’s promise by assessing learning, acting on evidence, and aligning all actors towards learning.
Moving forward, the state wants to improve the teaching-learning process, preparing for the “new normal” as schools reopen, through a baseline assessment to measure learning loss; the development of learning enhancement programs – to mitigate the estimated dual learning loss, of those children behind grade-level, and of children whose learning has been affected by the pandemic; syllabus rationalization; class-readiness programs; and the realignment of assessments. These interventions, augmented by World Bank’s support under the Gujarat: Outcomes for Accelerated Learning (GOAL) project, currently under preparation, will help build long-term systemic resilience to deliver quality education for all children.