Reethu, a story teller, a person often found between the pages of a book or contemplating the nuances of life.
With schools shut amid the COVID-19 outbreak, several villages in India, with no access to internet, have resorted to using loudspeakers to teach children.
According to a report by Reuters, in Maharashtra's Dandwal village, children who are unable to attend online classes due to lack of internet facilities sit on the ground in circles drawn with chalk to maintain a safe distance and listen to pre-recorded lessons over loudspeakers.
The lessons through loudspeakers are part of an initiative by a non-profit spread over six villages that aims to reach 1,000 students who are denied formal classes since schools were forced shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The children listen to the loudspeaker, sing rhymes and answer questions, and some even call the loudspeakers as 'Speaker Brother' or 'Speaker Sister'.
The volunteers of the organisation carry the loudspeaker through the villages as the children sit in their designated spots, while maintaining social distancing. The speakers teach the children who are usually the first in their families to go to school. The lessons cover part of the school curriculum, along with social skills and English language lessons.
"We wondered if children and their parents would accept a loudspeaker as their teacher," Shraddha Shringarpure, head of the Diganta Swaraj Foundation, told the media. The foundation has done development work for over 10 years among tribal villages in the region.
Shringarpure said that the programme, called 'Bolki Shaala' or 'Spoken School', has received an encouraging response.
"These kids have no guidance from their family, they are on their own," Shringarpure said.
With the pandemic forcing schools shut, education has moved online for students across the country. While many students in cities have been able to attend the lessons online, children in places like Dandwal, with poor telecom networks and interrupted power supply, have gone months without opening their school books.
"As the school is closed, my son used to wander in the forests. Bolki Shaala' has reached our village and now my son has started studying. I am happy. It gives me happiness that my son can now sing songs and narrate stories," Sangeeta Yele, a parent in the village, said.
Villages in Maharashtra are not the only ones that are teaching children using loudspeakers. In Bhatpal village in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, teachers are making use of loudspeakers to teach children, according to a report by The Indian Express.
In the village, the teachers are using loudspeakers to teach English through Halbi, the tribal language. "We have put up six loudspeakers for the village of around 300 families. The loudspeakers are used to teach English, and disseminate information on malnutrition and other community issues," Nikhilesh Hari, a development assistant of the district mineral fund, told the media.
Hari is also the one who spearheaded the idea. Since June 14, the sessions are being held twice every day in Bhatpal, which lies 20 km from the district headquarters of Jagdalpur and 266 km from the state capital. Each session that runs for nearly 90 minutes includes storytelling and conversation.
While the loudspeaker is operated from the panchayat bhawan, the recordings are made at the district headquarters. These are then transferred on pen drives by teachers to the village.
"Instead of taking classes in a school, we have earmarked houses with literate members, where children can gather in groups of 8-10. The teachers teach in the houses, and children do their homework under the supervision of adults," said Shailendra Tiwari, one of the teachers.
Children can also study from their houses. The loudspeakers are placed in such a way that it can be heard from every part of the village, the teacher added.
According to Rajat Bansal, the District Collector, the idea came while looking for alternatives to enable access to education to children.
"We can't expect all parents to have access to connectivity, devices or the knowhow. Loudspeakers have been used for information dissemination for a long time… Currently, the programme is being run in seven blocks in the district," he said.
Similarly, teachers in Jharkhand's Dumka have also adopted this unique method to teach the children.
Here, Shyam Kishore Singh, the headmaster of Upgraded Middle School in Bankathi village, use loudspeakers to teach his 200-odd students.
Several loudspeakers have been set up on trees and walls across multiple locations in the village. Students can attend the classes from different locations near the loudspeakers for 2 hours daily. The students sit near the loudspeakers, wherever they are kept, and note down the lessons.
These classes start at 10 AM and five teachers teach over a microphone from the actual classroom. The first such class was conducted on April 16.
The videos of this innovative method of teaching had also gone viral on social media, where students can be seen attending classes sitting apart from each other and maintaining social distancing.
According to an NDTV report, Singh said that the initiative was to ensure education to every student irrespective of whether his family can afford a smartphone or not. He stated that of the 246 students, only 42 have smartphones.
"Louder speakers are put up where the number of students is more. Five teachers and two para teachers teach over the mike from the classroom. Thousands of schools and colleges across India have switched to online as classrooms remain shut since mid-March amid the coronavirus outbreak. There are 246 students from class 1 to class 8, and 204 of them do not have mobile phones," Singh was quoted as saying by Hindustan Times.
"If the students have any doubt or want to ask any question, they can send their queries to me from anyone's mobile phone and we explain it the next day," he added.
According to Singh, the model is working and the students are grasping well what is being taught through the loudspeakers.
Praising the teachers' efforts, Dumka's Deputy Commissioner Rajeshwari B, said "These innovative ways help the students a lot as well as the parents who are aware of what is being taught in school. This is a very welcome step."Also Read: Chhattisgarh: With Schools Shut, Students Of Bastar Village Learn Lessons Via Loudspeakers
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