An indefinite lockdown, children out of classrooms, poor parents with no smartphones or data connectivity and the threat of students falling out of school. Ask teachers employed in government schools across Maharashtra and nine out of ten would agree that these were the odds they have had to face since the COVID-19 pandemic began, throwing teaching into a chaos.
But Satara teacher Balaji Jadhav, who had 40 children in his small Zilla Parishad school in Vijay Nagar, refused to allow teaching to stop. Since parents did not own smartphones, Jadhav started teaching through conference calls, 10 students at a time. Teaching was done through storytelling, sometimes stories were made up by both the teacher and the students together and these were then recorded to share with other students later.
Eight months since the experiment began, Jadhav, who can now boast of covering 100 per cent of his student syllabus through conference calls and even helping kids of neighbouring schools, became one of 11 international HBN Creativity & Inclusive Awards announced on December 24.
The award jointly instituted by Honey Bee Network and GIAN is given to ideas for creativity and innovation or to traditional knowledge practices, which solve day-to-day problems faced by society. This year, 2,500 entries were received from 87 countries of which 11 awards were given to participants from nine countries.
“Nearly 80 per cent parents in our area do not own smart phones and if they do, they cannot guarantee uninterrupted connectivity. So, I decided to connect with students through regular phone calls. Ten students at a time on a conference call, one hour each morning. Initially, I started by storytelling to keep them engaged and evening again, I would do conference calls where the students had to repeat the story. Later, we moved to academics but even that happens through storytelling now. By end of each day, elder students are asked to write the stories, so that they get writing practice too,” he said.
Not only this, Jadhav started recording the stories by him and his students which now serve as reference study material for his and other students too.
“Teachers in rural areas face a lot of challenges, especially since our students and parents are poor. They cannot afford expensive things like smart phones or such things. So, we are constantly innovating because we have no other choice,” said Jadhav.