Seven-year-old Somu starts from his house just as the loudspeaker mounted near the village panchayat bhawan crackles to life. It’s 8 am and the children of Bhatpal village in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar gather in houses earmarked by the school teaching staff to begin their lessons. There are no teachers in front of them, though. They listen to a couple of voices on the loudspeaker teaching English through Halbi, the tribal language. Somu writes down ‘t-r-e-e’, mouthing the word, as the voices explain that ‘rut’ in Halbi is ‘tree’ in English.
With the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in closure of schools, many students are studying online. However, with parts of the state lacking Internet connectivity and devices, a novel approach has been adopted in Bastar district.
“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,” said Nikhilesh Hari, a development assistant of the district mineral fund, who spearheaded the idea.
In Bhatpal, 20 km from the district headquarters of Jagdalpur and 266 km from state capital Raipur, the sessions on the loudspeakers are being held twice a day since June 14. Each session runs for around 90 minutes, and includes storytelling and conversation.
While one of the speakers recites a story in Halbi, translating words and sentences, the other speaker asks questions. As the children hear folk stories, they learn to translate basic sentences — “ye mocho machli aaye” to “this is my fish”. The loudspeaker is operated from the panchayat bhawan, and the recordings are made at the district headquarters and transferred on pen drives by teachers to the village.
Shailendra Tiwari, one of the teachers, said, “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.”
Children are also allowed to study in their houses, Tiwari said. “The loudspeakers are placed in a manner that they can be heard from every part of the village. So children can sit at home and follow the lesson.”
Much work goes into generating these sessions. “Our English teachers write the script in Hindi and submit it to another team, which converts Hindi into Halbi. We have theatre artistes working with us, who give voice to the script. It takes a day to make one session, and we do it non-stop,” Hari said.
According to Rajat Bansal, the District Collector, the idea came while looking for alternatives to accessible distant learning. “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.
And it is not only the children who learn. According to Suresh Bhagat, a local resident, the lessons fall on their ears as they go about their work. “We learn English words for animals, tools, etc. It is fun to work like this,” he said.
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