Founder, Parikrma Humanity Foundation, Bengaluru
Shukla Bose is the promoter-director of the Bengaluru-based Parikrma Humanity Foundation (PHF, estb.2003) which has promoted four free-of-charge K-12 schools and one junior college with an aggregate enrolment of 1,800 slum children mentored by 200 teachers.
Most Parikrma children don’t have access to digital gadgets and Internet connectivity. How have you ensured learning continuity during the past year of schools closure?
Parikrma students live in Bengaluru’s numerous hidden and neglected slums. For them, schools are not only places of learning but also places of refuge where they are fed and kept safe. Our children are more vulnerable and at risk outside of school. Therefore, how quickly we responded to the forced schools closure was very important for us because we feared many of our children would drop out of education altogether.
In March 2020, we launched an aggressive fundraising campaign and made a public appeal for donation of old smartphones. We received about 600 phones. Since none of our students has Internet access at home, we provided them Internet data packs. Simultaneously, we trained our teachers on how to run digital classes and roped in some parents to oversee our online classes. We also engaged our alumni to be learning supervisors and visit children’s homes when possible. This comprehensive collaborative online learning initiative was christened ReachV School™ — Reaching Children Virtually. We began online classes from April 1, 2020 long before many schools. Fortunately, our efforts have paid off and online attendance is 87-90 percent every day. Moreover, Parikrma has been paying full salaries to all our teachers and staff throughout the pandemic.
Learning continuity apart, how did you deal with the disruption of the mid-day meal programme as well as psychological trauma of children suffering parental job losses?
Most of our parents are daily wage labour and lost their jobs during the lockdown. We were getting reports that our children were existing on bread and water for many days against three meals they are provided in our schools. Therefore, we started distributing rations to our children’s families. Thus far, PHF has distributed 100,000 meals and we continue to distribute rations even to this day. Following reports of an increase in domestic violence and abuse, we installed a helpline — Parikrma Listening Post — manned by school psychologists. This helpline receives more than 100 calls per day from our children and their parents. We believe we have been able to prevent quite a few suicides through this helpline.
Should schools be reopened now? What safety precautions have you instituted for reopening?
I believe schools should be reopened right away with adequate safety protocols. In PHF, we believe the best option to make schools safe is for managements to take responsibility for vaccinating all teachers and their families and the families of all students. We have purchased Sputnik V vaccines from Dr. Reddy’s Lab and the foundation has been administering vaccines to at least 200 people per day in our schools, totally free-of-charge.
PHF is ready to reopen all our schools because we will soon complete vaccinating all teachers and their families, all our staff such as maids, drivers, security etc, and their families, all our parents, and even their neighbours. We have also designed comprehensive protocols for safety and sanitation of school premises, changed the design and structure of our classes to suit the digitally-enabled hybrid learning model, and will run our schools in two shifts to maintain social distancing.
What’s your advice to government to make up for lost academic ground in the pandemic era?
Government should not delay reopening schools. Children enrolled in government and budget private schools are safer in school than at home. My advice to government and examination boards is to carefully prune prescribed syllabuses and devise innovative bridge programmes for children to make up for many months of learning loss.
Moreover, government and exam boards must devise alternate ways to assess children’s progress instead of scrapping exams. But most important, it must protect and invest in teachers. Government school teachers have been forced into Covid duties without adequate protection and vaccination, and more than 400 teachers in Karnataka and 1,700 teachers in Uttar Pradesh have died during the pandemic.