Empowerment Through Education: Students As Well As Educators

Making our children ready to face the future is arguably the biggest challenge that faces our country. The second being creation of employment opportunities for the youth now.

Education and employment are intrinsically linked to each other, which is why it is critical that the education that our children receive today is relevant to the earning opportunities they will encounter when older.

However, whatever knowledge the child imbibes as she grows older is highly dependent upon the foundations that have been laid at the primary level. From inculcating an interest in learning to proficiency in communication and numeracy skills, the first teachers that the child encounters play a defining role.

This is something that parents have understood, which is why we see the annual desperate scramble to secure admission in “good” schools.

However, economically stressed parents, both from rural or urban communities are forced to depend completely on free or low-cost alternatives, provided by the government or as a part of the Right to Education quota in private schools.

As pointed out in the new National Education Policy, a large chunk of children, especially from these communities, who are currently in elementary level have not attained foundational literacy and numeracy, i.e., the ability to read and comprehend basic text and the ability to carry out basic addition and subtraction with Indian numerals.

Along with these undereducated children, these communities also have a large number of youth struggling to complete their education as well as looking for earning opportunities.

One such young woman is Rashmi, living in the Sikharchandi slum of Bhubaneswar with her mother, father and younger brother. Despite facing multiple challenges, she was steadfast in her resolve to acquire an education and had enrolled in a nearby college. However, she was in need of opportunities to earn while learning, without which she would be forced to discontinue her education.

Recognizing that there were many such young persons who understood the need for education while at the same time seeking employment and looking to improve their employability, ThinkZone, a startup founded by an XIMB alumnus Binayak Acharya, has come up with a fellowship programme where suitable young men and women like Rashmi learn to become educators using the ThinkZone platform and go on to teach young children in their community.

The fellowship program has been designed based on the new National Education Policy, which has suggested establishing community-led models backed by technology to support learners, in the mission to promote foundational literacy and numeracy.

During the fellowship, the participants use technology and home-based resources to teach and support young children in developing strong foundational knowledge in language and mathematics.

They get an allowance and certification for completing the fellowship and continue getting paid for teaching children for a few hours a day. Using the ThinkZone mobile application (which can also run even without the internet) they take advantage of the activity-based teaching content provided in the platform which also acts as a guide they can follow to engage children. The platform also allows them to manage children’s records, evaluate and track learning goals and capture real-time data.  ThinkZone continuously tracks the development of skill sets and overall engagement level of the participants through the mobile application enabling them to personalise the learning trajectory over a period of time.

Early this year, Rashmi along with a few others enrolled in the ThinkZone Fellowship program. Along with her cohort, she learnt new skills by spending 200 hours on online and offline training that was spread over the 1-year fellowship program, and now she is already teaching young children from her locality. Additionally, she organises a workshop for parents every month where she spreads the word of ‘Education for all’ and helps parents recognise their role in children’s education.

Rashmi and her cohort continue to access the training content available on the ThinkZone mobile application, provided free of cost, to up-skill themselves. Apart from this, they are supported with regular offline and online skill-enhancement workshops, also free, which aid in their overall development and lead to better job opportunities in the future.

Thanks to such initiatives, community educators like Rashmi, called Eduleaders after training by ThinkZone, are now helping the young learners from their communities in achieving foundational skills and are bringing a revolutionary change in preparing children for the complexity of future learning. They also sensitise parents about their role in supporting their children – something that is considered very important.

Binayak Acharya, the founder of ThinkZone says, “If we don’t tackle the problem of education in the early years, it’s really unlikely many children will be able to catch up – they drop out or learn very little. Our fellowship program focuses on youth supporting young children in their own communities to attain mastery of numeracy and literacy.”

The fellowship programme is supported by Fondation Botnar – a Swiss-based foundation that champions the use of AI and digital technology to improve the well-being of young people in urban environments. With support from Fondation Botnar ThinkZone will be on-boarding 6,000 fellows over the next 3 years, who in turn would provide quality learning opportunities to more than 35,000 young children in their communities.

What impressed me the most about this initiative is that it provides a solution to two pressing problems – education and employment, that too by using resources available within the communities, with the technology and content provided by ThinkZone as a catalyst.

Hopefully, with more such organisations and initiatives, we can meet the challenges that will face our nation in the future.

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