Lockdowns confined children to the four walls of their homes. It took away the only learning and engagement time that they had with their peers in schools. Studies suggest that the prolonged confinement of children in their homes affects the overall well-being of children and can hamper their growth. With the current rise in COVID-19 infections, there’s a high risk of increase in the number of dropouts among school going children.
The situation is worse for children living in slums. Take, for instance, Shivaji Nagar which is a slum settlement in Faridabad, Haryana. The population consists of migrant labourers from nearby states. The location is home to a population of approximately 10,000-12,000 individuals. The families are engaged in low-paying jobs in nearby factories or are dependent on daily minimal earnings. Life in the slum is challenging because of the lack of basic facilities such as water, toilets and fresh air. Most houses have just one room with no ventilation, but serve as home for families with 5-10 members. Families cook, eat and sleep in one room. These resource and infrastructure constraints adversely impact the holistic development of children growing up in slums.
With the intent of encouraging the continuity of education, child-care NGO SOS Children’s Villages of India painted five walls of Shivaji Nagar with information related to Child Protection, Education, Health and Hygiene. One of the walls was, in fact, turned into a blackboard, to encourage consistent learning at the community level, while schools were shut. This was an initiative under the Family Strengthening Programme Shivaji Nagar-Auto Pin.
The outdoor learning spaces are aimed at generating discussion around important topics such as education, health and child protection, affecting the community. Today, the community blackboard is being used for various awareness programmes and remedial classes. It has also become a space for the Bal Panchayat (children’s parliament) for their day-to-day activities.
Says a student Reena (name changed) who is a member of the Bal Panchayat there, “The closing of schools due to the pandemic has turned our lives upside down. The learning walls of our locality have helped us a lot. We all like coming to the outdoor learning spaces since the walls were painted which has allowed us to learn, play and engage. These paintings have bought liveliness to the walls of our locality, giving us a comforting and hopeful feeling in such trying times, while spreading important messages.”
Says Sumanta Kar, Secretary General, SOS Children’s Villages of India, said, “Children, especially those living in slums, have seen their education being majorly disrupted by the pandemic, especially since they did not have access to the internet and/or smartphones to continue their schooling remotely. A significant number of children, especially girls, from vulnerable settings, who have been out of school for long, may never return when schools reopen. With the outdoor learning spaces, we wanted to provide children with some semblance of learning, even when they were not attending schools.”
Apart from the obvious solutions like access to digital learning tools, simple innovations like these will ensure that school going children from rural and urban slums are not left behind in their education.