Though schools in the state have remained closed due to the pandemic, 12-year-old Durgam Heman has been diligently going to his village school at 8 am for the past one week, carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer, books and wearing a mask. Heman is part of a community learning initiative taken up by the management of Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society (TSWREIS).
Heman is a resident of Mamidigattu village in Telangana’s Mancherial district and a student of TSWREIS. Several schools have recently adopted e-learning models and teachers have begun online classes. However, this model is not feasible for all students, particularly those from Adivasi, Dalit-Bahujan communities in rural areas who lack resources like smartphones, laptops and the internet.
To overcome this challenge, the management of TSWREIS, a government welfare institution for the SC, ST, BC, minority community students, came up with a temporary learning initiative to help students keep up with their studies until in-person classes can begin again. In this model, teachers send videos of the classes to students who are academic achievers. The students then teach the other students in a makeshift classroom, adhering to the health safety protocols of physical distancing and each student carrying sanitiser.
Conducting online classes, particularly in underprivileged communities, has had harmful consequences. Recently, Devika, a Class 9 student from Kerala, took her own life as she could not attend online classes.
Telangana Social Welfare Residential School (TSWRS), Bellampally Principal, Saidhulu says that while many students lack resources, the parents who own smartphones are not comfortable giving their phones to the children, especially young girls. “Parents hesitate in giving their phones to girls. This is another problem,” Saidhulu says, adding, “Some parents take their phones along with them to work. Faced with these barriers, we are trying this new model.”
In this teaching model, students of Class 6 to 10 are taught lessons by ‘super students’ — those who ace in a particular subject. This student-teaching initiative has gained popularity in Northern Telangana’s Mancherial district, and is slowly spreading across the state. However, this teaching model involves huge community participation.
According to Principal, Saidhulu, across Mancherial district, there are over 600 TSWREIS students, and around 20 students in each village.
“Earlier, we asked the students to download applications like Zoom for online classes. However, not many had smartphones or laptops, which was very challenging,” the principal says.
“The effort is being taken up so that the students don’t come with blank faces when school reopens,” he adds.
Swaero circles, the former students of Telangana Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions Society, are also helping in this effort. Students of TSWREIS address themselves as Swaeros, rejecting their caste identity.
The Swaero circle helps students in arranging study materials, laptops, phones, internet etc. They also talk to community leaders and arrange classroom facilities, either in community halls or take over the closed government schools.
“It is impossible to implement this initiative without the help of Swaero circles,” the principal says.
Though this teaching model was introduced to keep the TSWREIS students in touch with their studies, students from other government and private schools have also started attending these classes.
Heman says, “Initially only 2-3 students came forward. Now after a week, nearly 15 students are attending the classes.”
“In the beginning students were reluctant to carry sanitisers and to maintain physical distancing. But after our teachers briefed them about the safe practice, students are bringing their own sanitizers,” he adds.
The principal also says that they are monitoring the students and urging them to follow health protocols.
Over the past few years, the performance of TSWREIS students has been commendable, with students regularly securing a higher pass percentage. In the recently conducted Intermediate exams, TSWREIS registered a pass percentage of 89.38% against the state’s average pass percentage of 68.86.