COVID Response in Education : Voices from Grassroots (Forest Dwellers)
Updated: Jun 30
The True Picture
A father says "Bhaiyya humare bachche ghar par toh sirf khelenge, saara samay aise hi nikal dete hai"
These words come from a father belonging to the Taungya community in the forest peripheries of lower Shivalik's. The statement highlights the rising concern among parents in the region on the children missing on education. The importance and role of education in life has been accepted after concerted efforts by Samanta (www.samanta.org.in). As the parents have grown to be more engaged in the education of the child, the issue of access, availability and affordability has been in constant conversation. The COVID-19 has exaggerated the impact of the vulnerabilities of the forest communities.
The elders, parents and community members have been raising questions on the closure of schools with no outcome in sight. They seem to believe that with limited resources they are too far on the spectrum and education of children would suffer as time goes by.
The basis for it is -
1. No communication from designated authorities on schools,
2. Extension of lockdowns with no end in sight,
3. Loss of livelihood for the community and apathy of the government.
As Samanta engages with more households in lieu of COVID response on the issues of -
1. Awareness around health,
2. Sustainability around Nutrition,
3. Supplanting current incomes by engaging in local livelihoods,
4. Sustainability of health resources,
5. Community owned Learning Center (CoLC) and Youth engagement
a constant scepticism arises.
A mother adds "Ye school toh ab band ho jayega lagta hai, bachche itna din nahi padenge toh sab bhool jayenge"
A woman from the community says "Hum logon ka kaam ab bahut kam ho gaya hai, aane vale dino mein mushkil aur ho jayega"
The community is able to articulate its understanding and concerns as we generate conversations in the limited interactions (in-person) during the lockdown phase. The sheer commitment to discuss is encouraging for us as we try to garner the sense in the community around COVID-19 and its impacts.
Every now and then a person with urban exposure would say - "Yeh sheher ke sab school bhi band ho gaye hai kya?"
We inform them about the use of mobile, television etc (Digital) to educate the children. All these services build on the Digital Infrastructure fail the moment we reach near the forest peripheries. The network connectivity is a privilege around administrative set ups in the area on a limited basis. The literacy rate in the community is low and lack of supportive digital infrastructure restricts the access of children to education courtesy "Digital Education Solutions".
Community Driven Solutions
As we sit around (enforced physical distancing in place) with the parents and discuss the issues around education. There is participation from women, men, youth and elders. All of them have these unique stories and sayings around the ideas of education. Stories of courage and capacity building which have help them live on in these jungles for decades. Yet they all believe that world ahead is a going to be a challenge. They come with interesting suggestions.
A youth (female) speaks up "In sab ko kuch der toh baitha deti hoon par phir ye uth jaate hai"
A father to 3 children going to school says "Aap inko yahi padha do jungle mei ghar ke paas, school ka toh abb kuch nahi pata"
A mother supports says "Aji abb toh aap inko ghar hi padha do school mei toh darr lagta hai"
A passing male says "Bhaiyya humara kaam toh bahut kam ho gaya hai abb, pata nahi aage ka. Ye padh lenge toh kuch aur kar lenge." "Aap inhe kaam de do jo karte rahe"
We have been capturing the suggestions and also listing the priorities as well. The key
priorities as of now are -
Engaging the child in the community
Arranging for a place where children can sit around for a couple of hours daily to study
Working on local sustainable engagement for men and women
Steps in Education
At Samanta we believe in the community leadership and direction. It is important for long term engagement with credible change to have a basis in the peoples ideas. As we discuss the larger impact and scale of change -
2. Local Self Governance
3. Community Ownership
are prime movers for Samanta to work towards changing things around.
The rule of thumb is that "Education" is the cornerstone to any form of action be it in any area/domain. The issue of health, livelihood etc can be looked at from the lens of education and be addressed. The COVID response for us has been to look at solutions with the "Education Lens".