When the country was being cocooned into its first lockdown, everyone soon realized the massive impact such a shutdown would have on the learning of children. Schools and colleges were shut, learning institutes were closed, and while initially, the children enjoyed the long sleepy hours and ‘padhai-less’ days, the dreariness of nothing to do soon caught up with them. It is no secret that, while a break from school and work feels refreshing at first, a prolonged disturbance in daily schedule can be mentally and physically taxing. With no attendance to maintain, no workplace to go to, and no evening gatherings to attend, maintaining continuity in daily activities became challenging, sometimes even leading to extreme idleness and sense of despair.

With a few hours’ notice, the shutdown led to massive uncertainty, especially in the education field. While everyone was still grasping and dealing with the changes which the pandemic and the lockdown brought with itself, Pratham began working on a strategy that was simple and impactful enough to be rolled out as soon as possible.

On 27th March 2020, just three days after the lockdown, Pratham was ready with its first initiative, a WhatsApp message series called “Karona, ThodiMasti, ThodiPadhai”. This initiative aimed to bring a sense of normalcy and distract young minds with fun, easy-to-follow activities. A mix of audio-video content, these messages focused on project-based learning and gave everyone in the family something to do. While the Masti videos focused on art, music, and theatre, the Padhai ones focused on English, maths, and science. What’s more, to ensure that each child gets the opportunity to learn, comprehend and engage with these messages to the best of their abilities, these were made available in English and 11 regional languages - Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Tamil, Kannada, Urdu, Telugu, Odia, Assamese. This, in fact for the longest time, has been one of the most appreciated and sought-after characteristics in educational content that is available online and/or otherwise.

Furthermore, to ensure maximum dissemination of the content flowing out of this campaign, Pratham invited organizations and individuals from diverse fields, be it NGOs, private companies, schools, parents, or other private and government organizations to spread the messages to as many children as possible and reach every-last mile learner.

The organizations that registered with us were just not limited to the education sector. Anybody in need of content was provided with content. What started as a small endeavour within close-knit networks has now become an extensive web of active partners who are enabling learning in communities and villages in the remotest corners of the country.

Through the internal channels, Pratham was able to directly reach out to 12,000 communities, much higher than the number we were able to engage with before the pandemic. And, through the help of our external channels, 550+ organizations and 50+ individuals, we reached hundreds and thousands of learners across different pockets of the country.

This remarkable reach and response has been the key reason why the “Karona, ThodiMasti, ThodiPadhai” initiative is still continued, despite the opening up of schools and educational institutes. We have learnt, that this method continues to be one of the most effective learning mediums amidst the norms of social distancing.

Currently in the seventh month, the initiative has seen a total of 1000+ messages filled with more than 660+ activities - such as Water Bell, Wake Up Dance, Sign Language, Hinge Man, etc - being sent out to the partners. Apart from activity-focused messages, Pratham also took the initiative to build awareness about COVID-19 and the precautions to be taken to avoid getting infected. In this regard, translated videos from WHO were sent out to provide correct and useful information.

The Response

The response to these messages has been overwhelming as many partners reported that it has given the children as well as the adults, the opportunity to engage with fun and inspiring content. We have been astounded to see videos and photos of grandparents, mothers, fathers, and elder siblings trying their hand at these activities. While the content was created with a focus on children, the initiative was able to create huge spillover effects where the elderly were seen picking up sign language, paper art, or re-discovering their singing or writing talents.

Among the younger lot, Pratham has been delightfully bombarded with multiple videos and photos of children trying their hand at projects such as bangle art, pencil-shaving art, hand art, making a thermometer or a face-mask, or building a parachute, among many others. This simply elucidates further, just how much everyone has been enjoying these messages.

Overall, many partners have expressed that not only has Pratham’sKarona, ThodiMasti, ThodiPadhai initiative sparked creativity and encouraged learning, it has also brought families together.

Partner Experiences

External partners have shared candid feedback regarding the world of change these messages have had not only on children, but on entire communities during this confusing period. For some, it has been a positive distraction, while for others, the only means to learn. Many others expressed appreciation for the quality of the content, its relevance, and the enriching impact it has had on young minds.

Messages in ‘our language’

The fact that these messages are available in 11 regional languages has been much appreciated by the children and the community workers alike. Given the dearth of quality content in regional languages, Pratham has been able to sustain the education of young minds who do not have English or Hindi as their primary language of communication.

One can grasp the impact of this unique feature by reading the words of a community member of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) group.

Learning by Doing

A key feature of the messages has been to get children to do the activities that they see in the videos. This ‘learning by doing’ or ‘experiential learning’ essence has been incorporated to get children to actively engage and ponder over what they watch and hear. Children from the Anglo-Indian Public School have expressed their love for these activities by participating with great enthusiasm in each and every activity that is sent to them.

“Thode Kisse, Thodi Kahaniya”- Partners’ Feedback

Additionally, the existing partnerships are being extended into meaningful collaborations. Pratham conducted “ThodeKisse, ThodiKahaniya” – a week-long interactive engagement with some of our partners to understand their audiences’ current needs, expectations and also discuss the possible way forward to support and supplement the learning of children together. This engagement provided a platform to discuss with our partners about the future additions we can make to our content, ways and means to increase our outreach and ensuring children are accessing the content, ideas to leverage Pratham’s products - Pratham Open School website,PraDigi application and Foundation Course application - to aid in children’s learning.

Continued Learning amidst the ‘New Normal’

Pratham’sKarona, ThodiMasti, ThodiPadhai initiative has captured the attention of children all over India and external partners have been a catalyst to increasing Pratham’s reach. While Pratham is dedicated to making engaging, experiential content for students to learn from, it is also taking extensive steps to reach every last-mile learner. While Pratham would be keen to retain the rich connections it has made, there is a possibility of taking these partnerships from distributors of messages to active collaborators. Additionally, more and more collaborations are being sought after at all levels to increase the outreach and make the content available to all in even more diverse languages. Simultaneously, more programs are being created along the lines of this model, where a key role is played by an external partner to disseminate or deliver content within their or our communities. For this, the team has actively been exploring avenues such as corporate volunteering, remote internships, etc.

In the coming months, as the economy and the schools open up further, there would be a need to revisit and reinvent the current initiatives. Pratham has been continuously exploring and experimenting with content, design and delivery of the messages and will continue to do so, to ascertain what would work best with the ‘new normal’.

With the pandemic extending into the next year, the challenges to reach every last mile learner is still a great one. But with the support of such a massive force behind us, Pratham is sure that together, it is possible to come up with new ways and initiatives that can surpass these challenges.

And in the meanwhile, amidst the new-normal, Pratham will continue making everyone learn, one fun activity at a time!