The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused significant disruptions to educational systems across the globe. Since the beginning of March, a nation-wide lockdown forced us to rethink our strategy and introduce educational packages that encourage and sustain continued learning. In responding to this crisis, Pratham has been striving to leverage its technology tools and digital content to keep children engaged, with support from parents and other caregivers.

In our quest to address the increasing need to enable access to educational resources for children & youth across the country and in ensuring these learners cope with the drastic changes in everyday life, we have been creating & curating a wide range of digital content for all ages, from children in pre-schools to aspiring youth. This, we have been delivering using low-tech mediums, such as SMS & Radio, as well as, full-fledged month-long remote courses on Workplace (a digital platform by Facebook).

Since late April, these collective efforts have been supported virtually by a diverse cohort of volunteers from corporates and educational institutions in a variety of activities. These include the development of digital data-sets for our Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning projects, creation of digital content in English, Art & Science, and mentoring youth from rural & semi-urban communities on courses such as Personality Development, Spoken English, First-Aid & Computational Thinking.

Traditional volunteering initiatives in the pre-COVID age involved volunteers going to communities and conducting career guidance sessions, donation drives, fun activities for youth and children as well as more skilled activities involving hardware and software development, have been a part and parcel of our EdTech endeavours. That being said, the switch to a completely virtual and remote model during present times, contributing to the above-mentioned domains of our EdTech infrastructure has helped us rethink our pro-bono volunteering program, and maximize the impact in terms of program design. Consequently, the educational outcomes we aim to achieve.

Take, for instance, activities under the creation of digital content creation, where volunteers helped create DIY Art videos, translated National Career Services videos on various industries and employability, transliterated videos on basic spoken English - all of which has contributed to our content repository and helped us take preliminary steps in making these resources available to learners in varying linguistic contexts across India. The interest and enthusiasm shown by volunteers in participating and in making quality contributions reaffirm the value in chalking out other areas of our programs, where the skill and expertise of such volunteers can be put to best use.

Speech-to-text (STT) converters, used in our android applications, help children to follow along with the reading by highlighting the text as it is being read aloud. It helps them practice speaking by improving pronunciation, and at the same time, improves their listening and vocabulary. Around 100 Volunteers from UBS helped closely check and suggest corrections in words recognized by the STT tool, aiding our efforts in analyzing the inaccuracies in the present tool. This helped us develop a highlighted reading feature for the Pradigi for School App with greater accuracy. Similarly, halfway into the lockdown period, when strict lockdowns cast a grim shadow on life as we knew it, and everyday routines of school- and college-going students transformed staggeringly, the efforts of volunteers - from across the country, as well as the UK, US & Australia, hailing from diverse professional backgrounds - committed to mentoring youth from our rural & semi-urban communities in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan & Karnataka, helped us establish a much-needed channel to closely and regularly interact with them. These interactions are not limited to merely mentoring them through the course curriculum, but also enabling a refreshing space for both, mentors and mentees equally, to step away from the monotony of present times.

Therefore, our efforts since April in joining hands with over 1000 volunteers from companies such as UBS, Deloitte, Verizon, Axxa, DCM Shriram, as well as independent volunteers from across the globe, have all provided useful contributions to the development of our EdTech infrastructure, and helped broaden our reach. This undoubtedly provides substantial evidence of the power of volunteering remotely from the confines of our homes, to work collectively towards achieving educational equity.

About The Author

Primarily overseeing the Virtual Volunteering Program at present, Varun has been part of program management of Pratham's digital initiatives for over a year and a half. Previously working in Jharkhand with Tata Steel CSR on Youth Empowerment programs, he is an alumnus of the '15-17' MSW Community Org & Development batch from TISS, Mumbai.