Our Response To COVID-19 – Digital Engagement Program
COVID has brought about unique challenges in our work with this vulnerable population. The biggest impact is on the fact that children are cooped up in the CCI premises with nothing much to do, given that schools are shut, and movement is restricted. CCI staff are trying to keep the children engaged with some fun activities, games, education activities but these are very limited given the scarcity of resources available within the CCI. This unfortunate outbreak has also left our children with no access to their teachers, mentors, volunteers and has brought their social interactions to a standstill. The result are feelings of fear, loneliness, loss of control and loss of hope. These are indeed difficult emotions to come with for anyone but imagine a child who has no family to turn to at this time. We believe that the long-term impact on mental health could potentially be long lasting and devastating. We believe that effects of the pandemic will continue, and there is a possibility that multiple lockdowns may be imposed in the near future. Schools may not reopen even in June, the start of the academic year. The situation may be the same with skilling institutes and higher education. The requirement of social distancing may continue for quite some time.
Given these circumstances, we felt that there is an urgent need to find ways to stay engaged with our children remotely. This led to us designing and launching a Digital Engagement Program (DEP) to enable us to interact with the children, keep a check on their well-being, and continue with our education and child development programs. Some of our CCI’s have computer labs and we have done some pilots with computer based educational content. However, in the Digital Engagement Program, we are pushing the envelope in using digital technology and content to provide not only educational opportunities, but also address some of the mental health issues that children are facing or may face.
- To engage the child/young adult in educational content and other meaningful activity: This will substitute for school learning during the lockdown and supplemental education after the lockdown is over. We believe computer-based education and curated video content can open up immense learning opportunities for the children for in times to come.
- To ensure a connect with teachers / mentors who are unable to visit them within CCI premises during lockdown: Engaging with their tutors, CSA Program Officers, or a talk with a yoga or a dance teacher – basically interacting with people other than the caregivers within the CCI – can help the children break the daily monotony caused by limited movement in the lockdown. Children would know that there are people outside the CCI who care for them and have interactions with them, thus promoting their mental well-being.
- To conduct online counselling / mentoring of children and young adults: Children / young adults in CCIs often lack guidance and exposure to the world outside and various opportunities available. Our attempts to conduct counselling / mentoring of children and young adults in the past have not been successful due to logistical issues. DEP provides us the opportunity to conduct online counselling / mentoring.
In short, we believe that the DEP will not only overcome some of the impacts of COVID on mental health, but also open up new possibilities for development and “family like care” in the future as well.
The broad stepwise implementation plan of the program is as follows:
1. Equip each CCI with digital infrastructure such as laptops and a Wi-Fi plan that will enable the children have access to digital content.
2. Curate and collect educational and recreational content
- Subscribe to content from Khan Academy or any such educational content provider
- Subscribe to TATA sky for their digital content and provide Smart TV where possible
- Curate interesting on-line courses, documentaries, vocational learning content etc.
- Tie up for spoken-English content provider
3. Introduce on-line discussion sessions with CSA Program Officers and experts
- We would use Google Hangouts/ Zoom to do interactive video calls with both the CCI staff and management as well as with children. These would be with our Program Officers to begin with whom the children are very familiar and friendly.
- Over time we will try doing sessions with experts who can teach yoga, meditation, dance, music on-line. There is a wide range of possibilities.
4. Identify a “family circle” for every child – this could be a Program Officer, a counsellor, an alumnus, or their family and facilitate one on one video sessions with children. Knowing that you have a few people who care for you, is a very strong source of mental support at a time like this and beyond.
The Program Structure
The recommended DEP model comprises of 4 components:
1. Education & Developmental Training
- Focus on remedial teaching and grade specific learning for Math and English
- Using videos, worksheets and games (Both online and offline)
2. Recreation / Extracurricular activities
- Opportunity to learn with fun
- To include indoor and outdoor games including Zumba and Yoga
- To include creative learning forums like storytelling, Art & Craft
3. Preparatory Program
- To focus on Career awareness to children who are 16 and above
- To improve their spoken English
4. My Wellness
- Emotional and stress management
- Counseling as per requirement
While this program was primarily conceptualized as an “emergency learning”, we see the tremendous value this program brings to our children. First and foremost, a world of content is available for them to learn across all the fields. This also caters to children at varied learning levels wherein children can learn at their own learning pace. Teacher capability is another aspect that gets addressed in digital learning method. This also opens up the doors for a variety of teachers, volunteers, mentors and counsellors to interact with our children.
The model will evolve to Blended Learning wherein some aspects of our program will move to an online environment while some aspects will still be delivered by our tutors. We value the human touch experience especially for our children and would continue to have it as a part of our Education Program.