The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on all aspects of life, leaving no one untouched, especially those living at the margins in rural areas. With schools shut and increasing poverty, rural schoolchildren lost out on education due to their limited access to technology and resources, and other school-related experiences such as peer development, extracurricular activities, and holistic development. Safety issues related to the deadly disease caused added anxiety levels in students.
After the second wave and intensity of COVID were “under control,” state governments decided to open schools in a phased manner to ensure the safety of schoolchildren. School reopening was especially important for families with only one smartphone for the whole family’s needs, which impacted kids’ access for their studies.
The joy and happiness felt by students resuming school after so long has been similar to a first-time school goer’s first day. Despite some uncertainty, the excitement and smiles behind their masks, and the glee in the eyes, are evident in the children returning to schools that were renewed by the Transform Lives one school at a time program during the lockdown period.
Sehgal Foundation teams, with support from donors and partners, school management committees, and villagers in rural India had worked tirelessly throughout the lockdown to create safer, more functional school infrastructures, and beautify school premises—to make government schools ready to welcome back the kids. Teams on the ground installed no-touch sanitizing stations and drinking water stations in each Transform Lives school, along with COVID safety kits to double the safety measures put in place by the government. Students were impressed by the contrast between the school they left 18 months before and their new schools.
The digital awareness and life skills training classes were conducted online for students after the initial lockdown was lifted, and later in person the trainings followed the guidelines and safe behaviors so students could compensate parts of their education and learn important skills in digital literacy and the development of confidence and self-esteem.
COVID posed multiple challenges on the personal and professional fronts for teachers as well. Ms. Neelima, a science teacher from Madhopura School, Alwar, shared, “While being safe ourselves, we have to make sure children are safe and fill the gaps created with schools shut. We are revising curriculums and topics with students and hope to be back on track soon.”
Varsha, a class 11 student from Alwar, Rajasthan, was delighted to attend school after such a long break. She says, “We feel so happy to be back to this colorful premises. We are following all COVID-appropriate behavior in our school and handwashing has become an integral part of our life. Our school is in a very good shape when we joined back.”
Digambar from village Kalsada and many more students echoed the same positive sentiments. Teachers and students feel safe, comfortable, and inspired in the transformed schools and have aspirations, along with the new tools, for a better future.