Skill Education in Times of COVID-19: On the Ground account of how students, parents, and communities are coping with it

Rohini & Molly Pathak,LAHI:

Lend A Hand India (LAHI) has been rigorously advocating for skill education both in urban and rural schools for more than a decade, as of May 2020. We have been doing so, through both direct and indirect implementation of Skill Education and the Multi Skill Foundation Course (MSFC) in particular. Through the years of implementation, we realized that ‘learning by doing’ method is the backbone for delivering skill education to students. As a result of our field interventions in rural schools of Maharashtra, we witnessed many success stories. While documenting these stories, we tried to understand the students’ perspective towards learning new skills, and ideas behind their innovations. During our school visits, we found an endless list of products made by students as part of practical classes, viz. table, chair, metal stand, organic compost, series of decorative bulb lights, plumbing, growing fodder, vertical garden and also growing vegetables in school premises.

In the rural areas that we work, most students belong to agrarian families. During their Multi Skill classes they learn several farming innovations and as an outcome of their learning we have observed that the students encourage their parents to adopt organic farming. They grow fenugreek and sell in the local weekly market as part of community work. Groups of students make/repair wooden chairs from broken furniture in school premises. They rejoice in the joy of making sweet groundnut chikki and sharing it with family members and neighbours. Multi Skill course engages learning through optimum utilisation of local resources, community, and community spaces.

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We also observed that students had applied their learning into the local market, their own farm, in their mother’s kitchen, and to the community at large. We also observed that students were well equipped with basic plumbing skills, modern agriculture techniques, welding, and carpentry, costing, and marketing of the products, and well versed in the basic hygiene of product handling.

As of April-May 2020, we have been unable to undertake field visits due to nationwide implementation of COVID19, so we made efforts to speak to students through telephone conversations. We tried to find out as to what the students were doing during the lockdown period. What were they thinking and how were they purposefully engaged even while staying indoors

Coverage from Maharashtra:
We spoke to some students from Satara and Yawatmal Districts.

Shivanjali English Medium School, Nade village, Patan block, Satara District; has conducted online classes via zoom app. during the lockdown period. While we spoke to the school we found that they had been trying to complete the syllabus through online teaching. While the school was making efforts for online teaching, the Multi Skill Foundation Course students decided to run a COVID 19 awareness poster campaign as part of community work. Twenty students had drawn and painted the posters on their own. These posters emerged as community tool kits that explained the importance of the rule of ‘20 seconds-hand wash, the importance of using mask, and the importance of practicing social distancing. These posters were meant to be stuck on the front doors, of their houses so that they would be visible to everyone who pass by the door/s.

Samiksha from Shivanjali English Medium School raises the awareness campaign against COVID 19 in her village.

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Poster by Samiksha

Samiksha, 9th grade student of Multi Skill Course at Nade, Satara shares that, “Health and Hygiene is my favourite subject. We have been taught the importance of personal hygiene in our Multi Skill class. In this subject, we learned to wash vegetables, we were explained the importance of green, leafy vegetables in our diet, the use of Dettol and hand sanitizers to prevent infections. In the phase of Covid19 Pandemic, we have been continuously asked by the government to maintain hand hygiene. I felt that there are many families who are unaware about this and as educated and informed student, it is our duty to guide them, hence we feel the need to raise community awareness.”

 

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Rajnandini with sanitizer

Rajnandini, 9th grade Multi Skill Course student says,” I have had sold Pani Puri in Swadheen Yatra, and made a profit of Rs 700. I thought this is the right time to utilize my money. My father is a farmer, around 10 labours work at our farm. 4 out of six labours could manage to go back home before lockdown but some could not go to their village. Fortunately, they have enough food for survival but unaware of the correct use of detergent soap hand-wash liquid soap and sanitizer.In this critical situation, I decided to buy liquid soap, detergent soap from the money that I had earned, and gave it to the youngest member of their family. I was delighted that I could extend small gesture from my family in this alarming situation. Rajnandini says that “the Multi Skill course is an interesting course, through which we learn useful skills in school.”

 

 

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Kairi (raw mango) Panha and Kokam (local herb) – cool drinks made by Piyush

Piyush, 10th grade Multi Skill student from Shivshakti Mahavidyalaya, Kalamb, Yawatmal district says, “I love cooking and enjoy it a lot. It makes me happy. I had never thought of cooking until I enrolled in the Multi Skill Course.” He further says that, “we have been taught that food must be healthy and delicious. As you are aware, the temperature of Vidharbha rises up to 48 degree Celsius. Hence, we need to drink lots of water, cold drinks to stay hydrated. During the lockdown, I prepared lemonade, Kokam Sarbat, the varieties of sharbat which you can store for months. I would really like to thank my teachers for teaching me these skills.” He further adds that “next time I will request our Multi Skill teacher to teach us how to make Chavanprash and other health products which help build a strong immune system, and helps us stay healthy.”

Rahul, 10th grade student from Botoni, in Yavatmal district of Vidharba region says that, “a couple of months ago, I was very busy in helping my parents grow vegetables and flowers in our farm. Last month was a wedding season and we were able to sell the vegetables and flowers in the local market. But now because of the lockdown, many weddings have been cancelled so the demand for flowers and vegetables has been less. So now instead of allowing the vegetables to dry up in the farms, we are harvesting them and feeding them to cattle.” He adds that, “I have been insisting my father not to throw them away. These days I am thinking of making organic fertilizer through vermicomposting to manage waste. By doing this, we can save the cost of fertilizer next year. I have learned the process of composting in my Multi Skill Course and I have tried it in school. It is very effective. So, I hope to make it at home and help my family during the crisis.”

 

GardeninggSahil, a 10th grade student, from Satara spoke to us from his father’s phone. His father also joined us in the conversation. His father said, “I have been running a plant nursery since the past twenty- five years in this village. I always insisted that Sahil should learn nursery techniques but initially he used to ignore what I said. But after attending the Multi Skill classes he developed interest in gardening and has learnt scientific agriculture and gardening techniques. Both he and I are happy now. During the lockdown, school is closed and we are not sure when will it start, this worries us a bit. But now that, he is learnt several scientific concepts of plant cultivation, we both are working together in our nursery. I have been training him for aloe Vera plantation.’ Sahil further says, “I want to continue my father’s business and I will also definitely continue my higher education. I would like to pursue BSc. in Agriculture. I have been learning a lot from my father and practicing my skills in my nursery.

These stories help us appreciate the fact that adolescent students are doing their bit for their families and community by applying the skills learnt during their Multi Skill classes. This testifies the idea that the Multi Skill Foundation Course has emerged as an enabler in COVID 19 pandemic.

During our conversations, we got a mixed response from students. Though some of them were anxious, unsure about reopening of schools, many were positively hopeful and had used this lockdown period to put the skills learnt at school into experiment and practice. Every conversation was a worthwhile experience to engage in. The exposure, practice and learning from the Multi Skill course is helping these students and their families in multiple ways. Students are using their skills to add positivity and kindness in their family and community.

We found that, introduction of skill education at school level is proving to be of immense help in every aspect of student learning – comprehension, analytical ability, problem solving, resourcefulness, team work, dignity of labour, gender – and more so when they are faced with unprecedented challenge of closure of schools due to COVID 19. Thus, to end of this blog we would like to leave you with the following thoughts

  • Skill Education is not limited to improve the employability skills only, in fact it is a life skill. It capacitates people to tide over real-life crisis with positivity.
  • The poster campaign is a ‘proof of concept,’ that elaborates as to how students can lead as change agents of the community. Simple subjects like health and hygiene are improving the habit of hygiene in school and at community level.
  • Sahil’s story is an example that, skill education and related business opportunities can enhance student’s comprehension ability, develop critical thinking, and problem solving ability which is the very purpose of school education.
  •  Piyush is now aspiring to learn new practices in health and hygiene. His aspiration matches well with the present situation. Skill education gives the flexibility and opportunity to students to enrich the school curriculum as per the requirement of absolute time.

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