At national scale school closures disrupted education children. The physical environment plays an important role in creating a suitable space for children. The pandemic has been tough on everyone, but the children have suffered even more.
The confinements confined the children to the four walls of their house. It took away the only learning and engagement time they had with their peers in schools. Studies suggest that prolonged confinement of children to their homes affects the general well-being of children and may hamper their growth. With the current increase in COVID-19 infections, there is a high risk of an increase in the number of dropouts among children in school.
The situation is worse for children living in slums. Take, for example, Shivaji Nagar, a slum in Faridabad, Haryana. The population consists of migrant workers from neighboring states. The location is home to a population of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people. Families work in low-paying jobs in nearby factories or depend on minimal daily income. Life in the slums is difficult due to the lack of basic facilities such as water, toilets and fresh air. Most houses have only one room with no ventilation, but serve as a home for families of 5-10 members. Families cook, eat and sleep in one room. These resource and infrastructure constraints negatively impact the holistic development of children growing up in slums.
In an effort to encourage continuity of education, childcare NGO SOS Children’s Villages in India painted five walls of Shivaji Nagar with information related to child protection, education, health and hygiene. One of the walls was actually turned into a blackboard, to encourage cohesive learning at the community level, while the schools were closed. This was an initiative under the Shivaji Nagar-Auto Pin Family Strengthening Program.
Outdoor learning spaces aim to generate discussions on important topics such as education, health and child protection, which affect the community. Today, the community board is used for various awareness programs and remedial classes. It has also become a space for the Bal Panchayat (children’s parliament) for their daily activities.
A student Reena (name changed) who is a member of Bal Panchayat there, says: “The closure of schools due to the pandemic has turned our lives upside down. The learning walls in our community have helped us a lot. We all love coming to the outdoor learning spaces because the walls have been painted which allowed us to learn, play and engage. These paintings have brought life to the walls of our community, giving us a sense of comfort and hope in these difficult times, while spreading important messages.
According to Sumanta Kar, secretary general of SOS Children’s Villages in India, “children, especially those living in slums, have seen their education be severely disrupted by the pandemic, especially since they did not have Internet and / or smartphone access to continue their education at a distance. A significant number of children, especially girls, from vulnerable backgrounds who have been out of school for a long time, may never return when schools reopen. With the outdoor learning spaces, we wanted to give children a semblance of learning, even when they were not going to school.
Along with obvious solutions like access to digital learning tools, simple innovations like these will ensure that schoolchildren in rural and urban slums are not left behind in their education.