The unprecedented global health crisis due to COVID-19 has resulted in serious disruptions across the world. Particlularly for children, it has resulted in loss of learning and recreational activities. While children in urban and semi-urban areas have the leisure of online learning, for children in rural and far-flung areas lack of digital access continue to keep them deprived of learning opportunities.
To address this issues and minimise the digitak gap, in the Central Indian, tribal dominated state of Chhattisgarh, a unique experiment is being successfully carried out. To ensure children continue to learn at home, even as schools remain closed due to COVID, an innovative “Seekh” program has been launched in the state. Seekh is a volunteer led initiative by UNICEF and the state government for learning.
The initiative is operational in 9 districts in the state, with over 8,000 youth volunteers (Seekh mitras) and was recently inaugurated in Surajpur district. Launching the program, Premsai Singh Tekam, Minister of Department of School Education, Government of Chhattisgarh said “Seekh program by UNICEF and Surajpur district administration will surely fill the digital gap to ensure children are engaged and their education continues with the help of Seekh Mitras, the community volunteers.”
The Minister added that the Seekh program will ensure continuity of learning for children from Class I to X, the government has taken several steps. However, the absence of internet connectivity, particularly in interior areas, keeps hundreds of students away from its benefits and it remains a big challenge for us.
Chief of UNICEF office for Chhattisgarh Job Zachariah, said that “the state has demonstrated “Seekh”, an innovative model in the country, for ensuring learning of children at the community level. “Seekh” has four salient features. First, it has a cadre of volunteers, referred to as ‘Seekh Mitras’, one for each village. Second, the program ensures the learning of children at the community level, at least 2 hours a day. Third, it bridges the ‘digital divide’ as Internet or smartphones are not required. Fourth, teaching is in the mother tongue- in local/tribal language. This model could be emulated by other states.”
The “Seekh” program is a collaboration between the Literacy Mission and Education Department, Government of Chhattisgarh and UNICEF. The initiative will further strengthen the government’s efforts like Padhai Tumhar Dwaar to ensure that primary school-going children have access to learning opportunities even in the absence of internet connectivity and smartphones.
Seekh uses online as well as human interactions to reach out to children who do not have access to a smartphone or internet connection. Seekh Mitras or community-based volunteers support children in their communities. A Seekh Pitaara helps the volunteers to conduct various activities in language, mathematics, science and sports.
The program is currently being implemented in Surajpur, Dantewada, Bastar, Narayanpur, Bijapur, Sukma, Jashpur, Dhamtari and Raigarh.