My classmates and I have been through a harrowing experience due to the lockdowns, but the amazing thing is that school was not interrupted. We watched lectures that were streamed online (in real-time), our attendance and assignments were coordinated using Teams and we were able to interact with our teachers without any issues. So life as usual, except we were all at home. Even before the lockdown, I would actively use online resources such as Khan Academy and videos on YouTube to dive deeper into a few topics. The only tools that I needed were my laptop, tablet, and cell phone.
I assumed this was the situation for all students. However, I spoke with my maid about how her kids were faring in the lockdown. I was quite surprised and distressed to find out that their situation is very different. Their teachers record 10-minute videos on different topics and send these over WhatsApp. Students watch the content as and when they can. Typically there is just one phone in the family and these kids get to use the phone for a limited period of time. They may send questions or doubts to their teachers, but get answers only after a day or two. They may or may not be equipped to do the homework assigned, let alone get a good understanding of the material. These kids have already started out at a disadvantage. Now, due to the pandemic, they are falling even further behind.
This has severe consequences for our society. A major part of our generation has lost a year or more. To me, this is a huge tragedy, and I got to thinking about what I could do about it. One issue that is immediately obvious is that not everyone has access to the technology that I take for granted. I cannot help with internet connectivity, but I can help with device availability! I have decided to donate my old smartphone to a needy student so that they can keep up with their studies. However, this only helps one student.
My maid’s son is a single child I could potentially help. I got to thinking about how I could help more children. In order to understand this situation better, I tried to contact a few organizations. I searched for Government and Municipal schools close to my house, but could not find phone numbers for most of them. I then searched for orphanages and these were much better organized with complete websites. I initially just called them up and said “Hey! want a phone?” leading to confused conversations. I then switched my strategy to asking how the pandemic had affected their students and how the student was coping with online learning. This immediately lead to clarity on how the lack of screens was holding back students. In some cases 2 screens were being shared by more than 20 students, so no student got enough time. This validated my initial observation about the importance of screens in a locked-down world.
Here are the orphanages that I have contacted so far, the number of students, and the number of screens they are requesting. Note that many of them were hesitant to ask for more screens!
|Mother Theresa Navachetana Charitable Trust||40||22|
|Madhu Mansion Charitable Trust||60||5|
|Sai Krupa Charitable Trust||45||4|
|Navchetana Childrens Orphanage||35||2|
|Ladybird Home for Children||50||3|
21 June 2021
I posted a message on my housing society’s internal mailing list. There were a lot of positive messages of support and encouragement, and more importantly, commitments of screens.
The first set of screens was donated to Madhu Mansion Charitable Trust.
25 July 2021
The Amazon day sale was coming up with deals on phones, tablets, and laptops. A great opportunity to request old devices. I sent another mail suggesting old phones be donated rather than exchanged. I got a whopping response of 1 phone 🙁
The response from my society has given me the confidence that this idea can be expanded and can have a large impact. Reaching out to my society was easy because I am part of the society. Now I need to figure out how to scale up.
Here is what I am thinking of doing:
- Spread the message:
- Connect with students in my school and ask them to share this message in their communities.
- Explore how to use social media for spreading the word.
- Generate publicity e.g., get published on different platforms.
- Create an online presence- this website!
- Analyze what holds back people from donating and develop solutions for these bottlenecks:
- Screens are not functional for want of minor repairs.
- Lack of awareness of the scale of the problem.
- Lack of trust!
- People will appreciate seeing the impact of their donations:
- Develop a plan to connect donors with students using their screens.
- Create a recognition program for donors
- Measure the impact of donations.
- A team can do more than an individual. I plan on recruiting other students from across the country to join and take on responsibilities in this organization.
This started as a very simple idea. My approach was “Hey, let’s try it and see what happens”. Of course, this has been a success so far, but it resulted in many unexpected personal benefits.
I have a deeper appreciation of all the facilities available to me both at home and at school. When I visited the orphanage the contrast between how these kids and how my friends and I live and learn is depressing. To a certain extent, it feels unfair that some of us have to struggle under such significant disadvantages.
By nature, I am a shy person. I don’t participate in class discussions and hesitate to respond when called upon. However, I had to contact and speak with a number of different orphanages, which forced me out of my shell. I could see the difference as I got more practice in having the conversation: my message became more clear and I was more confident. In addition, I also spoke with people wanting to donate their screens and had to coordinate with them to pick up the screens. This was a very different kind of conversation. Not only has the experience helped me overcome my shyness but I am now more aware and present in my interactions.
In order to increase visibility, I created this web page. I have no experience with the technology and had to learn everything from scratch- YouTube to the rescue, and another example of the importance of screens! Thanks to working on this project, I now have a basic understanding of WordPress and how to organize my message.
Finally, in order to expand this activity, I have started to think about many different aspects that I had not considered before. See the ‘Next Steps’ section above for examples.
Do you have a screen that is not being used? Would you like to help students struggling due to a lack of resources? Would you like to screen the unscreened? Get in touch!
Do you have any feedback for me? Do you have ideas on how to reach more people? What else could I be doing? Let me know.