Taking notes from the blackboard in a classroom, raising doubts with the teacher face-to-face and engaging in healthy debates with peers - these things trigger a sense of nostalgia among students in today’s times.

The COVID-19 pandemic is turning routine activities into rare ones. And, one of them is definitely education. The shift from online to offline learning is giving rise to several challenges both for students and teachers alike. From children dealing with disruptions in learning due to lack of access to digital devices and internet connectivity to teachers’ muddling through unfamiliarity when it comes to using digital tools.

One of the SKB dakshas teaching Hindi to the students. Image credit: IIFL Foundation

The scenario is all the more grave in rural India. According to the National Statistical Office (NSO) survey, the literacy rate in rural areas is much lower at 73.5 percent when compared to urban pockets which is 87.7 percent. And, when it comes to Rajasthan, the seventh most populated state in the country, the gender gap in education is more than four times the global average of 2016 wherein one in two females are illiterate.

With a view to tackle this, IIFL Foundation, the CSR arm of the financial conglomerate, India Infoline Finance Limited Group, kicked off an initiative called Sakhiyon ki Baadi (SKB) in the state. This involved setting up and operating community based non-formal learning centres for girls.

When the coronavirus health crisis began looming large, the foundation started training teachers to use video-communication platforms like Zoom and Google Meet to ensure uninterrupted learning among young girls. Today, more than 5,000 girls are undergoing training.

Impacting one life at a time

For the purpose of educating girls in rural Rajasthan, the foundation set up multiple learning centres as part of the Sakhiyon ki Baadi initiative across 11 districts including Sirohi, Bhilwara, Dungarpur, Jalore, Udaipur, etc. And, the responsibility to manage these centres was given to the community members themselves.

The SKB learning centres are managed by the local community members themselves.
“We appointed women who had completed their 10th or 12th and were from nearby villages, to be facilitators to teach girls. We address them as ‘Dakshas’ and they train students four hours a day and six days a week. Since most of Sakhiyon ki baadi centres are operational in public places, community halls and common open areas, they are easily accessible to everyone,” says Rajiv Shinde, Sr. Zonal Manager, IIFL Foundation.

The foundation trains the dakshas to conduct interactive learning sessions across various subjects that include Hindi, English, Maths and Moral Science. While the curriculum they follow is the same as the one set by the state government of Rajasthan, the pedagogy is play-way or experiment-based. Besides academics, extracurricular activities such as art and craft, music and self-defence are encouraged to boost confidence and social skills.

Today, IIFL Foundation has over 1,000 learning centres with 1,000 dakshas teaching more than 36,000 students between the ages of 4 to 14. Most of these students belong to tribal communities like Bhil, Garasiya, Kalbeliya, Gameti and Vagari and attending school was once a far-fetched dream. But now, the kind of impact that SKB is creating in their lives is not only shaping their education, career and lifestyle, but also that of their future generations.

Most of the students in rural Rajasthan belong to tribal communities.

“Each of the centres that we have setup is an independent world on its own, because they are situated in different locations and every one of them has a distinct culture, language and is part of a tribal community. And hence, we thought the best way to manage them is by involving the community themselves,” notes Rajiv.

All SKB centres are supervised by a ‘Chaupal’ committee that monitors and takes care of the operations. The committee meets at regular intervals and also resolves issues, if any.

Tweaking efforts after COVID-19

Every three months, IIFL Foundation trains the dakshas by organising an intensive residential training programme for three days. However, this had to be moved online after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. One of the major challenges they faced during the course of this was the lack of access to digital devices.

“To tackle this, we requested the dakshas to borrow the phones or laptops of their family members, friends and acquaintances. So, they started attending the training sessions from others’ devices. As of now, around 480 of the 1,000 dakshas somehow figure out a way to have digital resources in place. And, we are planning to distribute Android tablets to the ones who have no access to them in the coming days,” says Rajiv.

Along with imparting know-how in the areas of Maths, English and Science, the foundation’s training team is helping them get familiar with the basics of digital navigation and especially with communication platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet.

An online training in progress with the dakshas.

21-year-old Aarti Rajawat got associated with IIFL Foundation in 2018. And, ever since, she has been teaching children at SKB learning centre in Magra, Ajmer. After the outbreak of COVID-19 when classes were moved online, she had to adapt to quite a few things.  

“I do know the basics of using video communication platforms, but it is through the daily online training that IIFL is providing that I am understanding other important features like screen sharing, creating a meeting ID, etc. Besides this, they are teaching me to use an app called pschool which is filled with interesting academic content and activities,” Aarti says.

Presently, about 480 dakshas including Aarti are holding online sessions for their students, though the turnout is about 50 percent. Nonetheless, the foundation is working towards ramping this up.  

Madhu Jain, Director of IIFL Foundation, interacting with the dakshas
Madhu Jain, the Director of IIFL Foundation affectionately adds, “During the pandemic, we focused on turning challenges into opportunities. This enabled us to equip the dakshas with knowledge to use mobile phones, engage on online platforms, upgrade their English language skills and develop an understanding of basic financial concepts. Now, all these learnings are being passed on to the students enrolled at the SKB centres through online sessions.”

Recently, Sakhiyon ki Baadi was awarded as the ‘Best Innovation in CSR practices’ and ‘Best Covid-19 Training Solution’ at the Asian Leadership Awards, 2021.


Some resources and links to help you learn more about IIFL Foundation:

CSR: IIFL Foundation runs seamless digital education for 36,000 girls amid pandemic - India CSR Network
CSR: IIFL Foundation runs seamless digital education for 36,000 girls amid pandemic. CSR of IIFL, CSR in India, CSR and Education