New Delhi, September 8, 2018: India’s educational system has long since needed an urgent review to meet the growing demand for quality, contemporary and high-tech system, accessible to more children across the country. If we look at the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Right to Education Act 2010, SDG-4 promises to achieve “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 inserted Article 21-A (The RTE Act) in the Constitution of India, to provide free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years as a Fundamental Right in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine. There is, therefore, a need for a mechanism that addresses the current challenges of shortage of teachers, access to quality schools, lack of creative educational material and the inability of numerous children to go to school due to various factors. Additionally, children and youth in India have become increasingly technology-driven, revealing considerable potential and readiness to imbibe and learn through digital media. This is a gap which has to be addressed by strengthening India’s technological infrastructure.
Every year, World Literacy Day is celebrated on September 8, 2018. The objective is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies as it the key tool needed to drive socio– economic progress. Education is both the means as well as the end to a better life; means – because it empowers an individual to earn his/her livelihood and the end because it increases one’s awareness on a range of issues – from healthcare to appropriate social behaviour to understanding one’s rights, and in the process, evolve as a better citizen.
According to the 2011 Census, India had a literacy rate of 80.9 percent (for men) and 64.60 percent (for women). India faces several challenges when it comes to implementing literacy programmes. These include the availability of schools within the vicinity in rural areas, the lack of proper sanitation and drinking, dearth of qualified teachers, inadequate funding provided by invested stakeholders, caste and religious disparities, and gender-based inequalities.
Smile Foundation, a civil society organisation, proactively works towards providing education for underprivileged children. It launched its Mission Education programme in 2002, benefitting over 20,000 children in the last few years. It is committed to providing basic education and healthcare to underprivileged children. The Foundation believes that whether it is addressing healthcare, poverty, population control, unemployment or human rights; there is no better place to start than in the corridors of education.
Smile Foundation’s educational initiatives include Pre-school [3-6 yrs], Non Formal Education [6-14 yrs non-school going], Remedial Education [6-14 yrs school going] and Bridge Course [14-18 yrs drop-outs]. It works to educate underprivileged children who are under difficult circumstances, such as child labour, children of the poorest parents, children inflicted and affected with HIV/AIDS, street and runaway children, children with rare disabilities, disaster struck children, and slum children. Special emphasis is given on girl education and women education so that they and their families are empowered.
Smile Foundation’s Digital Literacy Project for underprivileged children under its Mission Education Programme has adopted out-of-the-box methodologies to assess and enhance the current classroom settings to make learning effective, engaging and fun. These include a small library cum language space where teaching methods are customised as per the language and skill sets of children, as well as workshops integrating multiple arts where students voice and express their thoughts about community strengths through theatre, visual arts and narratives.
It is important to reiterate that, through a comprehensive and widespread digital platform, children and youth from all sections of society, especially rural settings, can strengthen their access to technology and use it for gaining knowledge and gaining additional skills leading to greater learning outcomes.