Published: 22nd August 2020
Have phone? Can learn: This 22-year-old Mumbaikar and her network of volunteers run one-on-one online classes for kids
Never in her wildest dreams did Akanksha Priyaraj imagine that this initiative would draw so many volunteers. But now that it has, this is how she is handling everything
E-learning is the norm of the day, but it could be an expensive affair. In a country where owning a smartphone itself is a privilege, getting access to education, that too personalised and one-on-one access, worries parents from low-income households. Keeping their pain points in mind, Mumbai-based Akanksha Priyaraj started a simple model. Sign up with Ayukta, the group of passionate and young teachers she started, as a volunteer and they will connect you with children who are in need of a constant virtual teacher, but are born in homes that probably can't afford one. Sounds random? After all, who is this 22-year-old from Mumbai and why is she doing this? She lets us in on her story that also involves her brother Aman Priyaraj. This student of IIT Kharagpur is the Co-founder of Ayukta.
Akanksha Priyaraj and Aman Priyaraj | (Pic: Ayukta)
Being a teacher
Akanksha, when she was based out of Noida, used to visit a nearby slum and teach four to five kids. When she shifted to Mumbai, she signed up with The Robin Hood Army, the organisation known to help mitigate hunger of the underprivileged. On the side, this zero-funds organisation used to teach in some areas too and one such area was Thane, where the youngster used to teach children of construction workers. Now you know about her tryst with teaching. "Of course, that was before the lockdown. And during it, I began teaching my house help's son in the first week of July. Slowly, the word spread and my house help informed me that there are many children in her locality who would also benefit from this," shares Akanksha who pursued Electronics and Communication Engineering from NIT Trichy. And that's where it all started, one kid who was taking online video classes called another four, then they called in more kids. Now a battalion of 70 volunteers handle 50 slots six days a week (Sundays are holidays). It's all on a one-to-one basis and for now, they are focussing hard on English and Math. All this has been a brainchild of Aman and her.
What to teach too? It all starts with a Google form that every aspiring volunteer is required to fill. Then comes the screening process, a short chat with Akanksha where she checks commitment levels, communication skills and willingness to really do this. Then the volunteers shadow her while she conducts classes and then she handholds the volunteers as they conduct classes of their own. This goes on for a week until the new volunteer is thoroughly acquainted with what is expected of them. "For our first wave of volunteer sign-ups, we had about 120 applicants. And only 70 of them were selected," she shares. For one cluster of students, there is one coordinator who oversees everything thus, enabling a decentralisation of sorts.
Screenshot from the class | (Pic: Ayukta)
Settling into the model
The classes can range from 30 minutes to one hour and the time slots start from 7:30 am to 6:30 pm, which is manually handled and matched as per the needs of students and volunteers by the founder via a simple Excel sheet. They maintain these timings because they have volunteers from other countries like the US and Australia as well. "If a child is in a higher class, say class X, they can book two to three slots for different subjects," she informs. But the million-dollar question is, what about the curriculum? The organisation found an easy way out, purchasing the state board textbooks online and if they don't find it, just asking parents to send pictures of the textbook.
Our favourite part about what Ayukta does are the Saturday classes! "Inspired by Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia and educationist Atishi Marlena and how they started the Happiness Curriculum, Saturdays are about anything but academics," shares Ayukta, who works as a Senior Analyst for a firm. Debates, videos, interactions and art become the norm du jour. "They hesitate to talk, but we keep nudging them," she says. Guess what their latest topic for debate was? Should homework be banned?
Screenshot from the class | (Pic: Ayukta)
The point is that this informal group started by Akanksha has evolved to include many, many volunteers. "Which is why we also use Saturdays to regroup and talk about our process," she shares. Slowly and steadily, the organisation, which is over a month old, is finding its ground to ensure that education is a little more accessible.
For more on them, check out instagram.com/ayukta._