In March 2020, when the Prime Minister announced the national lockdown, the country was still trying to comprehend the severity of the Covid-19 pandemic. For crores of students this meant a sudden pause in their education with no certainty about what will happen next.
Given the gravity of the situation, the Government of Himachal Pradesh quickly swung into action and within weeks launched the country’s first online home learning program called ‘Har Ghar Pathshala’. Har Ghar Pathshala was designed to enable at-home learning for students through three key components: daily content dissemination (videos and worksheets), weekly practice using WhatsApp-based quizzes and quarterly engagement with parents through e-PTMs. Har Ghar Pathshala has been successful in reaching out to ~70% of the students in Himachal Pradesh.
However, one year into the program, the Department of Education started noticing a drop in the momentum around Har Ghar Pathshala. For instance, participation in the weekly WhatsApp Quiz dropped from an average of 45% in 2020, to 27% in the first few months of 2021. Broadly, there was a sense of students feeling fatigued with online learning because of the limited interaction with teachers and almost no peer-to-peer learning.
In a bid to address these problems and infuse new energy into the program, the government launched ‘Har Ghar Pathshala 2.0’ (HGP 2.0) in May. The main objectives of HGP 2.0 were to increase student engagement with learning content and enable access to learning resources for students who don’t have smartphones.
To meet the first objective, i.e., increasing student engagement: three new components were added to HGP--daily online live classes (for conceptual teaching and doubt resolution); weekly telephonic connect between teachers and students (for a personal check-in with each student); and a fortnightly ‘break’ from conventional academics in the form of “Pratibha Utsav”, wherein students are encouraged to engage in activity-based learning. For example: poetry recitation, storytelling, newspaper reading, singing etc.
To enable access to learning resources, the state government launched a phone donation campaign called “Digital Saathi – Bachon ka Sahara, Phone Humara”. To further support students with limited access to smartphones and online classes, the state is also printing workbooks with chapter-linked practice questions and distributing them to students. To ensure accountability, all HGP initiatives are being tracked and monitored closely. This data is available for public viewing on a dashboard here.
Over the last four months, as a result of these initiatives, there has been an uptick in student engagement with online learning. Through the HGP 2.0 monitoring form, a maximum of 45% teachers have reported that they take at least one live class daily and 50% teachers have reported that they connect with at least one student daily via calls. Student participation on WhatsApp quizzes has also gone back to 2020 levels, reaching 69%.
However, the state still has to tackle some roadblocks to achieve its goal of leaving no student behind. Although students with access to smartphones are reaping the benefits of HGP 2.0, approximately 20% of students in the state are still completely cut off from learning due to lack of devices. The key lever to reach these students is going to be distribution of offline printed material, and donations through the Digital Saathi campaign (to donate, you can click here).
As schools reopen, the state hopes to maintain the gains made in the past year while ensuring the safe return of students to classrooms. One way to do this would , a slow transition from Har Ghar Pathshala (at-home online learning) to a Blended Learning Model (in-classroom learning complemented with at-home online learning). A shift to the Blended Learning Model would mean that the student derives the dual benefits of in-classroom learning while also consuming online content for conceptual clarity and practice. Technology-enabled blended learning would also entail personalized remedial learning and opportunities to track granular details of a student’s learning journey.
In the coming months, Himachal Pradesh as well as other states have the opportunity to learn from the experience of the last year and capitalize on it.