When the pandemic affected education, 17-year-old Arshya Gaur found a way to harness the power of technology and find a different way to bring education to her students.
Saloni Dhumne reports.
What do children hate? Studying.
What do children love? Gadgets. Technology.
With schools shut due to the pandemic, and online classes the norm, it was a struggle for both students and teachers.
Interactivity was a challenge, as was battling screen fatigue.
Seventeen-year-old Arshya Gaur wondered if there was a solution.
The New Delhi student loves teaching. Since the age of 14, she has been tutoring underprivileged students from the Kusum Pahari slum near her home.
When the pandemic put a stop to that, it challenged Arshya -- who studies at the Vasant Valley School -- to harness the power of technology and find a different way to bring education to her students.
"With everything taking place online, the world was becoming highly technology-oriented," Arshya tells Saloni Dhumne. She decided that, in order to keep reading "exciting and relevant in the current times, I need to adapt it to technology."
There was another reason as well.
"Children these days are learning to use the digital media much faster; it comes almost naturally to them. Hence, it felt right to integrate technology with education."
Arshya decided to use karaoke to create an online teaching platform that she calls Read Together. It comprises 70 chapters of the standard NCERT syllabus for the first to the fifth grade, adapted into an audio-visual format.
Launched in November 2020, Read Together has been adopted by some Delhi schools such as The Blind School, Saksham Trust, VasantValleySchool, DPS Vasant Vihar and the .
"It took me three months just to develop the content. The rest of my time was devoted towards creating the Web site and planning its roll-out. This included identifying prospective schools, how to approach them, making the presentation and awaiting their confirmation as to whether they were interested," she says.
"I realised that a large amount of my target audience lacked the means to use my programme," she says. The solution came in the form of Arshya's Tablet Initiative.
While Read Together, her primary initiative, was funded by her parents, Arshya raised approximately Rs 10 lakhs through the crowdfunding platform, Ketto, for her second initiative. She used the money to provide tablets to the underprivileged so that they could access her programme.
She also partnered with the Amba Dalmia Foundation and donated 30 tablets, which their students use for their classes.
They are currently working towards developing parental controls so that the tablets are used solely for academic purposes.
"While my experience was exciting, I faced multiple challenges that I did not see coming," says Arshya.
Intricacies such as the pace at which the audio content was to be read for easy understanding and the brightness of the illustrations that accompanied the audio were not easy to resolve.
Her age, too, proved to be a barrier when it came to marketing her programme.
"Since I am 17, people often don't take my work seriously. However, my parents stepped in at this point and helped take care of things in a professional manner," she says.
"While the lockdown provided ample amount of time to develop the platform, it also threw up marketing issues," Arshya adds.
"E-mails or video conferences," she says, "do not work as a demonstration of my software can only be carried out effectively in person."
Due to this, she says, she had to step out multiple times to sell her project.
After reaching out to eight schools in 2020, Arshya received a positive response only from two... and that too after weeks of waiting.
But this did not demotivate her.
Arshya approached the welfare association president of her alma mater, the Vasant Valley School, for help to get in touch with the principal of the Delhi Public School. She arranged a meeting with her in person, so as to encourage her to adopt Read Together.
Arshya also presented her project to her own school.
Word-of-mouth and social media posts by friends and family proved effective.
This year, Arshya has convinced five more schools to adopt her platform.
Her platform is individually accessible and has seen 300 registrations.
Apart from being one of the youngest pioneers in the field of education, Arshya is an active advocate of mental health wellness.
This stems from her own struggles with mental health as an adolescent.
As a chubby kid, Arshya was given nicknames in school which may have initially sounded harmless, but were extremely objective in nature.
The body image issues and subsequent insecurity stemming from these nicknames led to anorexia and, eventually, depression.
"I battled these two diseases at a very young age. Victims of these diseases suffer silently. Loved ones who have deal with this more sensitisation instead of brushing the issue under the carpet, which is what happens often."
Arshya's message, especially to teenagers, is that the path to betterment requires acceptance, understanding and knowing that healing takes time.
"Most people think that a person can recover fully from anorexia, but that is never really the case. One must take one day at a time and not let the loss or gain of a single day affect the whole journey."
It's a principle she applies to the rest of her life as well.
That's how Read Together, and the Tablet Initiative, came to life.
The time she got during the pandemic allowed her to pause and figure what really mattered.
"We frequently run races that are not meant to be ours," she says. "Pick your races, look what you want, what is meant for you."