SwaTaleem translates to ‘own your education’. The name combines the Sanskrit Swa (which means your own) and the Urdu Taleem (education). The organisation has been working to educate the girl child since 2018 and is one of the recipients of Google.org Impact Challenge for Women and Girls 2021. Founded by Ananya Tiwari and Vaibhav Kumar, alumni of the Ashoka Young India Fellowship, SwaTaleem uses an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) to help bridge the gender divide in education, especially among under-represented communities in Haryana. It came into its own during the pandemic-driven shift from classroom to virtual learning.
IVRS are audio files that can be played through speakerphones without the help of the Internet. Through these, girls had access to information about subjects like Math and Science, and also financial awareness. The application also brought together parents, teachers and the government to create an ecosystem that supports the girls’ education. Over half the parents confirmed that the girls were receiving the content sent and remained engaged in their education throughout the pandemic.
In the past, it has been shown that adolescent girls are more likely to drop out when schools are closed in crisis situations. This leads to an increased gender gap in education, early and forced marriages, early pregnancy, and other social outcomes. During COVID-19 as well, girls had to drop out of school and take responsibility for housework while the parents engaged in some economic activity that would contribute to the household income. While digital education emerged as a major contender to offer a solution to closure of schools, access was both economic and gendered. Lack of appropriate devices and network coverage is a critical challenge, as it disrupts overall levels of learning and widens socio-economic disparities. Moreover, girls lose out on not just education, they also experience reduction in peer interaction and loss of protective environments and social support networks.
How it works
These are the issues SwaTaleem addressed during the lockdown. In the first 39 weeks of the pandemic, over 65,000 calls were made and over 7000 hours of education sessions were conducted. “We create stories that are mapped on the context that surround the girls and include curriculum-related key points,” says Tiwari. For instance, a story on Mitwa involving a local Mewati family with the profession, names of members, size, their language, is designed to address concepts like speed, distance and time from Mathematics, and courage and resilience from socio-emotional skills. These stories are pre-recorded and delivered through IVRS.
“This is followed by assessment questions administered through IVRS itself, which map onto six main areas: English, Science, Maths, Hindi, Reproductive Health, and socio-emotional skills. In our context, these are used to disseminate educational content to the girls where they can communicate using a basic click-button phone. The stories are designed by the teachers of the school and proof-read by us,” adds Kumar
SwaTaleem partners with the government. “We train teachers and local women through life skills and English workshops and meet the girls in their everyday settings to promote learning. To further advocacy and system-based scaling, we engage with parents and orient government officials at block, district, state, and national levels,” adds Tiwari.