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Gyandeep has always focused on providing education support for the underprivileged.

The current Covid-19 situation has created new challenges for us as well. The physical school is closed due to the lockdown and in fact, we closed down even earlier due to the risk of infection among children in groups. However, in Gyandeep we functioned every day. We learnt different ways of teaching and are using technology to be connected

with our volunteers, children and their parents. We decided to move ahead into a

digital classroom. 

Digital Classroom
The first concern was whether and how to get all children to connect and access the material we may be able to provide and to interact with them. We started calling every child and their parents and found to our pleasant surprise that every child was, at least occasionally, able to access a smart phone and use WhatsApp. 

We than contacted our army of volunteers and connected each child to a volunteer, so that they could become their tutor in these times. 

We also created a data bank of reference material and worksheets and made them available to all volunteers. This bank is being constantly added to and we believe it will become a permanent resource. 

The shift to digital classroom has been very encouraging and may well be part of the new normal. While initially the children could manage to access and use the parent’s or a neighbour’s phone, it soon became clear that a dedicated phone has become a school accessory. We plan to give each family (siblings would share a phone) a smart phone. This meant we needed 35 smart phones.

Smart Phones
Initially, we thought of the old phones that are lying in each of our houses and thought we could collect and provide these. But when we saw the age and variable condition of the phones, it became clear that we would be simply passing a latent problem to the children. For the same reason, we decided against procuring refurbished phones. One distributor offered to sell us discounted phones to clear all his stock, but this meant 8 different models. Maintaining them would be an issue.

We then tried to find a sponsor, both handset manufacturers and the Delhi government, highlighting the cause and even offering a ‘sponsorship opportunity’ whereby they could get some publicity and goodwill. However, perhaps given the current difficult situation, they were not really able to help. 

We then decided to locate and procure new handsets, utilizing the funds that Gyandeep was raising for this purpose.

We first decided on our budget and a configuration that would meet the requirements we had. In fact, we were clear that we did not want the cheapest solution that suffices, but an optimum one that we could afford. A degree of future-proofness was important. 

Comparing the budget phones and researching the specs, expert reviews and user feedbacks, we found that Lava offering some good models and we zeroed in on Z51. It was also satisfying that they are ‘Proudly Indian’. 

The next challenge was locating a source that could deliver us 35 phones. Amazingly, most dealers and e-commerce sites were out of stock on most models, not surprising given the disruptions in the supply chain and manufacturing constraints. 

We managed to reach the company’s top officers, who agreed to pull out and deliver us 35 nos on priority and even offered a small discount.

Modality of funding and ownership
While we could fund the entire amount from Gyandeep, we decided that we should take a small contribution from the parents too. This would ensure a degree of ownership and responsibility for the safe keeping of the handsets. To our pleasant surprise, all parents were happy to contribute.

The onus of providing new SIM cards and providing data access was the parents’. We insisted that this be a new and exclusive connection, so that it would not be misused by the entire family.

While most of the funding was provided by Gyandeep, the idea is that the phones are now ‘gifted’ to the children.

Safeguards & configuration
As the users are all children, we were keen to install some parental control software on each phone. As the parents would not be able to do so and for the purpose of uniformity, we decided to do this through Gyandeep volunteers.

Google Family Link is a very useful application that 
Automatically filters out adult content and searches
Restricts access to paid sites
Manages an approval process for allow downloads and other actions
Prevents resetting the phone to factory settings

Allows location tracking – useful in case of a lost or stolen phone
We wrote out a SoP (Standard Operating Procedure), that each volunteer was familiarized with. This covered opening Family Link accounts, child accounts, configuring permissions, etc.

Over a Zoom meeting, the process was carried out and each volunteer was able to configure their wards’ phones.

As we are in the Covid era, we devised a way to carry out all phone distribution without any crowds. Using time planning, all interactions were one-on-one.
Each parent brought their contribution (in an envelope) with the new SIM and number and collected the phone.

Immediate aftermath
Naturally, the children were thrilled to get new and sleek phones. The joy and pride was apparent in their voices. We are sure they will take great care in their possession. 
They were soon trying their hands at apps they were familiar with and exploring what was new.  Approval requests started ringing on volunteers’ phones. Thankfully, all of them were justified and easily approved.

Next steps
Once the novelty has worn off, we have to start using the phones for the real purpose – digital school. We feel very confident of facing the challenge and have great hopes of the benefits that will ensue.

With normal schools as well as physical Gyandeep likely to be shut for several months, this will be the new mode of interaction and also education. Dare we think, the familiarity and comfort with new technology that will ensue may even give Gyandeep children an edge in the new digital world ?

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