RESPONDING TO THE 2021 COVID-19 CRISIS IN INDIA

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis in 2021 has turned into a major crisis affecting India in an unprecedented way. The Akanksha family in India has not been spared by this surge of COVID cases. 25% of the Akanksha staff in Mumbai and Pune are COVID positive themselves or are caring for someone who is. Our communities are also at risk, with vaccine hesitancy, high risk behaviors and lack of reliable information exacerbating the situation. As lockdowns continue, food security and livelihoods will also become a risk. Akanksha is providing our teachers and staff with time off, expanded health insurance and grief counselling to support their mental wellbeing. We are also responding to the need of our community by working with local partners such as the Swasth Foundation and Noora Health to provide health resources, financial support and humanitarian aid. Our support will continue during the May-June break, with staff providing socio emotional support to affected children and their families, as our children grapple with the uncertainty of cancelled exams and cope with grave personal loss. You can support our relief efforts during this COVID-19 crisis here.  
With the rising number of coronavirus cases in Mumbai and Pune, Akanksha schools will remain closed till at least August 2020. Even then, learning time will likely be reduced to half due to social distancing norms. Watch this back-to-school video to see how Akanksha has transformed each school into a home (#HarGharEkSchool) during the lockdown:  

AKANKSHA’S VISION FOR THE NEW NORMAL (2020-21)

Blended Learning: Akanksha has the opportunity to pioneer Blended Learning — mix of in person learning and remote learning — in government school context. We hope to multiply our impact by sharing our practices with schools serving low income communities. In the next phase (June-July), all our schools will implement global best practices of remote learning, gradually pivoting to blended learning once schools reopen physically. Community Engagement : During the next 12-18 months, we will effectively engage with parents and communities in 2 areas:
  • Parents as co-educators: Improve parental capacity to support academic success of their children and build socio-emotional skills, encouraging parents to teach children important life skills at home such as cooking, sewing, art/craft.
  • Family Safety and Wellbeing: Create awareness and share knowledge about family health, hygiene and nutrition. Enable adoption of good health and hygiene habits which includes skills, mindset and behavioral changes. We’ve partnered with organizations like Swasth Foundation, SNEHA and Noora Health for this.
Our Focus for June & July
  1. Starting remote learning for ALL children (Kg – Gr 10) from June 15 with globally and nationally researched best practices — This will engage parents to support/build socio-emotional well being, health and hygiene, and academic competencies.
  2. Continuing with our food relief efforts (until end July);
  3. Providing access to internet data and devices for our children for continued learning;
  4. Creating a school (and office) reopening plan with partners.
 

AKANKSHA’S COVID-19 RELIEF EFFORTS TO SUPPORT FAMILIES

The pandemic disproportionately affected Akanksha’s students, their families, and communities, but Akanksha responded quickly. Here are some of the efforts taken in the last 75 days:
  • We have supported 6,000 Akanksha families with 6,686 food kits (and sanitizers) between March 25th and May 31st, in partnership with over 20 organizations in Mumbai & Pune.
  • We made nearly 14,000 check-in calls with approximately 7,800 children during the summer break (May) to keep a check on their mental and physical well-being.
  • We have offered immediate interventions for 120+ children who were at high risk.
Student Learning

All 21 schools shifted to remote learning in the last week of March using WhatsApp as the primary medium of delivery. Over the last two months, we learnt that around 80% of students have access to a smartphone & internet. In April and May, our teams started more rigorous pilots (with 10 schools) using more advanced platforms such as EdModo, Google Classrooms, Zoom and Google Meet to deliver lessons for students in Grade 9 and 10. We observed an encouraging submissions rate and attendance with 80% students.

Engaging with parents and communities 

Our decade long investment in parent engagement is yielding significant returns with nearly 70% of parents engaged in their child’s wellbeing and learning during the lockdown. While nearly 10% of our children have had to “migrate” to their hometowns, most of them would like to return as soon as schools restart, ensuring zero drop-outs. Our weekly parent conferences have been overbooked with 500 parents (and children) attending this regularly.

Employee Wellness 

We recognise the importance of employee well being, morale and purposefulness during this crisis. Our team leaders have led by example enabling flexibility to manage work from home and prioritizing well-being.

  While the full effects of the pandemic are yet to be seen, Akanksha is doing all we can to ensure that our students and their families do not get left behind through #ProjectKaruna (“Karuna” means “compassion” in Sanskrit).

RESOURCES FOR DISTANT LEARNING

As parents around the world adapt to the new reality of having our children home from school, we wanted to share a few resources from our schools around remote learning. Akanksha is sharing at-home art projects to do with children on a daily basis on Art for Akanksha’s Facebook page. Try Akanksha’s Building Bridges exercise at home with your children or loved ones. This exercise was developed in our schools to strengthen relationships between our students and their parents. The exercise, done in pairs, facilitates open and heartfelt sharing of thoughts.  Visit the Akanksha Foundation’s Facebook page to find more initiatives #PoweredByAkanksha. See how some Akanksha students adapted to virtual learning during the summer break.   Read about how Akanksha’s work is part of a collective effort to respond to the public health crisis in India in this report from India Philanthropy Alliance (IPA). IPA is a coalition of 12 development and humanitarian organizations that mobilize funding, volunteer and professional talent, and alliances in the United States (and elsewhere) to benefit India. You can learn more about Akanksha’s response to the COVID pandemic on Mid-day.com, LiveMint, Sakaal Times, and in this radio interview with Saurabh Taneja and Akanksha School Leader Chinmaya Potnis.