Green shoots still emerge, despite the haze of Covid on India’s education system
After the Covid-19 pandemic hit Indian shores, the government made recommendations to its 320 million students to shift to “online learning”. Unfortunately, this flew in the face of the reality that only 23.8 percent of Indian households have internet access, according to a 2017-18 national sample survey. In fact, in rural households, which accounts for two-thirds of the overall population, only 14.9 percent had access, with more than half of urban households also lacking connectivity.
But for those who endeavor in programs such as DHL’s GoTeach, which aims to improve employment opportunities for young people, the fight carries on regardless.
Jyoti Row Kavi, Director for Corporate Communications and Responsibility at DHL Global Forwarding & Supply Chain, shares her personal experience within the program’s mentorship platform, particularly with Kasim Siddiqui, who lives in Govandi, one of the most densely populated slums in Eastern Mumbai.
How does DGF Mentor program tie in with DHL’s GoTeach and Teach for India program?
Jyoti: GoTeach, is one of the pillars for DHL’s sustainability mission, with its ethos of “Connecting People, Improving Lives”. Since 2009, we partner with Teach for India (TFI), part of Teach For All, a global partnership that Deutsche Post DHL Group (DPDHL) supports as a sponsor. TFI runs a fellowship program that places students-turned-teachers into underprivileged schools, for low-income students.
Today, 1,100 TFI Fellows are working to ensure more than 38,000 underprivileged children attain an excellent education. They join as an alumni of 2,500 others in TFI who work at all levels of the system – in schools and communities, in school systems, and at the level of policy to end educational inequity.
DGF and DHL Express support TFI with funds every year, to help pay for teachers in the classroom and other expenses.
But we were looking to engage the program in a more holistic manner, and that’s how we came up with the DGF Mentor program. This program helps students from TFI complete the Indian public examinations and move into college for further education.
Tell us more about Kasim, and how you met?
Jyoti: He was amongst the 30 handpicked students for the DHL Global Forwarding (DGF) Mentor Program, where we support their college education through DGF volunteers providing them with individual mentorship. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Management Studies.
I first became acquainted with Kasim three years ago, when he first joined our mentorship program, after being told about it from one of our TFI Fellows . Despite being a shy, gawky 15-year-old teenager, with limited eye contact and even less spoken English, Kasim had a spark about him even back then. Kasim, like the rest of the handpicked students, had been chosen partly based on essays submitted on why they should be given the scholarship, and he displayed a real keen sense to make something greater of his life despite poorer cards dealt.
A visit to his home for Eid (a day that marks the end of Ramadan) was reciprocated by his family coming to our place for Diwali (a Hindu festival of lights), another milestone in the growing bond between our families. I try to give him as much exposure to different cultural activities, and invited him to the Mumbai Drum Day, where my son was playing. It was the first time he had ever entered an auditorium or attended a music show. His wide-eyed expression through the evening said it all- the experience was priceless.
How has the mentorship helped Kasim and his fellow program-mates, especially with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic?
Jyoti: The aim was to support under-privileged children by improving their employability. Nearly all the students in the program are the first from their family to ever enter college after clearing the Indian public board examinations. It makes us very proud as mentors to support them to face the challenges that lie ahead in their quest for higher education.
As for Covid-19, Kasim himself says it best. “We know the level of economic damage the Covid-19 pandemic has inflicted on the world. Things weren't different in Govandi, where I live and the situation was getting harder with every passing day.
“We had enough savings to buy rations and pay the bills but savings were getting depleted quickly as the lockdown was getting extended. My father, the sole earner of the family, was not getting paid. At this time, we received the money from DHL.
“I cannot even express it in words how much it has helped. We can attend our online classes and things are much better now. I am grateful that we received that money. I want to thank everyone at DHL for being so thoughtful and generous and helping us out.”
The sheer resilience, determination and focus of these children are humbling. The odds they manage and maneuver through every day of their lives to get even the most basic necessities are a reminder to us to count every blessing we have. Yet their optimism is contagious and I am so grateful for that.
The transformation in Kasim during these past three years has been nothing short of a miracle.
His fluency in speaking English, his confident approach, and the spring in his step are testimony to the positive impact TFI is making, one child at a time. Alongside college, Kasim is also working part-time at Lido Learning, an online ed-tech platform. He looks after teacher-related logistics and operations on the platform.
For Kasim, I see a bright colored rainbow at the end of the tunnel and can say with all certainty, this boy will go places.
And I will be watching with maternal pride to see that happen.