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Anandi Newsletter – Reaching the Unreached

Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), Mumbai is a National Centre of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai. The broad goals of the Centre are to promote equity and excellence in science and mathematics education from primary school to undergraduate college level, and encourage the growth of scientific literacy in the country.

The Covid pandemic necessitated the adoption of online learning platforms, but in a country like India, a significant fraction of students had no access to continuous education during this period, as many villages still do not have reliable phone networks or internet access, so online education was not viable. Particularly in rural and marginalized sections of society, where education is the only hope for a better future, this break from education potentially wiped out hard earned gains over several years. For most of these students, closure of schools meant no access to education or educational material beyond textbooks. With the relaxation of Covid restrictions and return of students to the schools, it was found that the students were suddenly facing an uphill task to understand concepts at the higher school class, as they had missed key prerequisites which were supposed to be covered in a lower class. As the learning deficit piled on, there was a real danger of many of these students also choosing to drop out of the schools. Faced with this, HBCSE realised that there was an urgent need to reach out to students from the remote rural/tribal regions, bridge the learning gaps, and help them to connect science / mathematics with their experiential world, rekindle interest in formal schooling and inspire girl students not to abandon education.

To address this new challenge to the education system, a team at HBCSE returned to the simple old-fashioned paper newsletter, sent by post, to interact with the students, with ideas for creative activities, explorations of their environment etc. The newsletter started with a small pilot trial in the second half of 2021 with 225 students from 6 schools in Gadchiroli, Hingoli, Palghar, and Raigad districts of Maharashtra. Based on the enthusiastic response, HBCSE started Anandi, (meaning joyous or blissful) – an 8-page, full colour, newsletter from January 2022 that was sent to 35+ schools from different districts of Maharashtra reaching 4000 students. The name Anandi also honours the inspirational life of Dr. Anandibai Joshi, one of the first women from India to study modern medicine. Each newsletter includes an activity / response sheet and a business reply envelope so that students can easily send back their responses. As the news spread by word of mouth as well as some media coverage, HBCSE now has a lot of requests to scale this up to more schools and students.

Anandi targets students mostly from marginalized communities in the remote tribal regions of rural Maharashtra or children of migrant workers. These students are in the age group of 13-15 years (8th to 10th grade) and are typically first-generation school goers with no academic support/backing at home. The content is particularly designed keeping in mind their socio-cultural background and the resources available to them. The newsletter is in Marathi, the regional language, but intentionally uses colloquial language avoiding formal/complex words. Most articles are interactive or in the style of a dialogue with a lot of activities that connect the articles to the experiential world of students, with suggestions for recording observations, taking notes etc. The students are encouraged to communicate with the HBCSE team through return letters, that not only go beyond just records of the activities, but also provide a free forum for them to share their thoughts.

Samatvam Trust has contributed to this endeavour of HBCSE by donating Rs 5 lakhs.