One of 2020’s greatest lessons has been to remind us that we’re entirely capable of finding new answers and solutions that we didn’t believe we could. It has taken everything we knew until now and turned it upside down, throwing open an opportunity to innovate and rebuild, in many ways for the better.

Education and literacy are among those that have globally seen a paradigm shift. On International Literacy Day today, UNESCO has outlined its 2020 objective to focus on “Literacy teaching and learning in the COVID-19 crisis and beyond,’ especially on the role of educators and changing pedagogies”. How perfectly does this align with the Snehadhara Foundation’s commitment to help teachers and educators navigate through these unprecedented times!

The launch of our Digi Akshara programme underlines our penchant for constantly learning, researching, application and reworking teaching modules and methods, and above all, sharing our best practices with everyone because learning—we believe— is an ever-evolving constant in our lives that is most effective in unison.

The UNESCO’s theme too highlights literacy learning in a lifelong learning perspective, recognising how the COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on an already existing problem: the massive divide between policy making and the reality of it all. In a sense, the emergence of the Internet as a viable medium and not just an option, has made us all rewrite the grammar of teaching and learning. UNESCO urges educators to use International Literacy Day 2020 as an occasion to reflect on and discuss how innovative and effective pedagogies and teaching methodologies can be used in youth and adult literacy programmes to face the pandemic and beyond.

We humbly submit our work as a case study of how we’re not only working with innovative and effective pedagogies, we’re also managing to do so in the space of special needs education, keeping in mind the limitations of technology and the children we’re working with. Convinced at the efficacy of our teaching methodologies for our own Snehadhara children, we felt it imperative to open the doors and pay it forward to those children with disabilities across the country who are in need of counselling, therapy and therapeutic learning. Thus, was born école இllam.

This virtual classroom engages directly with children with special needs using the Arts, recognising the importance of screen time and how learning can continue even as the world finds itself in various stages of a lockdown. Sending children back to school stands very low on our current priority list and it will be a long while before parents find it comfortable enough to put them in that situation again. The way now and the way forward is via the digital medium only. école இllam is an exclusive online school that is a culmination of our various trials and errors during the pandemic.

We have had ample opportunities to test our newer teaching methods, including what has been one of the biggest, most inclusive online classrooms: Pratham’s One Day One Story event. Since 2013, the Snehadhara Foundation has been partnering with Pratham Books for the ‘One Day-One Story’ event. Each year we would set out with a story, drums and songs, and reach out to schools and organisations around South Bangalore, in an attempt to use the arts be it to build acceptance or make connects within communities. This year, like everything else, the plans had to shift online.

The SF team was invited this year by PNLIT and we brought alive two of Pratham’s stories: Angry Akku and The Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Laughing. Children learnt how to navigate through the tough emotions around anger, and also fell off their chairs with laughter as T. Sundari got them to do so. The realistic nature of the storytelling session which has bell sounds and recreating sunflowers and dosas, made the session incredibly engaging, immensely informative and extremely entertaining. Children with special needs were in a classroom with children who go to mainstream schools, together partaking in a storytelling session that was heart-warmingly inclusive. A chance we may not have had otherwise. They followed instructions, latching onto every word spoken, recreating in their minds, a new world with every new story.

The power of storytelling, the power of the arts and the power of children who unwittingly are ready for change lies at the heart of what we do at Snehadhara. As UNESCO and all of us teachers and practitioners observe International Literacy Day today, it is a reminder that together we can. And we will.