The Covid-19 pandemic hit the world hard in many different ways. The Granny Cloud was no different. It took its toll on the children as well as the Grannies. It was ironical that an initiative that has always been based on online interactions should fade while schools, educational initiatives, and other learning environments moved forward – exploring how best to use technology to reach ‘their’ children and ensure a minimal disruption in their learning.
The Granny Cloud had always been ‘online’. The Grannies had always connected to children in many, even remote, parts of the world. And this is what The Granny Cloud is good at! But the pandemic changed most of that. Because the children of The Granny Cloud did not have access to the internet & related technology in their homes. And when they did, it was often a parent’s mobile phone; one that was depended on for work and used by the entire family. Not to mention that they could ill afford to pay the heightened data charges that would accrue to use it for the children’s school lessons. Granny sessions were quite naturally low down on the priority list. The centres were under lock down and many did not have the resources to resume even when restrictions were eased. The children’s access to the Grannies was cut off.
The team of Grannies was frustrated, knowing that there was much to offer, including by way of emotional and moral support, and it was much needed. The “on again, off again” situation that many schools had to face also made the possibility of real time ‘regular’ Granny sessions to be set up, even in centres that were run by schools with the minimal plus resources required to run these sessions.
Efforts during the Covid-19 Pandemic:
Following the first couple of months of strict lockdowns, The Granny Cloud made different attempts to reach out to children. Some through asynchronous material [stories/songs/puzzles] that at least some of the children might be able to access occasionally.
The Granny Cloud even attempted setting up sessions for children living in residential facilities for ‘street children’. But that logic didn’t work as people struggled to fulfil basic needs and provide shelter for as many children they could. Organizing Granny sessions could not be a priority. Understandably so. We had had similar experiences in previous years while trying to reach out to children living in refugee camps following natural disasters and war situations.
As the pandemic progressed it became clear that we would have to function around it. It was a new challenge and we sought other ways of reaching children… ALL children, not just ‘our’ own. We were painfully aware that even children with resources at home were losing out quite a lot. In the beginning months, we quickly put together picture books [The TASHA Series on YouTube] to help spread whatever little awareness we could among very young children who did have access to YouTube or similar other internet sources. Many WhatsApp groups were set up with support from coordinators for ‘our own’ children through some of the centres. The idea was to ensure that this asynchronous interaction could keep the connection, the bond going. That the children would have some contact with the ‘outside’ world; that they would have something ‘fun’ and something ‘interesting’ to think about.
But even these efforts could reach just a few children, for the reasons outlined above. In this scenario, The Granny Cloud wound down substantially. There are still several WhatsApp groups in different locations that function. There are several centres that have resumed ‘regular’ Granny sessions over Skype and Teams and Zoom [in person – with the children all masked in their room at school]. And a couple of centres that hope to resume in the near future.
But The Granny Cloud is now a skeleton. This is also because the pandemic took a huge toll on the Grannies themselves and their personal situations. Health, home responsibilities, a loss of morale, a feeling of being disconnected. All that and more, led to many Grannies just watching from the sidelines.
The way forward needs to be questioned. From among the original group of Grannies from 2008-2010 a few are still miraculously active in different ways. And some relatively new Grannies are active as well. But it’s a huge, time-consuming effort to recruit and orient brand new Grannies and not something the present team can take on in any substantial manner. So ‘spin off Granny Clouds’ may be one of the ways to go forward. And the Grannies look forward to sharing their resources and insights so that others can apply these in their own settings.
But there’s a related issue that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. It’s the key to the title “Grannies for children, everywhere”! ALL children. Not just those in obviously distressed, underprivileged, disadvantaged situations. For disadvantages come in many forms. Material resources do not automatically translate into more effective learning environments. The Granny Cloud has had centres that functioned in the ‘back of beyond’ managed by coordinators with minimal educational qualifications reaching out to children whose families eked out a meagre existence working in the fields or in other hard manual labour jobs. And there have been centres in schools where children came from ‘wealthy’ families but lived in residential facilities away from home, centres in urban communities supported by NGOs, centres that operated in semi-urban centres with just about adequate resources with children traveling to the school from nearby rural areas.
The advantages and disadvantages of each of these centres were different. A back of beyond centre had a SOLE Lab with children having access to the internet with far greater freedom from a coordinator who came to it open minded with no prior conceptions about the teaching-learning process. A ‘resource rich’ school with a lab for formal learning about computers faced a different kind of disadvantage. Being away from your family at a very young age no matter how beautiful the environs carried a different kind of hardship. And being located in a beautiful landscape with loads of material resources but limited internet access because of the location is yet another kind of disadvantage. Intellectual poverty amongst the family, or even amongst the school/NGO set up is yet another not so obvious disadvantage.
Vey consciously, The Granny Cloud has typically chosen to reach out to children with the more obvious lack of privileges. Places with limited socio-economic resources. There are far too many of these around. This focus remains a priority, even as we explore becoming a resource for other initiatives wanting to set up their own ‘Clouds of Grannies’. Every once in a while, The Granny Cloud reaches out to children in more ‘comfortable’ circumstances. We’ve done that again in the course of the past few months but with limited success. It is not an idea that appeals to many Grannies. For most ‘Grannies’ wanting to be part of this initiative has, in some small measure at least, to do with making a difference in the lives of children who have very little.
But now more than ever, ‘Grannies’, parents, teachers, families, organizations working with children, school managements need to give it a thought. Consider what the approach can offers any child…. Anywhere. It’s not just about the pandemic. It’s not just about the strife and war-torn countries all around us. It’s about what this approach [and ‘Grannies’ themselves] have to offer to children from privileged homes and schools. It is the view and perspective that they can share about a world that so called ‘privileged’ children are often unaware of.
And then of course, there is the emphasis on ‘search’ and explore. It is essential that children are enabled to start exploration without assumptions. It becomes so essential that children are encouraged to look at things from different perspectives, to actively search for differing, even opposing, viewpoints. And enabled to arrive at conclusions based on evidence. Encouraged to keep an open mind, a tentativeness of opinion as they gather more information and the capacity to change it in the light of new evidence. These are skills that ‘Grannies’ try to develop in the children. And by ‘Grannies’, we mean friendly, warm, encouraging adults of all ages and genders.
There’s motivation to do this because of the potential long-term impact. It is children from ‘advantaged’ situations that could make a difference in the long run. The sad reality is that it is still a child from an advantaged setting that will reach the ‘top’ … in corporations, in industry, in organizations, even in NGOs. They are the ones most likely to be making policy decisions with long-term implications. We need THEM to be aware… to understand and be empathetic, to be capable of [and of wishing to!] include people from everywhere, of hearing the voices of children and adults so long unheard.
The Granny Cloud approach remains relevant. And community workers, teachers, parent groups could modify it to achieve key goals. It is ever more needed today.