Running a Zero cost, High impact education Startup in J&K
A detailed guide to run a virtual education program for underprivileged children in India.
A blog by Aiesha Jan- Educator & Founder of Project Parwaaz and a resident of Jammu and Kashmir.
Project Parwaaz is an initiative to provide virtual teaching to school children in J&K and Ladakh. This blog has details about the methods, processes, and tech stack used to manage the operations of the Initiative with a very lean team. It is written with the purpose to serve as a guide for anyone looking to run a similar educational initiative for children in other parts of India. I understand the massive difference such an initiative can bring to the lives of little children and their families and I hope this guide helps such initiatives to take off.
I will start with our story, the story of Parwaaz
I started this initiative out of desperate need in March 2020. The kids in my native village Marmat had not been able to attend regular schools for almost a year due to difficult conditions in the state and the Covid-19 lockdown made educational feasibility extremely difficult.
I had been teaching the children of migrant laborers in Jammu since 2018 and with the uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, I thought about enabling similar education for other children in my native village.
I got in touch with a volunteer who was willing to teach some students on phone calls from Delhi. The idea worked, and together with my first volunteer- Shubhendra Vikram, I co-founded Project Parwaaz.
In the last 15 months, 600+ volunteers from 23 Indian states have joined this Initiative and have taught 15,000+ classes to children across Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
I never thought that it would be possible to run a virtual education Initiative on the scale that we are currently operating. Our day-to-day operations includes onboarding new volunteers and students. Providing them with formal training for virtual teaching, Managing their progress and issues. Ensuring the supply of e-Books and resources. Collecting feedback, providing certification, and a variety of other tasks.
We operate with a very lean team of 3 people(Shubhendra, Ekansh, and I), therefore we have tried to automate most of our processes so that the engine keeps running. Here are all the details about how we automate and manage everything.
Spreading the word
Stack Used: Instagram, WhatsApp
Instagram and Whatsapp are the basic channels that help us in getting a constant flow of volunteers. When we started out, Instagram was our primary channel. Whenever we post a story about the need for volunteers, there are always individuals and pages who repost it without us asking them for it. Our volunteers also communicate the need in their personal networks and which has been a very reliable channel.
In the last 1 year, we have got 1800+ volunteer applications, which is been overwhelming as it is almost 2x the required number.
Initially, I had thought that getting volunteers will be the most challenging part but fortunately that hasn’t been the case. Our volunteers range from students, IT professionals, senior executives, professors, retired professionals, house makers to doctors. People are really motivated to work on a cause and Parwaaz is an outlet for them to add value to society.
Stack Used: Google Form, Google Sheets
The volunteer application is our first point of contact with prospective volunteers. We collect several data points such as which subject they would like to teach, for what duration, and how much time they can dedicate each day along with their basic contact details. The details are collected through a Google Form and all entries are stored in a Google Sheet from where we analyze and shortlist the applications based on the need of students.
Stack Used: WhatsApp Business API, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Drive
After we get the volunteer Applications, the next process is to contact them. Contacting 100’s of volunteers used to be a very tedious task for us as we saved each number and sent a personal message. Now we use WhatsApp Business API which is a very easy way to contact volunteers in bulk without saving their number. The Google sheet automatically generates a link for each contact and the reaching-out becomes very easy.
After we have contacted and shortlisted a volunteer, the next step is to onboard them for teaching. This includes providing guidelines (Onboarding details for Volunteers), training them, and sharing all resources such as books and learning outcomes. All these individual processes are explained in detail further in the blog.
Student onboarding is the only process at Parwaaz where the use of tech is very limited. For reaching out to students we mostly rely on our personal network which includes teachers/principals from a school or a local leader such as the village Sarpanch.
We are also contacted by several schools where classes have been difficult to conduct due to the covid-19 lockdown. Once we start teaching a student, other children in their family, school, or neighbourhood usually also request to study.
Another way through which we have onboarded a bulk of students is through personal visits. In early April 2021, we visited Turtuk, a village in a remote part of Ladakh, and onboarded 60+ students in 1 day. The picture below is from our Turtuk visit with our students and coordinators from the local school who help us manage operations on the ground and onboard new students who want to study. Though very effective, Due to the lockdown restriction, we have done only one such visit and look forward to visiting more villages in the future.
Once onboarded, we maintain a database of all students with their details and subject preferences.
Connecting volunteer and students
Stack used: Google Sheets (Data sorting and analytics feature)
With 1800+ volunteer applications and their varied preferences along with the requirement of each student, it is very important for us to create the right student-teacher duo.
We carefully analyze these preferences by using the sorting features in Google Sheets and the analytics feature available in the explore section to get a visualization of the data.
Each data point such as preferred subject, the time they can dedicate to the preferred timings is important and helps us connect the right volunteer to each student. This method is still not something that we are very proud of and constantly trying to improve with the number of volunteer applications growing.
Any data geeks reading this? let us know if you can suggest an algorithm to make this process more effective!
Stack Used: WhatsApp Groups
Once the volunteer onboarding is done, the assigned volunteers are added to a Whatsapp group. Members share their experiences in the group, help each other with the techniques in explaining the topic which is difficult to explain on an audio call and update everyone after taking the class. We operate 6 Whatsapp groups for different batches of volunteers.
Volunteers teaching different subjects to the same student easily get in touch in the groups. If anyone faces an issue, other members of the group help them sort it out. All the details and announcements are shared in this group.
Stack Used: Google Keep, Whatsapp Group
Google keep is used in tracking classes, volunteers mark on the card shared with them once they are done with class. While onboarding, we assign a keep card to each volunteer where they are expected to mark once they are done with the class.
Getting an idea of the number of classes completed for a student is vital for us to understand the progress of each student.
Many volunteers drop a message “done with the class” in our Whatsapp groups as well.
Stack Used: Zoom, Google Slides
Most of our volunteers belong to non-teaching backgrounds hence it becomes important for us to provide some basic training before we ask them to start teaching. In 2020, we did not have a training curriculum and a lot of times volunteers faced issues in getting used to certain teaching methodologies.
This year (2021) we have partnered up with an educational organisation called Aawaaz Educational Services. The Aawaz team has designed a training module specially for our volunteers and usually conducts the training every 2 weeks. Along with the training they have created the learning outcomes for each chapter in the curriculum which acts as a guide for volunteers to plan their lessons. Their 6 years of experience in this field have been a great value addition to Parwaaz.
Tech Stack Used: Google Meet, Google Sheets
We have always prioritized setting up our feedback mechanisms. We take feedback at various levels. This includes calling the students and understanding the progress along with the issues and the challenges they are facing. Taking to parents and understanding their perspective. Calling the volunteers to understand their issues and make suggestions for improvement, volunteers also usually share their feedback/issues in our groups which is the fastest loop.
We also take detailed feedback from the volunteers who have completed their tenure. This includes understating their experience and suggestions for improvement.
Stack used: Google form
We track all the metrics possible, our most important metric is the number of classes conducted. The stats shown below are from Project Parwaaz 1.0 (2020). We were able to conduct 15,000+ classes across Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
We also asked our volunteers to rate their experience on various parameters to get a comprehensive idea of how things are performing.
Our volunteers form a very strong bond with their students over time and they keep updating every one of their experiences.
We share some of the experiences on our Instagram page. The below image shows a couple of messages, you can read the rest here.
Stack used: Google Form
We share a testimonial form with our volunteers at the end of their tenure. Over time we have created a collection of heartfelt messages that our volunteers share. I have shared some of the testimonials below.
Stack Used: Canva, Google Form
Project Parwaaz Foundation is a registered NGO and our certification helps college students and professionals in enhancing their resumes. After 2 months of teaching our volunteers can request a certificate through a Google Form.
We create the certificates in Canva, which is a very handy design tool in absence of a professional designer.
Project Parwaaz is also registered on LinkedIn, and a lot of volunteers add this experience to their profile.
Stack Used: Zapier
We used to do a lot of repetitive tasks, such as drafting and sending emails to each volunteer for onboarding, certification, etc.
This year we have automated all of the repetitive processes using a tool called Zapier as shown below.
Student Volunteer Relationship
This is the most special part of everything that we do at Parwaaz and I believe no words can do justice in explaining the bond a student and a volunteer creates over time. Even though none of our volunteers and students have ever met, they become a family.
Whenever a volunteer ends their tenure, it is a very emotional experience for both the student and the volunteer and at times I have to console both of them.
This video is a small surprise we created for our volunteers on Teacher’s Day where students recorded a message for their teachers.
Similarly, the volunteers also recorded a personal message for their students as shown in the image below. One of our students- Nazima from Turtuk created a vlog for her teacher Vaishnavi who lives in Hyderabad and told Nazima that she has never seen a farm. This video went viral on social media- watch it here
Apart from the teaching by the volunteers, sometimes we organize fun activities. We played a game called Skribble with our Ladakh team and the winner got a Project Parwaaz hoodie with her name printed on it.
We also organized a painting contest for our students from Turtuk Valley School in Ladakh. The students were asked to paint their village. You can see all the paintings the students created. It was super fun.
Some of our stories are occasionally covered by the Internet media who shown interest in the work of our volunteers. The Better India and Pluc TV covered a couple of stories. You can find the stories here and here
I hope that the above details give a comprehensive idea of all the processes and methods used to run a virtual education initiative. If you are looking to run a similar initiative, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit my website: www.aiesha.in
If you want to Volunteer for Project Parwaaz: Fill this form