Nena Aruna — overcame the pandemic challenge and stepped into the digital world
Basic education and literacy are one of the major things that drive the community towards a wealthier and better future. The project ‘Nena Aruna’ is one of the signature projects launched by Rotaract Mora which was initiated targeting basic education and literacy back in the Rotaract year 2018/19 and this year it unfolded its third consecutive chapter.
At the beginning of the Rotaract year 2020/21, with the appointment of its new chair persons, the project planning started. Usually, in previous chapters we conducted physical seminars for O/L students at several schools around Sri Lanka. But with the COVID-19 pandemic situation, we identified that we needed to strategize the project this year to go with the current situation. So we planned to add some new aspects to the project.
However, in August we got a chance to conduct physical seminars as usual. So we started to conduct physical seminars at SOS village, Piliyandala with the united efforts of a bunch of volunteers from our club. But unfortunately, we had to stop after three sessions due to the country being hit by the second wave of the prevailing pandemic. But we wanted to continue the project and help the O/L students to educate themselves and pass the O/L boundary successfully. So we decided to conduct virtual seminars for them and continue the project with the distance learning concept.
Initially, we planned to conduct virtual seminars via the Zoom platform for the students in SOS village and test the feasibility and the impact of this new approach. For that, we wanted to gather volunteers who would prefer educating them via the Zoom platform. For that, we created a WhatsApp group and shared the group link with a flyer so that anyone who was interested in being a part of this cause could join the group. However, that flyer went viral and a lot of people, not only the volunteers who liked to teach but also the students who wanted to learn joined our group. Then we decided to conduct virtual seminars as open sessions giving anyone and everyone who likes to utilize this to gain knowledge a chance to participate in as students. With the success of the first virtual seminar, we did a small PR campaign to publicize our virtual seminar series and made a separate group for the students to provide them our session schedules, session materials, and the zoom links. Our efforts soon bore fruit as the participant count increased day by day and it even started exceeding the 100 capacity of our Zoom account too. Thus, taking a step forward, we decided to go live on our Nena Aruna YouTube channel as well so that rest of the students could join us via the YouTube Live. Later, we catered the help from the District Rotaract Zoom account, which had 300 participant capacity. O/L Mathematics, Science, English, ICT, and Commerce are the main subjects we focused on in our virtual seminars. Apart from the volunteers from our university, other universities and Rotaract clubs also joined with us to conduct virtual seminars. We continued conducting virtual seminars until the commencement of O/L exams in March. In that way, a total of three physical and fifty virtual seminars were conducted, as per the stats shown at the completion of the project
Digitalizing the project, this year we were able to launch a website for Nena Aruna (https://nenaaruna.rotaractmora.org/), where the students could get updates on our upcoming seminars and the list of recorded lessons, thus ensuring that the students who are not in our WhatsApp group or does not follow our Facebook page also get posted about the knowledge sharing sessions.
Nena Aruna YouTube channel is one of the novel initiatives we could add to the project this year. We created a YouTube channel for Nena Aruna and started sharing recorded lessons via that. The volunteers from our university helped us in creating recorded lessons. Here, we mainly focused on O/L Mathematics and Science recorded lessons. In addition to that, we added a science practical video playlist to it as well. The channel got more attraction from the students than we expected. Most of the lessons were watched by more than 200 students. Currently, we have 500+ subscribers for the channel, and 25+ recorded lessons and 50+ seminar recordings are also uploaded to the channel as of yet.
Subsequently, we also wanted to create a platform where the students could post their academic-related questions and the ones who knew the answers could answer them. Basically, what we wanted from this was to facilitate in building a knowledge-sharing platform, where those questions could be posted and answered in their mother language as currently there aren’t any platforms where students can ask questions in Sinhala. That is how the newest initiative of Nena Aruna; LearnYou was breathed to life. We launched the LearnYou — Online learning platform at the end of January and it is now open for O/L, A/L, and university students as well.
Moreover, we conducted two special sessions for the students: ‘O/L Samath’; the first session which is to motivate students to face the O/L examination without any fear, and ‘Abilas Tharana’; the second session which was conducted to help students in selecting subjects for ALs and introduce the LearnYou platform to them.
Though it was not really an easy task for us to do all the aforementioned with the current situation of the country, the drive that the passionate and dedicated members of our club had towards the movement, raised the bar higher introducing new heights to the project and that way we were able to successfully conclude the series, educating another set of students in the country, despite all the distance barriers came in our way.
Finally, I would say challenges make new opportunities and those are not to stop us but good times to rethink and rebuild.