A young woman brightens up the sky for forgotten children!

Written by Manisha Kabi and John Marshall

It is early morning in Kendusahi, a small village in Rajkanika, India. The sky is brightening but the sun is not yet up above the barren paddy fields, still the day is beginning. A local temple blasts devotional music over a loudspeaker, dedicating the morning to God. And young Amita begins pedalling her bicycle through the pre-sunrise light, a dedication of her own to the children she is about to meet. Amita is a 22 year old facilitator for a rural Shikhya Learning Centre, working to bring innovative educational tools to the forgotten children of rural India. It’s only a 5km ride to the centre from her home.

Amita Samal

When Amita arrives, children are waiting. There are 12 of them, mostly girls. They have come to get a little studying in before school begins and Amita quickly hands out computer tablets. It’s part of the Shikhya e-learning platform that is revolutionizing the way children study in rural India. 
 A simple wireless hub is activated, connecting the students to a vast collection of videos and exercises, even without internet and electricity. 
 Shikhya works for a variety of reasons. For one, it is tablet based which most of all children in the area have never used before. As a result, it’s fun for them, it’s engaging and it brings them back for more. In addition, all content is provided in the local language, with all subjects and exercises. Finally, all progress is tracked and examined, indicating where students are succeeding and where they are struggling.
 Amita has seen big changes already.

Under Amita’s guidance, two students have successfully cleared the prestigious JNV Selection Test for 2017. Swagati and Simron (both girls from Kendrapada district) come from less privileged families and have worked hard to excel. Their effort will now guarantee them free education provided by the government through class 12, a huge relief to their struggling families.

Amita and Swagti

They may just be two for now, but other children are getting inspired by this early success, slowly believing in a better future, no longer satisfied with low quality education, ready to rise early and get to work.

On returning and resuming her work she also started motivating the kids in the neighbourhood and nearby areas and encouraging them to join the e-learning programme. Now she earns a regular income and is content because this is what she always wanted to do.

Amita at her workplace

All of it is a dream come true for Amita who never imagined she would be earning a living in this way in her own rural area.
 When Amita graduated from S.N College back in 2015, she moved away to Hyderabad like many of her friends. There were no prospective job opportunities in her village, though a part of her never left her roots. So she did her best to adjust to the big city.
 None of it agreed with her; the tall buildings, the fast pace, the new food, language and work culture. Over a few months she grew nostalgic for village life, wishing there were a way to inspire the young girls growing up there, encouraging them to dream bigger.

Thanks to Shikhya which brought Amita back home, she is now able to earn a regular income and to grow her learning centre as a business. As she helps more and more children, she is reaching out to her community, inviting others to join her. It will take time, as all learning does, but Shikhya, Amita and the children they are helping are all committed to the process.

The content is there. The platform works. But there is a lot more work to be done.

The morning session lasts for two hours and soon, the children are saying good bye, heading off to school. In no time, the learning centre is empty and Amita is back on her bicycle, riding towards her home to help her family around the house.

As she pedals home, just one young woman moving steadily past the empty rice fields, she is a powerful symbol. An entrepreneur in an area where men traditionally hold this role; a female role model for young girls to look up to; a young woman moving forward in a traditionally stagnant place.

By now the sun is beginning its slow arc across the day and the sky is bright. Like her students. Like the future. To Amita’s eyes, the whole region is getting brighter every day.

To the brighter Future..

She pedals faster for fun and reaches home in no time. But she’ll be back. The afternoon session starts at 5 o’clock.