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The first day of school is an important milestone for a child. Every parent document this day – Neatly pressed uniform, unruly hair finally tamed, a backpack and a water bottle and the dreams of a new beginning. Schools provide a safe space for children to nurture their talents and aspirations. Shivani Rani, the youngest of three daughters to Sushil Kumar Kaushal (father) and Reja Kumari (mother), had just started going to the Anganwadi centre in Gaya, Bihar, when the pandemic struck. Like millions of children, she was locked inside her home, away from her friends and the right start to education abruptly halted. There was no one at home to help Shivani with her education. Her mother was not literate, and her father was out most days searching for work.

During the pandemic, Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) at home emerged as one of the best response strategies to cater to the developmental needs of young children who were unable to attend classes at school. Parents and children participated in Bal Raksha Bharat’s programme on Early Literacy and Maths (ELM) under the ‘Back to Basics’ project. This intervention was initiated in Shivani’s village as well. With the support of an Academic Support Fellow (ASF), the Anganwadi teacher formed a WhatsApp group with parents and caregivers and shared videos and audios on the group. The intention was to facilitate some basic learning at home. Mothers like Reja were oriented on how to conduct lessons on simple shapes, figures with available tools at home.

Slowly with the support from our ASF, Shivani’s mother started teaching her at home. It gave impetus to her early childhood education. “Bal Raksha Bharat and Anganwadi didi motivated me to teach my daughter. It has given me the confidence to interact with other mothers in the village and share our experiences. I feel so happy that my child is taking an interest in her studies,” said Shivani’s mother, Reja.

After nearly two years, when the Anganwadi centres reopened, Shivani’s happy feet pranced to the playschool. Along with her friends, she spends three hours at the centre, which gives them an opportunity to learn and play. She has learnt to read and write the Hindi alphabets; she can count to 15 and identify shapes and colours. She’s ready for school.

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