Before the pandemic, The Apprentice Project used to run in-person learning programs. Their students used to learn in a physical classroom within the school space, within the bounds of a timetable, in the presence of a person. As COVID-19 hit, the program changed drastically.
In-person mentoring and delivery of lesson plans were not possible. Their interactions with the kids, interface for motivations and encouragement support became a lot more limited. To put it simply, it completely changes the way the program was delivered. The students had to adopt online modes of self-learning. This has been a big challenge for them because they’ve had to overhaul their entire curriculum and content format which was earlier delivered by a person to digital, and a lot less mentor facilitated.
They’ve explored multiple digital platforms to deliver their programs such as Google Classroom and Edmodo, but found WhatsApp to be the best option. Their programs on WhatsApp are still running now, quite successfully. Read further to learn about their journey in detail-
Abhishek: Can you tell us a bit about your programs?
Shweta: We have different courses ranging from coding, dance art, and we’re launching a few new courses. We have around 1200 students active as of now. Out of which around 800 or so are active on Glific. Majority of the students are from Pune, belonging to government schools, or from public private partnership, such as Teach for India, Akanksha schools etc… Some students are from Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Delhi but they are few. We are slowly partnering with schools from other cities also. All the schools are English medium 4th -10th.
These kids are divided into different courses and we send them activities every Saturday. The activity is sent through a template message. Students can access it by clicking on the start activity button. Activity contains a video link and after viewing it, students can submit it in the form of an image or video. We have a data studio report setup where the mentors who work with the students can access the submissions.
A: Why did you choose whatsapp as the medium?
Prashant: We started running our programs online, due to the pandemic crisis. The objective was to deliver brief content to students and for them to submit their work back. That was the priority for us. The students we were working with had limitations to accessing digital devices and to the internet, both in terms of speed and data bandwidth. In most cases, they only had a smartphone as an option to access any online content and it was a shared device in the household. So they had access to it for a limited amount of time.
We wanted to create a system such that content was available to them at any time – not restricted to any particular time. Once the kid accesses the content, they can view it multiple times. They can learn from it at their pace.
We started out by trying different LMS. We started with Edmodo and tried Google Classroom as well. The struggle was to get a student accustomed to the new platform. Majority of the students hadn’t used it, so getting them to login to a new platform and use it consistently was difficult. We tried getting students to submit work through Google forms, but that wasn’t effective either. So by the end of last year, which is also when Glific was being launched to the public, is when we got WhatsApp as an option. And that stuck with us.
A: What was the shift to WhatsApp like?
P: It helped us reach a higher percentage of students. Students got used to the system a lot faster. We’re still working on a higher percentage of students submitting assignments and it’s getting better. There’s been a significant change from where we were.
A: Have you always delivered the content directly to students, or are there teachers and parents involved?
P: We have been working on this through volunteers. No schools teachers or parents are involved. We partner with schools to reach students directly. If schools are interested in running the program, it is offered as a package from the school itself. Before the pandemic, volunteers used to go to the schools and teach. And after the pandemic we moved to the online model.
A: How do you ensure engagement?
S: This has been a huge focus for us. We have added gamification to the entire activity flow which includes students getting instant rewards in the form of images right now. They get Gold and Silver badges for doing activities and answering questions correctly. These badges are tracked at the backend in the DataStudio and we create a leaderboard to showcase the achievements to students along with how their peers are performing.
We’ve also added puzzles and questions in between the educational resources. We’ve also created a theme for the content and activities called Ghumo India. On Saturday students get new activities based on this theme. Students travel(through pictures) to a new city/state with each question. We’re trying to create a journey for learning scenarios.
P: We’ve also been personifying the chatbot with a display picture, creating curiosity around it. The messages are written in a much more personal way as if a person/teacher is talking to them instead of a bot. The text and tone of the messages includes emojis, images etc… to evoke fun and excitement. And we’ve been using the updates to whatsapp including interactive messages to make the interaction easy.
S: So to sum it up these are the different ways:
- Instant gratification
- Themes like Ghumo India theme
- Personification and personalisation of the chatbot
- Use of interactive messages such as buttons instead of typing text
A: What is the kind of impact you’re seeing with the program?
P: We’re building social-emotional skills in children, and enabling choice-based learning, so they pick the topics they enjoy. We’re focused on skills such as creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.
We’re seeing 60-70% children accessing the content. 30-40% are submitting their work. Out of which we have seen 60-80% percent growth in the skills that we’re working towards.
It is measured based on the submissions. We’re using a skills builder framework that helps us objectively define the different levels within a particular skill. Then based on the submission quality and various parameters, we evaluate the stage of the submission.
This is mostly done by volunteers in monitoring and evaluation along with the team that creates the curriculum.
A: Did you face any challenges to get the program going?
P: There are different challenges at different points of running the program as a non-profit org, from raising funds to ensuring engagement on a constant basis. In the online model, it is more difficult to reach the kids, as opposed to school based programs where the kids are in front of us. For impact, we can look at the student submission, but making sure students are submitting and assessing their learning are difficult parts of the program. That aside, we also want to ensure child protection on online mediums and keep the programs child-friendly.
A: What would you recommend to other NGOs starting their programs?
P: Gradually, over time, we have refined and improved our understanding of what works well for the users. We’ve put considerable effort and focus on that. NGOs should look out for what is relevant to the user. This can be done by running tests. I would also recommend focusing on the process before using technology. See how it fits into your programs.
A: Anything specific you want to highlight how Glific helped?
S: Getting those interactive buttons was a great help for us. Use of Discord to get timely response from the team has also been helpful.
P: To put a larger perspective, it’s the partnership for us beyond just using the platform. It’s not seen as a service provider model. A lot of things have been figured out as we explored the use cases. Things keep evolving and getting better as the project shaped, which makes it a great journey.
If you’re interested to see how their program works on whatsapp, you may check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJ869kXj8o0