Access to education has become a major hindrance during the pandemic in India, more so for children with disabilities who have had to face challenges due to inaccessible digital and learning infrastructure. At the beginning of the lockdown, the biggest fear that Pratham encountered was that the 1,000 children with disabilities who had already registered for NIOS, Pratham Open Basic Education would lose a year since their final examination scheduled for the end of March was left undone, due to the onset of COVID-19. This implied that Pratham had to step up and adapt to the challenges at hand, and mitigate the same so as to ensure that learning does not stop for the children with disabilities during these trying times.
In order to overcome the challenge, exploring Digital tools and solutions became crucial since they have always played a crucial role in ensuring access to learning for children with disabilities. This led to the idea of using an application which existed in Pratham’s digital repositories, and use it for the purpose of remote assessments for the children. The Pratham Anytime Testing Machine application can be easily used to conduct assessments from anywhere and, literally, at anytime, considering that minimum digital infrastructure is required to proceed with the assessment.While the application was primarily meant to facilitate remote assessments, it had never been used for children with disabilities priorly.
Earlier learners had to rely on writers, interpreters, and readers, which is, more often than not, expensive, and impacts the self-esteem of the learners as well. The introduction of the ATM application has paved a way for learners with disabilities to access assessments remotely in a disabled-friendly format from anywhere. It eliminates the trouble of the parents to find a certified interpreter or writer for their children to sit for examinations. This saves time and cost for the parents, considering now they themselves can help their children to take examinations from their homes.
The idea was simple: students should be able to take the assessment - anytime, anywhere.
So, how did this concept take shape?
Pratham started with brainstorming possibilities in April 2020 when uncertainties peaked during the lockdown period, followed by interface and content trials. By end of May,two rounds of pilots with schools were conducted, which included accessibility features suiting the needs of all children with disabilities. The mock and practice papers were uploaded beforehand. In June, 1000 learners were trained by Pratham on how to use the application properly.Finally, in July, their Final Board Examination was conducted on the Anytime Testing Machine.
The tool can be easily used to conduct remote assessments, which is especially useful for children with disabilities who, then, do not have to travel to examination centres to give their examinations. The app offers a variety of unique features which can be explored to create papers for different subjects. Sample papers are also available for learners to get familiarized with the process of digital assessment. The digital interface is simple, and allows learners the option to upload image, audio and video files, thereby facilitating children with disabilities to give the examinations without any hassle.
To help the children with disabilities take assessments remotely,some of the forms and features of the application were relooked at, andwere upgraded with accessible features. The options of image, audio, and video in the question type allowed the user to set papers suiting the needs and requirements of the children For instance, audio options were designed at the backend, so that it could be used to set an examination paper for children who experience visual impairments. Similarly, the tool allowed submissions in the form of images, audio, and video which enabled children to access the form that is most preferred and/or suitable for them.
Furthermore, the assessment is timed, and the sample papers can be set out in advance and given out to children for practice. This methodology can be useful for students with disabilities to familiarize themselves with the exam pattern and questions from beforehand. According to the need or examination pattern, one can choose from a variety of question types and difficulty levels. The feedback which Pratham has received from the schools is that this one particular application has worked well for all students with disabilities.
Finally, remote assessments, specifically for children with disabilities were made possible, catering to all their needs and bridging access to learning and assessment.
The idea is to create a model that is an amalgamation of in-school and home-schooling, that is inclusive - not just for regular education students, but also benefits children with disabilities. Most importantly, this will allow students to have more control over the pace, path, and place where they learn. Coupled with the right data, this model is poised to help prevent learners with disabilities from dropping out at higher rates due to infrastructural challenges.
It is well understandable by now, that traditional as well as online modes of learning would be beneficial for children with disabilities. Under these circumstances, a collaborative approach that focuses on parents and children together will prove to be an effective learning process. Hence, including digital solutions is a positive step in the direction of making education more inclusive. And, while the digital remote assessments were an emergency-induced intervention, we are positive that it would be suitable for children with disabilities long after the pandemic has ended. The hassles of infrastructural hindrances for children with disabilities are not limited to the pandemic after all.