Women and Child Development Ministry of the Maharashtra government had asked 1.08 lakh AAWs across the state to make use of the WhatsApp groups so that the kids’ learning continues unhindered amid the pandemic.Varsha Torgalkar 15 Jul 2020

Renuka Shivange, Anganwadi Worker and Kamal, Anganwadi helper, apart from reaching kids via WA groups also do survey, counseling of pregnant and lactating mothers.

Pune: Anganwadi workers in Maharashtra have continued to impart education via WhatsApp groups of parents despite their heavy workload and moderate honorarium during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Renuka Shivange, an Anganwadi worker (AWW), shared a video this morning depicting a breathing exercise for kids on the WhatsApp group of parents of all the kids who come to her Anganwadi (AW) centre. Parents are expected to watch the videos on the group and guide their kids to do the same. Many parents record the kids as they perform the activity and send the videos back to Renuka—even if it’s not required. Renuka has been sending videos of various activities since the first week of May. 

Pratyusha, a two-year-old, holding the hand of her mother Renuka Mallesh, has come to visit her Anganwadi Taai, Renuka. All of them are residents of the Shivajinagar Railway Station slum. 

Maharashtra Anganwadi workers using whatsapp during COVID-19 to reach to beneficiaries
Renuka Mallesh enjoys teaching activities she learns from videos to her two daughters Pratusha and Bhavika. 

Mallesh, a homemaker, says: “I made Pratyusha climb up the ladder after Renuka Taai sent the video. I have begun to enjoy teaching small activities to both my daughters. Without the exercises, it would have been harder to keep the babies busy.” Renuka’s elder daughter, Bhavika, who is five years old, goes to the same AW after her kindergarten. 

Vijay Taware, head of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Pune City, told NewsClick, “Pune city, or the urban area of Pune has 131 Anganwadis with 4,497 kids of age six months to three years and 5,927 kids of age three to six years registered with them. AWW have made a WhatsApp group of parents from 126 AWWs. So, we have covered them all.”

In order to ensure holistic development that includes physical and motor skills, language skills, cognitive, communication skills, socio-emotional development and creativity, the Women and Child Welfare Ministry, India, had implemented a new syllabus from 2014-15 across India. It stresses informal education involving a lot of playing for the kids of age 3-6 years. 

This was part of the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) syllabus developed by the United Nations of International Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

Women and Child Development Ministry of the Maharashtra government had asked 1.08 lakh AAWs across the state to make use of the WhatsApp groups so that the kids’ learning continues unhindered amid the pandemic. Accordingly, the ICDS Department has provided tasks which the AWWs can make videos of to circulate. These tasks can include activities like counting vegetables, identifying colours, folding clothes, etc. 

Sandhya Nagarkar, deputy commissioner, ICDS, Maharashtra, said, “AWWs have been asked to inform the parents who don’t have smartphones that videos can be shared with them via their neighbouring kids’ parents.”As per Taware, most of the parents in urban areas use smartphones. However, out of 30 kids in Renuka’s centre, 20 have access to smartphones. 

Mallesh says, “The phone is always with my husband who is a driver. But he makes sure that he will show the videos to me as soon as he is home.” 

Even as ICDS has not assigned the task of creating awareness about Covid-19 or tracing patients, a few district collectors have asked the AWWs to do so.

Renuka and another AWW, Kamal, have recently attended a workshop on how to trace patients organised by Pune Municipal Corporation and they are set to embark upon the activity. 

Rajani Pisal, another AWW, who is also a member of Anganwadi Karmachari Sanghatana associated with Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said, “AWWs who are not covered under any health insurance are given work related to Covid-19 as well as other activities like checking on pregnant women, counselling women and teenage girls about healthy nutrition, and so on. They have to work more than 9-10 hours a day, but they don’t get an honorarium as per Minimum Wages Act.”

“Most of the parents in the rural areas don’t have smartphones. AWWs have to visit them or ask the parents to come to a common spot to explain what activities need to be done,” she added.

Kamal, another AWW, said, “Three women from my slum have given birth to babies during the pandemic. They were reluctant to go to the hospitals for vaccination due to the fear of Covid-19. I had to visit them several times to ask them to take their babies to the hospitals.”

Shubha Shamim, general secretary of Anganwadi Karmachari Sanghatana, says, “Every now and then, AWWs receive their honorarium late. Recently AWWs in Vidarbha had to strike for the delayed honorarium. To keep the mobiles charged if the electricity supply is disrupted is a challenge for AWWs, especially in rural areas. But they continue to work for the kids.”