Christina de Jong
"All serious daring starts from within." – Eudora Welty
When I founded and incorporated Basis Education Foundation in Canada five years ago I developed this stated purpose for the Corporation’s Schedule:
...to develop, support, promote, and deliver social, psychological, medical, and educational services, and related programs and initiatives, that assist underprivileged children, youth, and families living in India.
From this broad purpose we distilled a dream: to establish a Children’s Village in India for children and youth rescued from trafficking and child labour. The dream was fleshed out and detailed in a business plan and, together with a brand new Canadian board and my co-founder in Germany, we began to put the wheels in motion.
Yet somehow this dream did not quite resonate with what we observed continually in the daily rhythm of rural Bangalore, where we situated ourselves, or in the urban slums of India. While we knew that child labour and trafficking were and are real and urgent concerns, looking around us we saw teens out-of-school, stopped in their tracks because of circumstances over which they had no control. We visited under-resourced schools, including the one closest to our project site, where a heap of computers donated by a politician gathered dust in a corner and, anyway, there was no power during the day to turn them on, let alone a teacher to teach computer skills. Meanwhile enthusiastic and curious children, especially girls, stopped outside our gate to say hello on their way to and from this same school, and we discovered and delighted in their passion for learning.
What if we can help prevent trafficking? What if we can help protect children from child labour? What if we can help develop the skills needed to flourish (and be safe) in a world that has increasingly become digital? And in a world where power is held by those who hold the digital reins, how can we help upskill and reskill so no one is left behind?
Our overarching goal that never, ever changed, right from the moment we dreamed of doing something, was that we wanted to help create foundations for life for children and youth.
We decided to put the brakes on the ambitious Children’s Village plan and begin with just one thing: digital literacy, with the understanding that we would build in more skills-based, arts-based, and comprehensive learning opportunities, with an emphasis on creating space and opportunity for creative thinking.
Since then, with the blessing of the local panchayat office and in collaboration with Global Concerns India (GCI) in Bangalore, we’ve run three pilots using only six laptops, a printer, and some other pieces of hardware for demonstration purposes. We’ve built in arts-based curriculum and recreational activities. We’ve worked with over a hundred children, including fifty who live in slums in Bangalore. We challenged the children to be in control of their evolving digital environment and activities, and not to BE controlled… by websites, games, social media, and smartphones. We asked them to discern what is a distraction from building relationships, their own lives, and their futures. Their own decisions today, tomorrow, next month, and next year will affect whether or not they - and their families and communities - will benefit from education and skills development!
We have learned so much through these pilots, and we have so much more to learn on macro and micro levels. What are the systemic barriers that keep half of India’s children out of school? Why do only a little over one third of these reach Grade 8? How can we help address the issue that 53% of India’s girls are illiterate? What online learning pathways can we create to build the conceptual and cognitive skills needed to step into a whole new world of possibilities?
Our next step in India is to set up a “Basis Learning Centre” in the Children’s Creativity Centre that is being built by GCI in the L.R. Nagar slum in Bangalore. This Hub will be comprised of five computer workstations with Basis-approved online curriculum installed. With the help of GCI, we will identify our first participants, establish a way to connect with them virtually, and monitor progress remotely. We will train local learning facilitators to support them, and in due course we will create workshops for more intensive training in specific programs, some of which could result in industry-recognized certifications.
As we learn more about our participants - their dreams, their interests, and their abilities - we will be able to design pathways that keep them at the centre of their learning and help them chart their own course.
With the support of mentors, these teens - if they are engaged in a deep way and are taking initiative - can become young adults who are able to seize opportunities that were not previously accessible. They might pursue university for further education, a trade, or a job. The ongoing support that Basis can provide as these relationships are developed will be very meaningful, especially in circumstances that are potentially quite stressful, even traumatic at times.
One of the biggest and best outcomes could be that all learners - girls as well as boys - come to the realization that they are lifelong learners, and we at Basis will have equipped every participant with the problem-solving skills and the optimism they need to take on challenges and pursue their dreams.
If you are interested in partnering with us, please do reach out!
You can also support Basis with a one-time or monthly gift.