In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNODC launched the ‘Lockdown Learners’ series of interactive online dialogues with students and educators in India. Samarth Pathak spearheaded this series through which a positive framework of action and engagement has been provided to young people and educators on strengthening peace, crime prevention and SDGs. This has been a unique and innovative experiment aimed at promoting awareness and enabling youth action on the Global Goals—while complementing key components of India’s New Education Policy 2020.
What is the Lockdown Learners Series?
Developed under the Education for Justice Initiative (E4J, (a component of the Global Programme for the Implementation of the Doha Declaration), the Lockdown Learners series is aimed at sensitizing students on the concerns of vulnerable groups and issues such as cybercrime, misinformation, gender-based violence, discrimination, and corruption, among others. Designed as a sustained programme with immersive, activity-based engagement with young people, the series includes continuous capacity building of educators and students on these critical issues. At the same time, it also provides students mentorship and knowledge support to use their skills to promote awareness and co-create initiatives/solutions to address these challenges.
Focus on Students from Low-Income Groups
Besides top schools and institutions from metropolitan cities, the series has proactively focused on reaching economically disadvantaged students and educators with limited internet access, using innovative and low-cost-high-impact initiatives.
In addition to using a variety of virtual platforms and hybrid modes, Whatsapp and voice notes have been also used to engage students from low-income groups and rural areas. The response to this has been tremendous, especially from girls. On Whatsapp, the Lockdown Learners sessions have almost worked as group interaction, with open discussions. This has proven to be impactful and cost-effective, as students with limited data packs have also been able to join the engagements with no additional expenditure.
Inclusive Engagement Around SDGs
There has also been a conscious effort to be as inclusive and informal as possible to maximise engagement. This has been done by simplifying and demystifying the language around SDGs and other thematic areas of focus and providing a local and even hyperlocal context during discussions.
Using UNODC's special handbooks for educators, modes such as storytelling, activities, thought-provoking open dialogues and Socratic discussions have been adopted to enhance students’ interest and inspire them towards responsible and ethical behaviours.
Safe and open spaces for students have been provided in each session, enabling them to share their thoughts and ideas without hesitancy. Educators have been involved as focal points for each student group to ensure long-term engagement and provided training to effectively teach and lead school-focused interventions on the aforementioned thematic areas. Free-of-cost educational material has been shared and digital information repositories have been created for student groups. Vibrant networks of action have been developed with youth and educators to facilitate the exchange of knowledge, ideas and initiatives. School-led, youth-driven solutions have been co-created and effectively showcased on various platforms.
This is also evident in the wide range of creative and innovative products that students have created and shared with UNODC: these include songs, interactive videos, games, blogs, websites etc. Some are even designing social initiatives and network-building focused on the SDGs.
Student-Driven Online Community Collectives
During the pandemic, UNODC has also supported student-driven online community collectives—mainly on Whatsapp—to provide knowledge support and assistance to communities. Through these, members verify and share leads on emergency information, and raise awareness on vaccines, masks and other safety precautions among other things.
Achievement and Impact
So far, the Lockdown Learners initiative has reached over 14,000 young students and educators from public and private schools in rural and urban settings across 16 states/Union Territories across India—including the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas, Government of India. Education resources developed by UNODC have been shared with over 19,000 students and educators across India, besides the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas. The United Nations has also recognized the contributions made by Lockdown Learners and has featured it in UN Innovation Network’s “Best of 2020".
Samarth Pathak is a finalist for Outstanding Educational Leader Because… during the pandemic, where needs and concerns of the youth and educators were largely ignored, Samarth and UNODC provided them with a positive framework and platform to not only share their challenges but also invited continued engagement and youth action on strengthening peace, crime prevention and SDGs.