Practices on learning
This topic provides best practices related to learning.
Children enjoy learning
Students at a primary school in Madhya Pradesh were introduced to the concept of Activity Based Learning (ABL), an initiative of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan supported by UNICEF.
Shivraj Singh (10) and his seven-year -old brother Akal Singh live with their farmer parents in Sileptibarwal village, 16 kilometres from the nearest town, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. They study in the same village primary school – Shivraj in class five and Akal in class two. But while Shivraj carries a heavy bag of books on his back, Akal walks into his classroom every morning carrying nothing. Not even a book of alphabets. “When I was in class II, we had to take books to school and study from them. We had text books for Hindi, English and Mathematics plus the exercise books for writing and practice lessons on every subject.” recalls Shivraj.
“But Akal has no books. And yet, knows all his lessons. He can read, write and do sums which I could only learn in class four. He doesn’t have to learn-by-heart and then remember the lessons. School is fun and games for him.”
“My brother just sits with a group of classmates and studies from pictures printed on colourful cards,” he quips.
Like every student in his classroom, Akal every day enters the classroom and heads straight for the students attendance record chart pasted on the wall. His fingers run down the list till he finds his name and then without any help locates the dates marking his own attendance. Thereafter he heads for another chart where he works out progress in English lessons.
Akal is one of the thousands of children in Madhya Pradesh who has been introduced to the concept of Activity Based Learning (ABL), an initiative of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan supported by UNICEF.
The initiative launched in 4000 primary schools for classes one and two across 50 districts in the state allows children to study according to their own pace in a child-friendly teaching and learning environment.
The curriculum is divided into about 20 milestones in each of the subject areas – Languages, Environmental Studies, Mathematics and English. Each milestone represents a collection of activities which develops learning competencies that a child should acquire.
This includes identifying the pictures of birds and animals, learning the alphabets, reading Hindi and English texts, counting the numbers as well as drawing and solving mathematical problems.
On a common chart, the milestones are arranged in the form of a ladder and the child knows exactly which milestone he completed in the last lesson. This is a child-friendly way to evaluate and reinforce learning.
“In the conventional method, teaching was always teacher centric. Learning depended solely on the pace of the teacher. If the student remained absent for two days, s/he missed lessons which were never taught again,” explains P S Umasree Education and Child Protection Specialist, UNICEF-Madhya Pradesh.
“In the ABL system, the child learns at his own pace. If a student has missed two days, s/he can come back and start from where they had left. Peers can work on a different milestone according to their abilities. The teacher is only a facilitator,” adds Umasree.
From the milestone chart, Akal works out that he has crossed the 11th milestone. He heads for the trays that contain the cards for learning and selects learning material for the next milestone which contains simple words of the English language.
He sits in the corner of the classroom and is soon joined by peers who are at the same milestone. They put their heads together and read word by word. Where they find the lesson to be difficult, the teacher steps in to help.
This method helps children learn from each other and break down social barriers which may exist in the classrooms when the children are placed in rows with little peer interaction.
“These young children are learning the practical way. They sit with peers and figure out that 4+5 = 9. They read words taking one alphabet at a time,” explains Kailash Taylor, teacher at the ABL primary school in Morcha Khedi in the adjoining village.
“Previously, we told them what the word was and they learnt it by-heart and recalled the same when asked. Most of the time, the student taught in the conventional method forgot his previous lesson. These children don’t because they work on each lesson and solve them practically. The results are extremely encouraging,” adds Taylor.
These kinds of innovations are key in helping India reach its commitments under the landmark Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 to ‘ensure good quality elementary education’ for all children.
Effective Contribution of Para-Teachers towards Elementary Education
Summary of Responses
Responding to a query exploring the issues related to para-teachers, including their performance, community perceptions, recruitment policies, and quality of life, respondents discussed these issues and offered various suggestions on how to improve the situation.
Role of Para-Teachers in Student Achievement
Overall, members felt para-teachers do make a positive difference in the academic achievement of children, encouraging enrolment, attendance, and retention of students. They are particularly effective when there are teacher absences, shortages or cases where there is a very high pupil teacher ratio. Para teachers can help students deficient in basic learning skills to bring them up to par and work with girl students (when the para-teachers are women) using methodologies like activity-based learning, which are intense and require additional support. For example, projects in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat used para-teachers to increase the enrolment, retention, and achievement of girl students.
Discussants cited various studies documenting that using para-teachers has led to mixed results. The cases ranged from para-teacher students performing satisfactorily to sustained low performance levels of para-teachers (despite in-service inputs). Other studies suggested there is no difference in achievement levels between teachers and para-teachers, while another pointed to marginal gains achieved by students in grades 1-3 followed by a drastic drop in performance. Respondents also noted they were aware of studies on para-teachers in the context of the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), but not in the context of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) SSA. Along with sharing studies, members also highlighted the efforts of organizations working in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh with para-teachers to improve the quality of education and an all India initiative that employed tutors to help students improve their skill levels.
However, at the same time, respondents argued that long-term student achievement under para -teachers tends to be only satisfactory or poor, because para-teachers are poorly paid and trained. Moreover, since the position of “para-teacher” is contractual there is no professional or career development path. In addition, while communities generally appreciate them, they often consider para teachers “ad-hoc/not real teachers,” and thus do not respect them. Given these issues, discussants felt para-teachers are best suited to support regular teachers, and not serve as a substitute for a well-trained cadre of teachers.
Community Perception of Para-Teachers
Discussing why communities tend to appreciate the role of para-teachers, members highlighted the sincerity, timeliness, enthusiasm, engagement level, as well as the fact they are a part of the community as key reasons. Further, communities are often aware that para-teachers have no option but to perform in view of their job situation.
Recruitment Policies for Para-Teachers
Respondents noted that both the formal and non-formal schools recruit Para-teachers. Para-teachers recruited through the formal system earn a much lower salary than regular teachers do and there are rules that govern their appointment (with respect to age, level of education, location, etc.), pay, tenure of contract, and monitoring of performance. However, in practice para-teachers are largely recruited by the Panchayat Sarpanch. Members also shared examples of variations on the para-teacher concept, where schools hired teachers as ‘guest teachers’ on a per lecture basis.
Life of a Para-Teacher
Discussants pointed out that most Para-teachers take this position because there are no other locally available jobs. They also noted that Para-teachers are not unionized and do not have representative bodies to voice their concerns.
Studies on the experiences of Para-teachers show that many are discriminated against in terms of salary and express concerns over their job security, given that there are no professional development facilities for Para-teachers or concrete rules that specify how to systematically regularize them (only rules regarding their duties).
Thus, many Para-teachers ‘leach out’ to private schools after gaining experience in government schools.
Members highlighted the approach used by the Shiksha Karmi Project in Rajasthan, which involved using an organized and intensive capacity building strategy to develop the skills of Para-teachers.
However, respondents noted that few schemes have invested in upgrading the skills of Para-teachers in a truly systematic and need-based manner.
Finally, discussants added the uncertain tenure of Para-teachers has taken away the incentive for
Developing a long-term mechanism of creating trained teachers, thus perpetuating the practice of using Para-teachers.
Improving Learning in multi-grade and multi-level situations
Summary of Responses
The query sought members’ knowledge of best examples of successful interventions and suggestions regarding effective strategies to improve quality in ‘multigrade/multi-level’ situations, in view of its overwhelming prevalence in India’s primary education system especially in the rural areas. A multigrade teaching (MGT) situation refers to primary schools where one or two teachers manage two or more grades at the same time, and ‘multi-level’ relates to differences in levels of learning ability among children within the same grade. Contributions reveal that not only a MGT/multi-level situation can be successfully handled to ensure achievement of pedagogic objectives, but it could even be used as a preferred approach. Citing a range of successful examples from different states of India (as well as from other countries), members while highlighting the special features of each initiative, discerned the existence of two broad patterns in approach: one followed generally by the government run set-ups and the other mostly by the NGOs. The latter, however, reveals a great deal of innovation. A few salient aspects of the innovative approaches (some common to both patterns) used are:
- use of group-based, and self-learning systems - in place of class/grade divisions;
- flexible, customised learning programmes to suit group/individual needs;
- curriculum oriented to suit local requirements and match the context;
- training of teachers in MGT techniques, processes, and teaching-learning methods;
- enlistment of community, parents, and trained volunteers to support school’s efforts;
- using child-centred and self-paced learning without regard to age/grade considerations;
- laying special emphasis on class-room settings, and learning environment;
- Promoting participatory approaches, and providing creative stimulus to children.
The outcomes of adopting such approaches include better learning/retention, stress-free learning, enhanced student-parent satisfaction, greater teacher involvement, and economy in operations.
Significant NGO (including a Unicef-supported) Models:
Members shared their valuable knowledge and experiences regarding successful interventions in different parts of India with special reference to the rural areas where MGT situations are predominant.
- One of these is the Rishi Valley model, evolved around a child-friendly teaching-learning approach. Tried out and perfected in single teacher rural primary schools in Andhra Pradesh, this education model has evolved as a self-sustaining venture in the long run. Its economy, pedagogic value for learning achievement and strong community support and self-sustainability potential attracted many State Governments to replicate it in their States.
- Another example relates to the quality improvement interventions as demonstrated by UNICEF in Lalitpur District of Uttar Pradesh. It combines multigrade and multilevel group approaches, using locally relevant teaching-learning materials. That significantly contributes to child-friendly pedagogy; improve students’ retention and learning achievements.
- Yet another case of an NGO initiative is that of Digantar in Rajasthan which has adopted the ‘multi-level’ approach, i.e., ability-based grouping rather than the age/grade system as in regular schools. A case of an ‘alternative education model’, this approach emphasizes flexibility in learning pace, and a learning progression clearly different from the age-grade centric curriculum and competencies.
Trend in Government run Institutions
From members’ responses the dominant trend in schools under government set up appears to be the emphasis on re-organising the teaching-learning methods and processes within the context of grade specific curriculum, more as a ‘necessity’ in view of MGT magnitude. Child-friendly pedagogy backed up MGT-related in-service training and regular academic supports to teachers have been the hallmarks of MGT approach in the government set up.
Examples from Gujarat and Odisha were cited to explain this approach: In the context of Gujarat, teachers’ ability to effectively deal with MGT situation is discerned as the crux, and as a mark of the quality and adequacy of in-service training. Continued academic guidance to teachers is seen as the other key element to enhance teachers’ competence and ability to effectively and successfully negotiate the challenges presented by the MGT/multi-level situations. In Orissa. A two-pronged strategy was considered essential viz., (I) improving school and schooling condition as a pre-requisite to improve learning; and (ii) systematic in-service training to strengthen teachers’ pedagogical skills.
A similar diversity in approach and innovative thinking is also evident in international experiences. A example of ‘radical education’ model is that of the: “no more schools” concept-based approach that tried to ‘replace schools, textbooks, teachers and grades with learning centres, self-instructional materials, peer, tutor and community support, and teachers as facilitators of participatory learning’. This approach was found to be effective in rural schools. The other approach lays emphasis on teacher capacity building to effectively tackle MGT situation, besides the reorganisation of curriculum, designing MGT-appropriate teaching-learning materials and processes. This is the most widely prevalent one within the government set up across different countries like Zambia, Peru, Columbia, Sri Lanka, etc.
Contributions clearly bring forth that the perceived disadvantage and overwhelming burden of MGT situation in rural India can be turned into a distinct advantage by adopting the innovative methods shown in many successful experiments in India and in other countries. The adoption of MGT as a matter of pedagogical ‘choice’, points to an ‘alternative education’ model, where curriculum and learning pace is not based on age/grade criteria but rather on children’s learning ability.