One common observation in a majority of government primary schools is the enormous gap in age-appropriate learning. This is not to generalize that all government-run schools have the same challenge. Some are very good and produce outstanding students.
In Sayla taluk of Surendranagar district, Gujarat, Aga Khan Rural Support Program (India) [AKRSP(I)], the non-governmental development organization, has been working towards improving primary education since the year 2013.
Currently AKRSP(I) works with 32 schools that had been randomly selected. While choosing the schools, specific requests for the program from certain schools are taken into consideration. The focus is primarily on students of class III to VIII. Currently more that 2,600 students from 32 villages are enrolled.
The activity-based program aimed at age-appropriate learning, helps the students learn the lessons in their regular curriculum easily. It is designed in such a way that it leads to students’ holistic development. Reviews show that the program has helped students fare better in school.
Under the Learning Enrichment Program, students of class III to V learn maths and language – Gujarati, in this case. In Learning Resource Center, students of class VI to VIII learn language, maths and science. The programs’ schedule is fixed in such a way that it does not interrupt the regular school hours.
Various donors fund the program, the current one being funded by Shell Pvt. Ltd. Educated village youth, designated as balmitra (meaning a child’s friend), run this program. Each balmitra is in charge of two villages where he / she is responsible for around 100 students. Run parallel to the academic year, the program enhances students’ learning.
Students who would benefit from the program are identified by a test. The results indicate the students who need the most attention. They are the ones enrolled in the program. The balmitras work with them to improve their learning capabilities. The balmitras teach them either in groups or individually as per the students’ requirement.
Understanding the shortcomings of the traditional method of teaching, the focus here is completely on activity-based learning. Concepts are taught using teaching learning materials (TLMs) like rangometry, number necklace, flash cards, picture cards, sentence clock, etc.
Another aspect of the program is the library model. The aim is to motivate students of class III to class VIII to read more, and inculcate in them the habit of reading. It helps them develop a grasp for the language and form coherent sentences.
It is also different from the regular library classes of schools, as there are puppet shows, role plays, elocution and other activities. These activities help students not only acquire abundant knowledge but also gain confidence to speak in public. The whole program is designed for the holistic development of students.
Education during pandemic
Before the pandemic, a classroom setting either in the village school or a panchayat room served as the location for the program. The classrooms, decorated with charts, posters, craft works, make a good environment for studying. Story books are also part of the setting.
With the pandemic, it was not possible to conduct regular classes. Instead of conducting classes in the common area with all the students, street-wise classes were conducted, following all COVID-19 precautions. Balmitras ensured that there were no more than 12 students even in the street-wise classes.
Special TLMs were used so that students could use them by themselves. Smaller versions of existing TLMs as well as new do-it-yourself kits were introduced, as the usual TLMs could not be used easily during the pandemic. Students could take the new improvised TLMs home and complete the tasks at home if necessary.
Another way introduced to make learning fun are tablets. Through the tablets, students are able to put motion, colors and shapes into perspective. They now race to reach the program location so that they can use tablets before the class begins. There is a huge change in students’ memory. Now they relate things easily and remember concepts better than before.
School management committees
In addition to the education of students, the program focusses on school management committees (SMCs). An SMC is a 13-member body that helps a school in its governance. The gram sabha elects the SMC members for a term of two years.
The SMC members’ responsibilities include helping schools address issues such as irregularity of students among others. As part of the program, AKRSP(I) organized a training for the SMC members, familiarizing them with the right to education policy, in addition to their roles and responsibilities.
AKRSP(I) took them on exposure visits to model schools so that SMC members could observe the collaborative work. After the training, the members are more involved in their school’s work. In many villages, they have ensured regular attendance of students. By convincing parents, SMC ensured that students accessed their online lessons.
The difference between the test scores at the beginning and end of the program showed its impact. In the Learning Enrichment Program for class III to V, all the enrolled students (720) scored grade D for language and maths. At the end of the program, 71% had progressed to grade B, and 14% to grade A.
This year, there was no test for students of class VI to VIII (640) at the beginning. Instead, the balmitras enrolled students who were in grade C or D, as assessed by their teachers. By the end of the year, 56% of the students had improved to grade B and 36% to grade A in science.
Teachers and principals of schools that are a part of this program are happy. They observe improvement in the students’ learning outcome, their confidence and the level of interaction within the classroom. The SMCs, schools and parents found this program helpful during the pandemic as it ensured the children continued with their education.
Debanjana Paul has a master’s degree in development studies. She is associated with AKRSP(I). Views are personal. Email email@example.com