India/August 29, 2022/By: KRITIKA SHARMA/Source: https://theprint.in/
Primary schools in UP’s Shamli, one of India’s low performing districts in terms of basic literacy & numeracy among kids, trying activity-based model under govt’s ‘Mission Education’.
A fifth grader learns addition and subtraction using ice-cream sticks and matchsticks. In another classroom, a first grader is looking at a picture of an owl as he learns the Hindi alphabet, ‘Oo’.
This is the scene at a primary school in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli, one of India’s 10 Low Performing Districts (LPDs) in terms of basic literacy and numeracy among children, according to the 2017 and 2021 editions of the National Achievement Survey (NAS). Primary schools in this district are using a new methodology — called ‘Accelerated Learning for All’, or ALFA — to help students who are barely able to read alphabets and numbers.
The NAS is conducted by the education ministry to assess the basic literacy and numeracy skills of children at primary and upper primary school levels. Apart from Shamli, other districts with low literacy levels in India include Sambalpur in Odisha, Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh, Changlang in Arunachal Pradesh, Tiruchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, Dhamtari in Chhattisgarh, Yavatmal in Maharashtra, Muktsar in Punjab, Adilabad in Telangana and Diu in Daman & Diu.
A district that’s part of a fertile sugarcane belt, approximately 120 km from Delhi, being counted among the lowest-performing in terms of education had taken the Shamli administration by surprise.
With Shamli and the other districts emerging as LPDs in NAS 2017 and again in NAS 2021, the education ministry embarked on course correction — it tasked their administrations with improving their learning levels by 2023 under ‘Mission Education’.
For this purpose, the Shamli administration signed a non-monetary memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Devi Sansthan, an NGO founded by former World Bank economist and philanthropist Dr Sunita Gandhi, for a 90-day programme which began in July.
ThePrint visited Shamli and found that ALFA, an engaging and fun methodology involving play-way (activity-based) methods and objects, is now being used by primary schools in the district to teach children numbers and alphabets.
‘ALFA methodology is really helping’
At the P.S. Kairi Primary School, Class 1 students were seen sitting in pairs, reading from a Hindi language book that had objects drawn in front of letters. One child read out, “B se batakh (duck)”, while his partner, looking at the picture of an owl, said, “Oo se ullu (owl)”.
In a fifth grade classroom, students were being taught addition and subtraction using ice cream sticks and matchsticks. One ice cream stick, they were told, has a value of 10 and each matchstick carries a value of 1.
“We were already in LPD and because of Covid, the schools shut down and children had no access to school. After they came back, they had forgotten almost everything, things as basic as writing their names,” Principal-in-charge Ravindra Kumar told ThePrint.
Kumar said that teachers used the same play-way method to teach students of other classes, adding: “We are working very hard on children to revive their educational skills now and the ALFA methodology is really helping. We have used it only for 20 days and we can already see the improvement.”
Five kilometres away, at the primary school in Simbhalka, a class of 4th graders was learning basic math by clapping and snapping. A clap stood for 10, and a snap meant 1. After a teacher clapped her hands once and snapped her fingers five times, children shouted 15 in unison, almost instantaneously.
“Children really enjoy learning this way…instead of the regular blackboard teaching. When they came back to school after Covid, they had forgotten almost everything, they could not even write their names…I have been working with them for nearly a month now and there is a lot of improvement,” said a teacher, not wanting to be named.
In the adjacent section, two kids were reading a newspaper, two others were reading a poem. As one of them stumbled with the letters, his partner came to his rescue, trying to make him understand the letters one by one.
“Our methodology involves making children work in pairs so that they can learn from each other and not just the teacher. In fact, the learning is more about what they do on their own,” an instructor with the Devi Sansthan who was overseeing the class told ThePrint.
‘Could extend initiative to 500 schools’
District authorities in Shamli have also taken the challenge head on.
Rahul Mishra, education director or Basic Shiksha Adhikari (Shamli), said the tag of a low-performing district is like an opportunity for the administration to improve education levels.
“We are taking this as an opportunity to improve ourselves. We have signed an MoU with Devi Sansthan to improve literacy for our schools. Initially, this is with 10 schools, but we are very positive about extending it further to nearly 500 schools in the district as we have already started seeing positive results,” Mishra told ThePrint.
In addition to ALFA, district education officials are also relying on other measures to improve the retention of children in classrooms.
“There are many areas in our district where girls get admission in schools but they do not show up regularly, they probably just come in for one or two days. To address that issue, we are holding a chaupal every evening in the affected areas where we go and speak to the parents and try to understand their problems and why they don’t want to send their children to school,” Mishra added.
Talking about the initiative, educationist and former vice-chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) R. Govinda said that external intervention definitely yields results, but its sustainability is a matter for discussion.
“What we should really look at is what happens to schools once such interventions are over. Nothing can improve unless the teachers start teaching…we have to answer that question…why are children not learning, it has to be because teachers are not teaching,” he told ThePrint.
Govinda added that many such initiatives have been introduced in India in the past and for some time, they work, but things “never really completely change”.
“In fact, the basic minimum learning levels for children were introduced only because we knew that children were not learning properly and there had to be a certain measurement to gauge their learning,” he added. “Many years down the line, we are still asking the same question.”
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)