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Literacy levels have been persistently low in some areas with high concentration of tribal population in Thane district of Maharashtra. Learning difficulties for these children stem from lack of exposure to a literate environment, difference in home language (tribal languages) and curricular language (Marathi), and inconsistent academic input due to seasonal migration. Some of these children are enrolled in Ashram schools (special residential schools for tribal children under a government scheme) and although Ashram schools address the problem of migration, learning levels remain low because of inadequate understanding among teachers regarding the students’ learning needs. ‘Quality Education support Trust’ (QUEST) has two programs; ‘Lipi’, (a comprehensive literacy program for children in grades 1 to 3), and ‘Saksham’, (a literacy remediation program for children in grades 4 to 7 who do not read and write at their grade-appropriate level), and these workshops aim to build the skills of teachers through rigorous and long-term training and support.
During the eight month preparatory phase a team of Shikshak Mitras (mentors for teachers) who would provide support to the teachers through workshops and onsite support have been trained. These trainings are essential as almost all children going to Ashram schools are first generation learners, and have no exposure to any kind of print materials at home. For most of these children, the first encounter with the written word happens when they enter school. But, these Ashram schools, usually do not have libraries or rigorously trained teachers, and hence are ill-equipped to provide such exposure to children.
Moreover, the teachers don’t really accept the children’s mother tongue and don’t provide any opportunity for expression. Teachers also lack the knowledge and skills required to bridge the gap between children’s home language and the school language. Because of these conditions, children often experience literacy as taught in schools as something alien and remote from their lives, which in turn has an adverse impact on their motivation and learning levels.
As soon as the preparatory phase ended, QUEST started implementing the project in twenty Ashram schools which have been selected in consultation with the Tribal department of the Maharashtra government. To help teachers run these two programs in Ashram shalas, QUEST organized training for approximately 80 teachers from these schools to orient and train them on their methodology. We got the opportunity to attend these innovative workshops, and also interviewed the facilitator of these workshops; Archana Kulkarni. We have included excerpts from our interview below:
What is the purpose of these trainings?
These teacher trainings are to orient the teachers on the Saksham methodology, a level based learning program. The meaning of Reading is meaning making, but we have observed that a lot of the children don’t comprehend what they are reading. In the ‘Saksham’ program, we administer a baseline test to students studying in classes 4th till 7th. Basis their results, the students are grouped into different groups, children at the same level are part of one group. This helps the teachers and us to cater to those students in a more defined and effective manner. These are need based inputs and such workshops endeavour to make the teachers understand this. The teachers know most of these things, but don’t know how to handle situations like these.
We also wanted to share the findings of the baseline tests with the teachers, so that they are aware of the process behind segregating students in different groups. It has been found that there are maximum students in the 0-25 and 25-50 percentile mark, with just handful students in the group of 50 and above percentile. Since the group size of 0-25 percentile is the maximum, it is impossible for a teacher to manage that group. To make these groups manageable, we have further divided these groups into sub-groups, this will also be shared with the teachers during these workshops. A class plan will also be shared with these teachers, which will act as a guide during the 45 minutes of the actual class. We have developed three books to help in this process, namely; Saksham 1, Saksham 2 and Saksham 3. Books will be given to each child and the teachers will be trained on how to use these books with children during this workshop.
How did you all come up with the concept behind these trainings?
While we were working in Nandurbar (tribal district in Maharashtra) in 2008, we found out that students in class 5-8th had problems in basic literacy. At that time we were working on teaching mathematics, but we slowly realized that without language, there can’t be any other kind of learning. We started some work on Level based learning during that time, but it was only in 2012, while working on the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidhyalaya scheme of the central government along with UNICEF that this Saksham program was seen as a solution to the problems plaguing the education system in these schools. But, we also realized that QUEST won’t be able to change the education landscape solely through its own trainers, collaboration and partnerships with schools teachers was a better and a much more sustainable solution.
Then we got down to designing the structure of these trainings. It was very clear that just conducting a few trainings a few times during the year won’t be very effective as they won’t equip the teachers with methods of dealing with real classroom situations. Some teachers think, “There are some difficulties which I can’t handle on my own, and the solution to these problems is not even with my peers, I need onsite support”. Coming across many such examples led to the inclusion of the component of onsite support. We have Shikshak Mitras who provide this support; and as their name suggests, they are mentors for teachers.
These workshops are designed in such a way that the Shikshak Mitras observe whether or not the teachers are implementing the inputs suggested during the first workshop. These are not just trainings, but practice sessions where we ourselves work with the teachers on issues that arise in a real classroom. Instructions and the way they are delivered plays a very important role in the ‘Saksham’ program. Our team observes and help the teachers refine the way they give instructions so that the essence of the program is not lost.
To break the monotony and energize the students in a class, we have built in a component of music and singing in this program. Whenever we feel that the students are getting bored and are losing interest in the class, we put our books aside and sing together. This ensures that the rest of the learning happens in a much more effective manner. So during these workshops, we train teachers on how to make the class more interactive, how to Read aloud stories with children using the correct punctuation, tone, pronunciation etc.
To measure the effectiveness of these trainings, we conduct a base line and end line of the teachers. This tells us how much the teacher has learnt through this one year, their understanding, their grasp of the methodology, their progress, the gaps and how can we improve the teacher training program.
We also have ‘Paripath’, a circle time- so these workshops also cover how the teacher should use this circle time to introduce various components of literacy and language learning. Some kids needs to be introduced to ‘Akshar Parichay’, while others need to be introduced to sentence formation, and for most of these children, who are not familiar with standard Marathi, teachers are encouraged to keep aside 15 minutes for Reading Marathi stories to them.
During these workshops we also talk about bridging the gap between the home language and the state language (Marathi). Almost all teachers feel that the child’s home language should not be rejected or ignored as that is the language he/she is most familiar with, but at the same time, it is very important to get them to learn the state language so that learning happens. There is a dedicated session where the teachers and QUEST team brainstorms and figures out the various ways in which this gap can be bridged.
Teachers are also encouraged to make their classrooms bi-lingual, where they use tribal language and standard Marathi so that the child can understand how to make the leap and start using standard language (most of us learn a language when we hear it repeatedly, but since these children don’t hear or come across standard Marathi, we can’t expect them to speak that language). Contextual books that have some resemblance to the background and contexts children are familiar with, help in this process too. QUEST has developed some contextual books, some of which are shared below-
Lastly, a lot of children who come from tribal areas use colloquial terms while writing as opposed to pure Marathi words, and the teachers usually mark them wrong. We tell our teachers that it is their responsibility to interpret the written word correctly, as there are no non-verbal cues that are used to explain the answer/written word. Teachers are encouraged to go beyond the written word and analyse the answers to figure our mistakes, difficulties and gaps in the child’s reading ability.
Every school undergoing these programs are given a ‘bag of books’. These are essential as it’s a language program and the kids should read story books, and stimulating text. Teachers are introduced to this kit during the first workshop.
Given below are the various components of the Teacher Training workshops-
Workshops are organized to understand the theoretical aspects of literacy instruction. The workshops familiarize the teachers with aspects like
Whether you want to learn a bit about early reading or you’re preparing to do something about the appalling reading levels of children, it’s a good idea to have a resource for inspiration and news.
We have compiled a list of education Twitter accounts you should definitely follow.
To make this list useful for you, we have created a short bio for each person on our list to give you more context of who they are, why we included them and what kind of tweets you can expect from them.
What are you waiting for, start reading and following.
1. Amber Gove
Dr. Amber Gove is Director of Research within RTI’s International Education Division. Much of her recent work has centered on the development of the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA), a system-level diagnostic for understanding students’ foundation skills in reading. Dr. Gove has nearly two decades of experience collaborating with government education departments in project design and impact evaluation, research and data analysis, and policy dialogue. Her research and policy interests include improvement and measurement of student learning; education finance; conditional cash transfer programs; and factors affecting achievement, enrolment, and attendance. Follow her @AmberGove
Dr. Slavin is currently Director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University and part-time Professor at the Institute for Effective Education at the University of York. As the Chairman of the Success for All Foundation he has turned basic research into comprehensive programs designed to harness the power of kids, unlocking their potential through cooperative learning. Follow him @RobertSlavin
Andrea Sherratt leads the development of the ‘Every Child a Reader’ initiative, working closely with literacy consultants and the inclusion/learning/special educational needs (SEN) support service. Every Child a Reader provides literacy interventions to Year 1 and Year 2 children. The program supports schools to employ Reading Recovery teachers, who deliver daily one to one Reading Recovery teaching for the children with the most severe difficulties. Follow her @AJS21
Dr. Margaret (Peggy) Dubeck, is a literacy and assessment expert who aims to improve children’s achievement through empirical research. Her interest began examining dyslexic readers learning in multilingual contexts. She has extensive experience with assessments that are instructionally transparent and inform evaluations. She has created, modified, and established the technical adequacy of literacy, math, attention, and affective instruments in multiple languages. Her literacy interventions, designed for schools, community programs, and individualized settings include teacher and student materials, trainings, supportive technology and measures of fidelity. Follow @pegdubeck
Penelope Bender is a Senior Education Advisor on the USAID Basic Education team. She is the Lead for the implementation of Goal 1 of the USAID Education Strategy, which aims to improve the reading skills of 100 million children around the world. She has more than twenty years of experience of instructional design, teacher professional development and support, curriculum, assessment and language of instruction in developing countries, especially in Africa. Prior to joining USAID, she worked with the Hewlett Foundation-Gates Foundation Quality Education in Developing Countries initiative and she also has extensive experience with the World Bank. Follow her @penelopeabender
Dr. Mehta is Professor and Head of the Department of Educational Management Information System (EMIS) at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), India. He has authored books on Education for All in India, Enrolment Projections, Population Projections and Upper Primary Education and contributed a number of research articles in journals and in NUEPA occasional paper series; published a number of reports annually based on DISE data; and has worked as a consultant with World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO and ACCU (Japan). Currently Prof. Mehta is engaged in strengthening of Educational Management Information System in India at the national level and managing one of the World’s largest information systems i.e. District Information System for Education. http://schoolreportcards.in and www.dise.in developed under the guidance of Prof. Mehta is the recipient of e-Governance 2010 & eINDIA 2010 National Awards among many other prestigious awards. Follow him @acmehta100
Doctorate in Education from Harvard University, Amy is currently serving as the Senior Director, Education Research at Save the Children US. She works extensively on Primary Education focussing on children’s reading abilities, teacher education, and educational assessment and evaluation. She is actively engaged with the organisation’s Literacy Boost program which engages the broader community in helping young children learn to read both inside and outside the classroom. Follow her @amyjodowd
Dr. Matthew Kam leads Google for Education’s user experience (UX) research efforts to invent the future of teaching and learning around the world. He is best known as a pioneer in designing mobile phone applications that have improved literacy in developing regions. Prior to Google, Kam was a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research at Carnegie Mellon University where he started MILLEE (Mobile and Immersive Learning for Literacy in Emerging Economies) project in 2004. He is co-founder and advisor to Learning Yogi, a social enterprise that aims to build sustainable technology solutions for improving 21st century learning among low-income children throughout the world. Follow him @matthewkam
Michael Trucano is the World Bank’s Senior Education & Technology Policy Specialist and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, serving as the organization’s focal point on issues at the intersection of technology use and education in middle- and low-income countries and emerging markets around the world. He provides policy advice, implementation and planning guidance and thought leadership on the strategic uses of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in education around the world. As part of his research activities, Trucano leads the World Bank’s related analytical work under its flagship Systems Approach for Better Education Results initiative as it relates to information and communication technologies (SABER-ICT). Follow him @trucano
Steve Higgins is Professor of Education at Durham University. His research interests are in the effective use of digital technologies for learning and the use of evidence in the development of professional practice. He is the lead author of the Sutton Trust-EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Follow him @profstig
Karen is Associate Professor of Education at Harvard University. Her work focuses on computing, classrooms, and constructionism. Karen’s research is primarily concerned with the ways in which learning environments, both in and out of school, & online and face-to-face, can be designed to support young people’s development as computational creators. She completed her PhD at the MIT Media Lab in 2012, where she was a member of the Lifelong Learning Kindergarten research group. Follow her @karen_brennan11. Bethan Morgan
Dr Morgan is a Teaching Associate in the Faculty of Education at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests lie in early and primary education with a focus on classroom teaching and learning in schools. Her core research has focused on classroom teaching and learning – in particular on pupil engagement, pupil consultation and pupil ‘voice’. She lectures on and is actively involved in Cambridge University’s ‘School-University Partnership for Educational Research’ (SUPER), which aims to create useful educational research within a schools-university partnership and document and explore the partnership. Follow her @DrBethanMorgan
Dr Resnick is LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, explores how new technologies can engage people in creative learning experiences. His research group has developed a new programming language called Scratch that enables children to create their own animated stories, video games, and interactive art therefore providing a stepping stone to the more advanced world of computer programming. Scratch is widely used by students, scholars, teachers, and parents for educational purposes. Follow her @mres
Kathy is the Stanley and Deborah Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is the author of 11 books and over 150 professional articles on early childhood development, with a specialty in literacy, reading skills and playful learning. Hirsh-Pasek was one of the investigators on the acclaimed National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. She has co-authored the language and literacy curricula for the State of California Preschools. Follow her @KathyandRo1
Josephine Lumb is a primary school teacher from St Mary’s School in Birmingham who works as a volunteer with Red Earth Education initiative which supports Ugandan teachers and improves the educational opportunities for thousands of children. She provides teacher training in Ugandan rural area primary schools. Follow her @josephine_lumb
Dr. Schryer is the Executive Director at Elementary Literacy Inc. and early childhood education researcher consultant. She has been working relentlessly towards ensuring all children learn to read well and tirelessly works towards the issue. As a member of her organisation’s volunteer-based reading program- Elementary Literacy Friends (ELF) Erin has brought a wealth of knowledge related to children’s literacy development and effective intervention approaches for children who are struggling with learning to read. Follow her @ErinSchryer
With over 30 years of experience in the field of education Maya’s professional experience include conceptualizing, designing and implementing a wide range of school and teacher-related projects and services. She is the Founder Director of The Teacher Foundation (TTF), a young dynamic organization that focuses on training teachers and aims at infusing the school education system in India with new energy, enthusiasm and expertise. Follow her @TTFMaya
Sanjay is the CEO of English Helper Inc. He has several years of experience leading and growing large teams and organizations worldwide. He took on the role of the global CEO at English Helper after a long stint at American Express. Deeply committed to education and related social issues, he writes a blog column for The Economic Times. Sanjay is a leadership coach and faculty at Duke Corporate Education. Follow him @scribblesgee
Former Educational Quality Advisor to MHRD, Government of India; developed the Quality Framework for the implementation of the Right To Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, India’s EFA programme. Currently he is the Principal Coordinator of Group Ignus, which comprises of IgnusERG, a guild of resource persons working to support teachers and enhance the quality of education, particularly in government schools. Follow him @subirshukla
Sandra is the Knowledge Manager for the Health and Education Advice & Resource Team (HEART), supporting DFID advisers and other development partners with knowledge and expertise in education, health and nutrition. She is also Knowledge Manager for the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre (GSDRC), working in collaboration with a knowledge services team at the University of Birmingham. She has worked for the Institute of Development Studies since 2000, specialising in editorial capacity development work and repackaging research for different policy audiences. Follow her @Sandra_IDS
Nita is working as Programme Manager for Language and Learning Foundation. She has worked with several national and International organizations including READ Alliance, Room to Read, British Council and Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) and has contributed to designing and managing early Grades reading/literacy programs. Her educational background includes a B.El.Ed followed by Master’s Degree in Sociology. Follow her @nitaaggarwal
Ted is President of Landmark Consulting Group, Inc., a management and investment consultancy for scaling innovations in learning. Ted helped design and create the replication systems and strategies for several of the largest scalable, fastest growing, highest performing public school designs in the country that created over 350 schools, including New Tech Network which has created over 160 public schools and replicating between 20-40 per year. Follow him @tedfujimoto
Nemeth holds a bachelor’s of arts in psychology, a master’s in education, learning, cognition and development, and is also a certified baby sign language instructor. She is an Author speaker consultant on dual language learners in early childhood. In addition to her many accomplishments, she contributes and consults for Language Castle, a website focused on building appropriate preschool services to meet the needs of children who speak English as a second language. Follow her @KarenNemethEdM
An IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta alumna, Ramya has been passionately involved with education in India. She is the founder and CEO of Center for Teacher Accreditation (CENTA). CENTA has the purpose of empowering teachers and catalysing their professional development, through an assessment and certification service that will connect outstanding teachers and teacher candidates to great opportunities, by being well-aligned with what schools and others look for. Through this, CENTA hopes to motivate teachers more broadly to take full ownership of their own professional development and therefore catalyse demand for high quality teacher development (without directly getting into it). Follow her @RamyaVRaman
Know of any other educationists we should definitely follow to get news and inspiration, tweet to us @READ_Alliance
Research has time and again highlighted how meaningful learning starts with strong reading skills. Children who do not learn to read at an early age find it increasingly difficult to “absorb printed information, follow written instructions, or communicate well in writing” which impedes their performance in higher grades, often culminating in early dropout from schools (Gove & Wetterberg, 2011: 1). This makes it imperative for any effort at ameliorating the quality of education to address the development of good reading skills among the children.
There is enormous interest and investment in the potential of educational technology (EdTech) to improve the quality of teaching and learning in developing countries. The primary aim of this article is to highlight the various EdTech interventions with a focus on early grade reading.
As India shifts its attention from school enrolment to quality learning it recognises the role ICTs can play in opening up a vista of opportunities for exploring and employing empirical science and innovation in children’s learning in general, and reading in particular.
While the various Central and State government EdTech initiatives have found some success amongst the target beneficiaries they have been criticised for their lop-sided focus on technology, with lesser emphasis on learning outcomes. Primary level education lays the foundation for developing reasoning, critical thinking and cognitive skills. Therefore, several non-governmental EdTech initiatives in India are focussing on young children and basic learning.
PlanetReadLeveraging technology to deliver quality education is at the heart of the work at PlanetRead. Imagine looking for just one children’s book in an entire village and not coming up with any. That is a reality, which has been experienced frequently in rural India. But since over 700 million Indians already watch Television and there are close to about 200 million smartphone users, can “books” or the “reading experience” be disseminated on media that are already in people’s lives? For 20 years, PlanetRead has been using the idea of Same Language Subtitles (SLS) on Television for mass literacy.
One of their SLS project involves integrating AniBooks (animated books) into the schools and lives of children in Grades 1-3, or ages 6-10, to support the development of reading skills. They will try and leverage: 1) Pico and other low-cost, low-energy projectors 2) Computers already in schools 3) Personally owned mobile phones and potential smartphone users 4) Television at homes to deploy content in schools and homes. They will track the child’s reading progress through an app which will be easily accessible on mobile phones and tablets.
Educational Initiatives Pvt. Ltd.Established in 2001, Educational Initiatives (EI) believes in making a difference in education through personalized learning and ensuring that students learn with understanding. A common focus throughout EI’s 12 years has been on systematically researching aspects of learning, especially assessment. They follow rigorous methods to develop the assessment tools which include in-depth textbook analysis and curriculum mapping, developing and pre-testing test items, getting external experts from the field to comment on the tools before finalizing and implementing the tests through their other interactive tools like Mindspark (digital self-learning program), ASSET, Detailed Assessment, CCE Certificate Course, Teacher Evaluation Program, Teacher Sheets and more.
EI’s adaptive e- learning program for languages called Mindspark (for Hindi, Gujarati and English) allows students to learn languages by employing a constructivist theory of learning by answering questions that are appropriate to their current understanding on either tablets, desktops or laptops. It remediates misconceptions and supports teachers in schools to teach where the need is as opposed to a regular rehearsal based on his/her own intuition on what kids don’t know.
Karadi Path Education Company Karadi Path methodology is an indigenously developed language learning process that is revolutionizing the way language proficiency is achieved in schools. It is the product of over a decade’s research into language acquisitions.
Their Magic English-SLL is a 2-year, 2-levelled program specifically designed for students coming from English-deprived environment. This project is being implemented in Tamil Nadu currently. Each level consists of 72 sessions of 40 minutes each (96 hours total). The sessions are included in the school’s regular timetables, typically running three sessions each week. The school kit consists Karadi Rhymes books, DVDs, Phonetic DVD and flip charts for Reading Path activities.
The audio visual mode of program delivers a rich English learning environment in the classrooms. Through a series of videos, the children recognize that each letter has at least one sound and understand how letter sounds can combine to form the words we speak. They start associating sounds they hear from audio-books with the print they are exposed to in the physical books. This leads to a rapid transformation from a phonic-reading approach to a sight-reading approach. The words progress from simple to difficult, and the sessions progress from reading individual words to reading phrases and sentences.
BridgeIT The program, launched in India in the year 2010, is a replication of Text2Teach, an EdTech project running in the Philippines since 2003. BridgeIT, like Text2Teach, enables video distribution of study content over mobile phones directly into fifth and sixth-grade classrooms, using a combination of SMS and satellite video. Classrooms are equipped with a television and teachers are given a mobile phone and access to a central depository of educational videos, along with teaching guides. Teachers can request for specific videos by sending an SMS from their phones. The success of the Text2Teach project prompted its adaptation in several developing nations including India (Velamuri, 2015).
BridgeIT was implemented in 86 state-government schools in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in 2013. Two subjects, English and Science, were chosen for the project, as it was found that the teachers’ need greatest support in these subjects (Velamuri, 2015).
An evaluation of the project using Randomised Control Trial found that program has successfully improved the students’ reading and comprehension skills in English. Since the students are from rural background they used to find it difficult to understand even simple sentences in English in the pre-intervention period. The evaluation showed a remarkable improvement in understanding lessons in English after watching the lesson videos.
Zaya Learning LabsZaya Learning implements affordable, scalable e-learning technology to increase access to high-quality education and bridge the achievement gap. Zaya wants to empower students all over the world to receive personalized instruction, in and outside of school.
Schools and after-school centers use their digital learning platform and content via tablets and their patented ClassCloud, a hardware device that enables the full e-learning experience offline, especially in schools which don’t have internet or stable electricity. Zaya labs are currently impacting over 30,000 students in India.
Zaya’s “English Duniya” is a mobile Android app which aims to teach children aged 8-12 basic vocabulary, grammar, listening and reading comprehension. The child is led through its personalized learning journey by a map and an avatar, earning points and unlocking new words in the process. The app uses the child’s mother tongue to teach English. The app works online and offline and aims to be accessible to the masses, especially parents and students from low-income groups who are unable to afford high quality English tutors.
MGurumGuru builds mobile learning apps for students in grades K to 5, focusing on English and Mathematics. mGuru app provides an interactive journey for children, with an explicit aim of accelerating learning outcomes in an engaging way. The vision of mGuru is to package the best learning practices and research into a platform for the masses, so that any child can have tools to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills.
mGuru English is a mobile learning app for K-5 students, aimed at accelerating the acquisition of English literacy for the average Indian student. From basic phonics to grammar, the app provides an interactive journey for student’s learning that engages them and ultimately provides them with tools to read and understand Basic English. The app works without the Internet and is available in Hindi, Marathi, and Gujarati.
WorldreaderWorldreader is a global non-profit that believes everyone can be a reader. Worldreader provides children, students, and their families’ free access to its vast digital library via e-readers and mobile phones. With Read to Kids program, Worldreader is broadening its reach beyond Africa to India and beyond reading in schools and libraries to reading at homes.
All of Worldreader’s research highlights an opportunity to leverage mobile phones to drive literacy among young children through parents and teachers. Today, Worldreader is helping improve global literacy levels and narrow the digital divide, with associated long-term impacts on poverty, education, health and social-well being.
Through the Read to Kids app, the goal is to improve literacy rates by educating parents on their role in developing children’s literacy skills and by increasing access to a digital library of books and other educational resources via mobile phones. This pilot project is being run in Delhi at present.
With the launch of the Digital India campaign in July 2015, the Central government has been emphasizing on e-learning to be introduced in all schools in its effort to digitally empower the nation. While this is a promising opportunity for the nation, a well-coordinated and targeted approach to integrate technology into our vast and complex school system is the need of the hour.
READ Alliance, a project that aims at nurturing and promoting early grade reading in India by supporting promising innovations hosted its first ever READtalks, a discussion platform to share thoughts, solutions and spark conversations around early grade reading.
The landscape of education in India is changing very dramatically. If only a decade ago we were struggling to get all of our children into schools, the challenge of primary education today is to understand what reading will mean to people over the course of this century, as we completely abandon hardcopy print in favor of electronic print.
To truly transform education through technology, we need to learn from experts, solution providers and each other. READtalks, a unique experience with engaging sessions, exhibitions, and an evening networking session, is where this discovery took place.
The first READtalks on 14th July began with a simple question: “How can technology be leveraged to transform early reading?”
USAID Mission Director for India, Ambassador Jonathan Addleton launched the READtalks series.The following are a few key takeaways from the event:
The experience for delegates was wide and far ranging with latest thinking from Ed-Tech players, insightful Ed-Tech session by Worldreader, and an opportunity to meet up with key technology suppliers and developers, and to see their up–and-coming products face to face.
Not only did delegates leave the conference with new ideas and concepts to implement in the classroom, but they also gained a real insight into how education relates to real-world issues and how we can inspire learners to become fully engaged with the latest technology.
Across the world, numerous studies have shown the vital importance of reading ability on a child’s future and a country’s economic development. A 2011 UNESCO report found that if all students in low-income countries left primary school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty — that’s the equivalent of a 12 percent drop globally.
Social challenges require systemic solutions that are grounded in the user’s needs. This is where many approaches founder, but where design thinking—a new approach to creating solutions—excels.
Design thinking, a human-centered approach to problem solving starts with developing empathy with the users, facing a particular challenge. In this situation, the challenge is low reading levels of children. The design thinking process functions as a kind of oasis for educators, reconnecting them to their creativity and aspirations for helping students develop as readers.
Looking to infuse the field of education with revolutionary approaches to early reading challenges, READ Alliance aimed to provoke a dialog with grantees and the field of education and engage them to create tangible progress towards a world where all children can READ.
This one day workshop tailored to early reading practitioners and organizations, provided the opportunity to learn the key concepts of Design Thinking with a focus on social innovation, experimenting with collective creativity, and practicing with key tools to apply in our early reading innovations.
The first stage of design thinking is discovery. This is the research stage where you not only consider potential solutions to your challenge, but where you discover what the right questions are. A large part of design thinking lies in problem definition. There are certain types of problems that are more responsive to such approaches. So it made sense to begin our day with an ice-breaking session on the various approaches to problem solving as defined by our participants.
It was interesting to see a lot of diverse yet important approaches that the group adopted to solve problems. Research, Needs Analysis, Empathy, Dialogue, Problem Analysis were some of the thoughts that workshop participants associated the idea of problem solving with.
To ensure that the workshop was addressing a common thread between all the participants present, the team had decided to keep the user or the primary stakeholder as a starting point for problem framing -i.e. Teachers, and Children.
Participants selected a problem from the perspective of their chosen user in line with their individual programs. Teams engaged in a discussion around their selected problem area to unpack and explore various aspects of the problem. Each group was asked to generate a diagram that documented their discussion and showed multiple ways in which to view the problem. The diagram highlighted different aspects of the problem, along with sub-challenges within a broad challenge area.
Some common problems listed by many participants in the room are-
Basis their problem analysis, and keeping their chosen users at the center, participants mapped out all stakeholders involved. These stakeholders were individuals such as: trainers, teachers, students, parent/parents or institutions such as: Government departments (SCERT, SSA), Early grade reading NGOs, Infrastructure providers (ISP, Mobile etc.).
Each group was given 5 minutes to present their problem analysis to others in the room. They shared their selected problem, the different sides of that problem, and the key players and stakeholders involved. This session set the stage for our further sessions as all of the participants had crossed the first hurdle of defining their problems succinctly and clearly.
As researchers we often turn to the field to find answers, and with users often we rely on in-depth interactions. During this session, the participants listed down questions they’d ask their users that might help them understand the problem from the user’s point of view. Participants were encouraged to think about the many things they’d like to enquire into. This was the perfect time to get user opinion on any hypotheses they might have either around the problem or potential solutions, etc.
Being in a workshop poses challenges when conducting research. Since most of the participants hadn’t pre-arranged calls with users, they had to rely on their existing knowledge of the field, and the user. The teams were suggested to shift from thinking as researchers, to the perspective of a respondent.
Although there were some participants who could manage to interview their field staff (trainers, teachers implementing the programs on the field).
“User research helped us to ask questions which we didn’t think were important to ask. The suggestions on question design helped us seek in-depth information”, Ananda, Mahto, Karadi Path Education Company
“User research session was interesting and useful as it helped to document the situation from the user’s perspective. This helped us understand the needs of the user”, Atul Gaikwad, QUEST
Tip: Remember to keep your questions open ended so as to invite rich responses. Yes and no answers give you very little to work with, so avoid such questions.
This session was to analyse all the information and data participants had generated through the user research exercise. The participants listed down granular challenges that the users experience, each group generated up to 10 granular challenges. The same template had a section on Opportunities.
Opportunities refer to any positives or coping mechanisms employed by these users to overcome their challenges. This work served as the basis for solution creation, so groups got down to work immediately.
Some of the challenges outlined by the groups were-
“This session was quite helpful to get on to the real problem statement. The user research interview conducted helped us to visualize the conditions teachers face and what opportunities we can provide for them. The user research can support our understanding from the user point of view about their needs and requirements”, Rima Anand, Educational Initiatives
“The workshop in a way provided us the thinking to elaborate and reflect back on the problem and diagnose it to an extent so that we can develop solutions”, Nirav Shah, PlanetRead
In the last session, participants entered into a brainstorming phase to create solution ideas for each of the challenges identified in the previous session. Keeping in mind the time constraints, groups were asked to select up to 5 challenges that they would like to solve on an urgent basis.
At this stage, the aim was to generate many solutions. Concerns about viability, feasibility etc. were kept aside for the time being.
Then groups spent some time selecting 3 priority concepts that they would like to build into solutions. Post this, they worked on the Solution Building template. This template had proposed solutions to challenges and was presented to the entire room for feedback and inputs. This activity provided collective guidance and insights to each group.
“The overall concept was very new for us and gave us an understanding on defining a problem concisely and accurately using various techniques”, Vaishali, Humana People to People India
“The templates were helpful as they can be used to define our most recent or difficult problems”, Vidhya Das, Agragamee
For the READ Alliance team, this design thinking workshop reminded us why we are in this field; as everything starts with empathy.
Given below is a summary of the paper “Improving Reading Skills by Encouraging Children to Read in School: A Randomized Evaluation of the Sa Aklat Sisikat Reading Program in the Philippines”.
The researchers, Ama Baafra Abeberese, Todd J. Kumler and Leigh L. Linden, evaluated a 31-day reading program where students were encouraged to read as many books as possible through daily reading activities in school, such as storytelling sessions and literary games. Overall, the results of the study suggest that an increased use of age appropriate reading materials by students is a viable strategy for improving student’s reading skills.
The study aims to find out the impact of encouraging students to read age-appropriate books on their reading skills and see whether improved reading ability betters the learning outcomes for other subjects.
The read-a-thon program, chosen for the present study, has been organised by a Filipino non-profit organisation, the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation (SAS) that promotes reading among Filipino children. SAS works with public schools around the country, providing resources to motivate students to make reading a part of their daily lives, including reading programs for children, teacher training and conferences, and materials on the latest teaching techniques. Since its inception in 1999, SAS has implemented its reading program in over 750 public schools, reaching nearly 150,000 students.
The SAS reading program has been designed to provide age-appropriate reading material, to train teachers in their use, and to support teachers’ initial efforts for 31 days to improve reading skills of grade four students. The program is targeted at grade four students as the Philippine school system expects children to develop adequate reading proficiency by this age.
SAS donates a set of 60 age-appropriate storybooks (both in Filipino and English), reading diaries, and reading progress charts to each of the participating schools. The organisation then conducts a two-day training program for fourth-grade teachers with a view to enable them to incorporate effective and engaging reading within the curriculum and then, through a 31-day reading marathon, the program encourages children to read. The “read-a-thon” includes hour-long daily reading sessions along with various activities like storytelling, reading games, and individual silent reading.
The present evaluation looks at 100 elementary schools in Tarlac province of the Philippines which participated in the SAS program in 2009. Randomised Control Trial (RCT) method was adopted for the evaluation study. A baseline survey conducted in all 100 schools was followed-up by two surveys to measure the program impact – one just after the completion of the reading marathon and the second three months later at the end of the academic year. The study also measured students’ reading skills as well as their possible effect on knowledge of other subjects.
The results of the first evaluation conducted immediately after the 31-day reading marathon showed an increase in the number of books read by the participant children from 1.9 to 4.2 in the last week and from 2.3 to 9.5 in the last month. At the same time, their reading skills improved by 0.13 standard deviations. The survey conducted three months after the end of the 31 –day read-a-thon program shows that students in the treatment group still read 3.1 books more in the previous month and scored 0.06 standard deviations higher on reading tests, compared to those in the comparison group. The reduction in reading scores from 0.13 standard deviations to 0.6 after 3 months of the read-a-thon was possibly due to a reduced emphasis on reading by the teachers after the program. The evaluation also found that the program encourages students to read more on their own at home. However, there was no evidence that improved reading ability ameliorates test scores on other subjects.
The overall results of the evaluation suggest that implementing short-term programs that promote reading can be an effective way to cultivate good habits in children and improve their reading ability.
To read the full article, please click here.
Meet Vinod Madhukar Dole, a class seven student of an Ashram school in Maharashtra (Gargaon Ashram School) who has been studying here since class 1. Both his siblings, an elder brother and younger sister are studying in the same school. These three kids, originally from a village 15 kms away, are residents at this school. They only get to meet their parents during Diwali, Ganpati or other festivals.
Their parents have very little formal education; mother is a class 8 graduate and father, a 5th standard pass out. They don’t own land because of which both parents are labourers working on farms owned by other people. Every month is a struggle to make ends meet and put food on the table. On days when they cannot find any labour work, Vinod’s parents are forced to stay home.
Even though these children hardly have access to newspapers, story books and other reading materials, they really enjoy coming to school.
Always the first to be in the classroom during special Saksham classes, a literacy remediation programme run by QUEST for children in grades 4-7, Vinod quietly goes and sits in the last row in the class. He is a quiet student and does not speak unless addressed directly.
Saksham programme was started at Gargaon Ashram School towards the end of August 2015. Before the programme started, QUEST conducted a pre-test for all students studying in grades 4 to 7. Typically, results of this test are used to classify students into 3 groups A, B and C, with C being a group of the brightest students in the class.
Vinod scored 22.67% in the baseline test and hence was in A group. He took little time in becoming familiar with accent notation and could recognise all letters. Although he struggled when reading and writing ‘र’ related notations and words related to अॅ,ऑ,ऋ. He also had immense trouble in writing. Even though he could identify all letters, he would make mistakes while writing words with accent notations.
When checking dictation assignments, teachers would ask him to read out the passage he had written. Vinod was then able to recognise the errors in his own writing. Gradually, over time, he has now become familiar with the teachers; and interacts with them freely. With regular dictation, the number of errors committed by Vinod has dropped drastically.
Vinod has gained some confidence about his reading and writing skills and now insists that teachers check his note book first. He has started visiting the library and is often found sitting in a corner engrossed in a story book.
Teacher reads aloud to a Saksham class. These kids really enjoy when someone reads out to them
Saksham programme was run at this school for 6 months and during these 60 days, Vinod finished reading almost 3 books. At the end of January, during the end line test, he scored 53.33 marks. He showed the maximum improvements and crossed both B1 and B2 groups and has now finally moved to the C group.
About Saksham Programme
All three groups; A, B, & C are divided into two sub-groups. Students from both sub-groups sit in the same classroom. This decision is taken based on the students to teacher ratio. As the students in this group have two different levels, slightly weaker students are in 1 sub-group and the slightly better ones are in 2 sub-group. As both sub-groups are accommodated in the same classrooms, the teachers have to teach same content at different levels. The students in A group have problems with alphabet recognition and hence struggle with both reading and writing.
Students in B group face problems in identifying “jod-akshar” (joined letters) and in writing by themselves. Some students also have problem with accent notations and reading. When given a task to write their experience about something, there is no chronological order in the narration.
Students in C group don’t have problems in reading or identifying “jod-akshar” but struggle with notations related to the letter “र”. They also encounter problems during writing. The students have significant issues in handling different types and styles of writing. However, these students are much more likely to progress faster than other groups.
For more details on the Saksham program and its impact on reading skills, check here.
The READ Alliance team has been travelling to explore innovative organizations working in the field of Early Grade Reading in India. During one of our recent visits, we met with Vidhya Das, who along with her husband Mr. Achyut Das is running Agragamee, an organization for tribal development in Odisha. Read excerpts from our conversation with her-
There was a recent report on the Sri Lankan government taking tips on quality education from Odisha, which is such great news. What are your thoughts on this?
Yes, I also read it. The team from Sri Lanka visited Puri and Khurda districts, which are the most developed districts in Odisha. Most of the efforts in qualitative education are going on in these districts, as people are very eager to improve their lives and get better education. In the tribal districts however, education is a big challenge, because local tribal communities still do not send their children to school.
Can you give us a brief overview of the status of primary education in Odisha?
Primary education in Odisha has a huge urban rural divide. Most children in the urban areas go to private schools. In the rural areas, there are very few private schools, and children especially from poorer communities have no option but to attend government schools. Faced with resource crunch and lack of qualified teachers, these government primary schools can’t ever provide quality education.
The situation is worse in the tribal districts, where the average number of teachers in a primary school is 3 or less. For upper primary schools, the average number of teachers is around 4. Moreover, many of these teachers are not trained or qualified for handling multi-grade teaching. This has a direct impact on the learning levels of children.
By shutting down schools with very few children and increasing the number of residential schools in these areas, the government plans to address this problem. However, the resources required to run residential schools are much higher than those required for a primary school. Shutting down primary schools and shifting all students to residential schools in the tribal regions, might create more problems, as children who cannot go to a residential school for one reason or the other, will be deprived of education completely. It remains to be seen, whether the government will spend enough resources to ensure quality education and facilities in these schools.
What is the educational status of tribals vis-a-vis their non-tribal counterparts in terms of education?
There are multiple reasons for the low literacy levels in tribal regions. The most important reason is that the tribal community still has not realized the need for school education. These people have a right to be skeptical as school education has not really made a significant difference to quality of life in the tribal regions. Tribal communities by and large still have not been able to have the benefits of a literate generation. This impedes the parents from monitoring their children’s learning in school, demanding better teaching, or even supporting their child’s learning at home.
Another reason is the lack of quality government school teachers who are equipped to deliver qualitative education in the tribal regions. A lot of these teachers do not comprehend the innovative methods outlined in recently developed textbooks. These teachers also don’t have proper training to deal with multi-lingual classes, as is often the case in tribal villages.
Professor Kundu during one of the teacher training session in an Agragamee School
Hence the tribal literacy and educational levels are disturbingly low. Many students who have given their 10th exams can’t read fluently. In the villages, actual literacy levels, and simple tasks like reading for information, and doing basic arithmetic calculation are significantly below the ‘literacy rates’ as indicated by the census figures. For tribal girls, the situation is much worse, as patriarchal values attribute least priority to education of tribal girls.
Tell us about the work you do at Agragamee?
Agragamee addresses various aspects of tribal development and tribal poverty. The details of our work in different sectors can be accessed from the website.
Agragamee has been involved in the implementation of programs of primary education in the tribal regions for the last 25 years. In these programs, it has been supported by the Ministry of Human Resource Development for Programs of Non-formal and Innovative Education, covering 200 villages, in 5 tribal districts, Ministry of Tribal Welfare for a Residential Complex for Tribal Girls, and International Funding agencies including Action Aid, and Terre Des Homes.
These efforts in education were essentially through single teacher learning centers, which aimed to provide education in some of the remote tribal regions, where schools did not run or even exist. They have been part of Agragamee’s holistic and integrated development efforts.
From just small rooms in the center of villages lit with a lantern, these schools blossomed into lively dynamic centers of collective growth with shared learning’s where the development history of the village unfolded. The attendance in these centers is not just limited to children, as many adults and adolescents regularly visit the center with interest and enthusiasm. Some are regulars, interested in learning the secrets of alphabets and number; others not so regular in the beginning, as they usually come out of curiosity but gradually become more regular.
Children’s monthly wall magazines with illustrated stories, essays and art by the children
Mukta Gyana Kutira
Seeking to build up and consolidate its past experience in education, Agragamee started a series of schools called “Mukta Gyana Kutira” or ‘Centers for Learning with Freedom’, in some of the remotest tribal regions in Odisha. The interventions include primary schools for tribal girls, primers and guides for easy and fun language development and teacher training.
Over the decade of their existence, these schools have been able to prove their worth, and develop a keen interest for education in the villages. Taking into consideration, the extremely low level of education of girls and women in the tribal districts of Odisha, the Agragamee Schools have been able to break the taboos and barriers to girl’s education in the tribal villages.
This initiative has generated a sense of right to education that has started a process of reforming the state school system. Children have become more regular in attending school which has resulted in some enhancement of attendance of the children.
Apart from exerting a direct impact on the overall education scenario of the area Agragamee Schools have created a sense of empowerment among the students. Children have been instrumental in checking the muster rolls for MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act), generating awareness about the right wage rate and benefits involved in the programs like public distribution system, the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme), etc.
Since most of these children are first generation learners and have least scope of support and help from parents and relatives, the role of teacher becomes very important. How does Agragamee involve teachers and ensure that they remain motivated and committed to the cause?
Agragamee’s Mukta Gyana Kutir Schools have developed as ‘Experimental Model Schools’, where teachers and teaching is monitored closely, and supportive inputs are provided regularly to the teachers, through informal interactions, training programs and demonstration classes by experts. The teachers have thus gotten a much better understanding of the whole process of teaching. To further support their work, Agragamee has developed innovative work books, and teaching learning material, that acts like a guide for day to day activities in the class.
The core approach is basically a reversal of the traditional methods of language teaching, which begins with emphasis on the alphabets. In the Agragamee method, the emphasis is on helping the child learn words first, words which have meaning and connections for the child, then learning to write names of familiar objects and things, like animals, vegetables and flowers around the house, etc. There is no effort whatsoever to make the child rote learn any alphabets or spellings. On the contrary, the teacher takes the child through a series of steps, such as writing words, then sentences, and funny rhymes, and so on, which helps the child connect with the phonetics naturally.
There are many students coming from various linguistic minority groups, which make it difficult for them to cope in school due to linguistic differences. What are some innovative ways in which you are overcoming this problem?
This problem can only be overcome with the help of teachers with the same mother tongue as the children. The teacher should be provided training in dealing with multi-lingual class groups. In our schools, the teachers teach the same rhyme in two languages, providing translations for both groups of children.
What is the role of governance in development of education of the tribals?
Governance is a key issue in educational development, as it is with any development administration of any welfare scheme. However, it is the one key intervention that can help any community take the quantum leap from being marginalized to being developed. At the moment the government has many features for the decentralized governance of schools like School Management Committee, Parent Teacher Association, Panchayat Level Standing committee etc. However, as the people themselves are uneducated, they are unable to exercise the powers conferred on these committees. In such cases, it is imperative to make extra efforts to educate the village community about the various programs and its proper governance and management.
Presenting Assistant District Election Officer with the Agragamee Teacher Learning Materials
Thank you Vidhya, it was wonderful chatting with you. Before wrapping up, why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself?
I have done my masters in Anthropology
Agragamee was started by Mr. Achyut Das, who had experience of poverty and underdevelopment in Western and Southern Odisha, first hand as a project officer in the OXFAM West Orissa Program. I joined 3 years later, seeking to address tribal poverty and underdevelopment. Having a background in Social Anthropology, and been born and brought up in Jharkhand, which was then Bihar, I was keen to work in the tribal regions for their development and rights.
In Agragamee, we sought to address all issues affecting the tribal communities with the ideology of “food and voice”. This included gross violation of basic human rights of tribals (especially tribal women), extreme hunger and poverty, exploitation and lack of education. This is hugely challenging, given the limited resources, the forces of exploitation and the vested interests of different stakeholders.
Along with the tribal communities, Agragamee, and its members have also suffered huge attacks on its leadership, including violence, false cases, imprisonment, threats of de-registration etc. All this has made it very difficult to carry on. Now, we have narrowed down our efforts to a focus only on education, and agricultural development
Studies have shown the vital importance of reading ability on a child’s future and a country’s economic development. A 2011 UNESCO report found that if all students in low-income countries left primary school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty — that’s the equivalent of a 12 percent drop globally.
READ Alliance partners Karadi Path Education Company (KPEC) and QUEST have been bringing about a change in the reading levels of children in parts of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
KPEC utilizes a tested curriculum that introduces audio/visual technology and language development materials in technologically deprived classrooms across Tamil Nadu. QUEST is building the skills of teachers through rigorous and long-term training and support. They are doing this through LIPI, a comprehensive Marathi literacy program for children in early grades at Ashram schools and SAKSHAM, a literacy remediation program for children who have not mastered basics of reading.
Check out how Karadi Path (KPEC) & QUEST are revolutionizing the early reading space in India.
After every lesson or activity children are given a special assignment based on the Shikshak Mitra’s (Mentors for teachers) lesson plan. Children always welcome innovative assignments which creates an enjoyable learning environment
(Source: Ashram Shala in Maharashtra where QUEST programs are being run)
The children from Ashram schools who don’t come from backgrounds with zero to now literacy and struggle while reading, always enjoy when someone reads aloud for them
(Source: Children at an Ashram Shala in a QUEST class)
QUEST uses a lot of games as part of their curriculum. The aim of such games is to promote usage of libraries. These library games are developed by Shikshak Mitra’s. Such games create awareness in children about the variety of books in there library and the diverse content they have. An example of a game- Find a book by clues
(Source: Children at an Ashram Shala in a QUEST class)
Students enjoying the story path, one of the techniques employed by Karadi Path to teach children how to Read
(Source: KPEC Children at Panchayath Union Primay School, Amman Nagar, Chennai, Tamil Nadu)
Children learning how to READ as the teacher holds up a board with letters and words written on it. This is called the Reading Path, another technique employed by Karadi Path
(Source: KPEC Children at Panchayath Union Middle School, Chinna Sekkadu, Chennai, Tamil Nadu)