• Bengaluru

EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT - BACK TO SCHOOL

The Covid 19 pandemic has proved particularly detrimental to the well- being of children, adolescents and youth. It has reversed several decades of work put in to improve children’s access to education and their academic progress. A recent study by the Associated Management of Primary and Secondary Schools in Karnataka covering 250 unaided private schools estimates that at least 60,000 children have dropped out of school. They expect this number to be much higher considering there are 3600 unaided private schools in the state. Government surveys are underway in the state and the situation across various districts is grim. For instance, in Kalburgi only 15% of children were reported to be attending school. The situation is similar even in the more developed districts such as Dakshina Kannada. The fact that children have had no offline classes for a second year in a row has resulted in loss of retention of what they had already learnt. Loss of two academic years is seen to be having far- reaching consequences on children’s overall learning capacities.

Apart from loss of academic skills, there have been several mental health issues that children have suffered apart from the fact that young boys could be drawn into petty crimes and addictions. Similarly, girl children are being pushed into early marriages, a fate worse than having to work. Similarly losing a parent to Covid has pushed children to an uncertain and risky future. In one instance, the lone bread winner of the family died due to Covid19 leaving behind his wife and three young children. His wife has started working as a domestic help. The oldest of the children aged 11 years has been put to work in a garage, which essentially means that this child will not resume school. The two youngest children aged 9 years and 7 years are at home by themselves increasing risks of abuse, kidnapping and trafficking. When it involves children with disabilities, they suffer greater levels of neglect as caregivers are struggling to make ends meet. 

If we do not step in now to respond to the children’s crises then we stand to jeopardize an entire generation and the country’s future. This can be particularly dangerous for India where 43% of the population is between the ages of 5 to 19 years. 

In an effort to prevent the children from getting caught in social and emotional quagmire, Spoorthidhama has planned activities to facilitate children’s transition back to school and offline classes, provide academic support to catch- up with learning loss and come up to speed to match age- appropriate classes.  

Post- pandemic, students from class 6 upwards have returned to offline classes. In Milind school, teachers are faced with a challenging situation. They find students to be disengaged, uninterested and unresponsive. Teachers are finding it difficult to connect with them. The management is concerned with class 10 students who have to face important exams over the next six months. The more long- term concern is about the students’ attitude- they seem unconcerned about exams or any such issues. Teachers say that students feel that they will also sail through class 10 like the earlier batch which did not have exams due to the pandemic. They also said students were ‘disrespectful’ and ‘disobedient’. 

So we have a group of 23 class 10 students who are outwardly resistant and unresponsive in the classroom and school. While one is not sure what the root causes could be, one can expect the following factors have led to the present situation: 

  • Loss of routine 
  • Increased availability of unstructured, unsupervised free time
  • Increased use of mobile, TV and other such devices 
  • Financial crisis and other such disturbances in the family

 

All of this could have led to reduced attention spansloss of earlier capacities to read, comprehend and write, emotional disturbances such as increased irritability, anxiety and so on and poor retention of any new matter. 

The main goal of the intervention is to help students re-discover the joy of school and classroom, enable them to reconnect with the school ecosystem and respond to the requirements therein.

The specific objectives of the present intervention are:

  • To facilitate students’ reflection on the school ecosystem and its importance
  • To help students learn and use certain techniques to regain and improve concentration, learning and retention
  • To increase students’ self- efficacy /self- confidence
  • To support teachers use participatory tools to make classrooms more interactive and responsive.   
  • To facilitate student – teacher bonding and interaction

The stated objectives will be fulfilled through the three components of the intervention that address various aspects of the school eco-system and are expected to facilitate better connect between students and teachers in the classroom leading to better outcomes:

  • A two- day reflective workshop with students titled, ‘RARING TO GO’
  • A one- day workshop with teachers 
  • A joint workshop of teachers and students

 

These three components will be implemented over a period of 10- 12 days. All workshops will create a safe space and build trust to ensure participants are relaxed and all efforts will be made to ensure confidentiality and anonymity of responses. Sessions will involve hands- on activities, exercises and games that require them to reflect, think, discuss and arrive at a certain understanding.  There will be no didactic lectures. 

The two -day workshop will address issues related to school and classroom -related anxiety, disinterest and unresponsiveness, problems with attention span, concentration and retention, build their self- esteem, confidence and self- efficacy and get students to focus on the immediate future. 

A set of standardized tests related to the following will be administered over the period of two- days prior to each session during the workshop: 

  • Anxiety
  • Personality
  • Memory
  • Attention span
  • Self- efficacy

 

These tests will be repeated after a period of two months to evaluate the effectiveness of the workshop. 

The upcoming workshop on 18th and 19th October 2021 is planned to be completely participatory through activities, games, exercises and space to reflect and share.  The workshop space will be made welcoming with posters of inspirational quotes from Buddha, Ambedkar and others. 

The Accelerated Education Working Group (AEWG) defines a catch-up program as: 

A short-term transitional education program for children and youth who had been actively attending school prior to an educational disruption, which provides students with the opportunity to learn content missed because of the disruption and supports their re-entry to the formal system.

Spoorthidhama is in a unique position to initiate these centers. Spoorthidhama has been running the Milind Public School on campus, offering the mainstream CBSE curriculum with the main objective of providing good quality education for all, specifically ensuring inclusion of children from marginalized communities. Every year fees and other costs are either waived or substantially reduced for these children who constitute nearly 40% of the total strength. This way Spoorthidhama is ensuring that students from all walks of life learn together without any discrimination. Unlike other schools, Milind School does not insist on high scores at the time of admission. It takes pride in the fact that it admits average and less than average students and moulds them into high scorers. So Spoorthidhama has adequate expertise and experience of teaching children from marginalized backgrounds and understand their particular struggles related to learningas well as their life situations. 

Spoorthidhama is initiating Catch Up Learning Centers (CLC) with the following objectives:

  1. To identify children who have not had access to school in the past one and a half years and enroll them in CLCs to:
    1. Help them re-learn academic skills from the previous class which they have not retained 
    2. Bring them upto speed as per the requirements of age-appropriate class.  
  2. To ensure that children return and are retained in whichever school they had previously enrolled, be it a private school or in the local government school. 

Each CLC will be located within the community. This will be an in- person learning center where children will wear masks, sanitize their hands periodically and be seated far apart ensuring physical distance.  The local ward committee will be approached to provide space for the CLC. The local school, community center and other such spaces will be explored.

Two young women who have completed at least Class 12 / Pre- University will be identified from within the village to teach in each CLC. Each CLC will accommodate a maximum of 30 children. Specific efforts will be made to enroll girl children. 

The setting up of the CLC will be preceded by a survey in the selected settlement to identify the children and their present levels of skills and the gap with respect to expected levels as per their age. This will help focus on specific requirements of the children in each center. 

The CLC teachers will undergo training to use the TLMs, to manage the classroom, to maintain student records, to help children adhere to covid- appropriate behavior and other CLC procedures. Ongoing handholding support will be provided through the project to the teachers. 

Existing and available Teaching Learning Materials (TLMs) and curricula for catch- up teaching -learning process will be reviewed and TLMs for the CLCs will be designed including lesson plans, worksheets and tests for each age-group and subject based on expected learning outcomes. 

The catch- up curriculum will consist of 90 days of teaching and will be conducted for three hours everyday, adding up to a total of 270 hours of teaching- learning. The materials will be structured and standardized in a sequential manner with minimal room for improvisation so that even persons with minimum skills can teach and also adhere to expected quality levels. 

In the first phase 10 CLCs will be set up in low income settlements in Bangalore. These settlements will be selected based on certain criteria such as high poverty levels, presence of a large proportion of migrants, Muslims, dalits and other such vulnerable groups in the settlement, settlements with little intervention by NGOs, and so on.

The 10 CLCs will be implemented for four cycles of three months each during the first phase of one year duration. By this, each center over a period of 12 months will cater to a total of 120 children (30 children *4 cycles of three months duration each). And with 10 centers, the project will cover at least 1200 children in one year. We could explore the possibility of having two shifts per day for a few days per week if a particular center needs to cover more children. That possibility will be clear only after the CLCs are underway.

Science is supposed to spark curiosity and wonder among children. But most children in the Indian context learn science in the most dismal manner which dampens the interest of the most curious children. Moreover there is a prevailing myth that only those who are “intelligent” can understand, learn or study science. This has created a lot of mental blocks among a large proportion of children that they lack whatever it takes to understand science. When it concerns children from marginalized communities it is further complicated by the fact that they lack other avenues to explore the world of science. There is also a widely prevalent social bias and prejudice among teachers against children from poor, deprived backgrounds that they lack the capacity to grasp subjects like Maths and Science, which to a large extent has also been internalized. Such an internalization has posed serious challenges for children to score adequate marks thus reinforcing such feelings about oneself. Therefore it is no surprise that we find fewer and fewer children opting for science in their higher studies and we can see it reflected in the gross under- representation of students from marginalised communities in science subjects in the Universities. 

Therefore there is a need to break the myth that science is something very complex, difficult to grasp, and only for those who are “intelligent”. Secondly, one needs to get past the mental diffidence of children in learning science. One needs to demystify science and show how everyone is applying science in their day to day lives. Science has to be presented as a source of wonder and illustrate how exciting it is to learn about it.     Children have to be encouraged to raise questions, to think critically all of which will help to appreciate science as a subject. 

In this context, Spoorthidhama is initiating “Vismaya”, an online science series for older children from marginalized communities. The purpose of this program is not to “convert” everyone into “scientists” but to help children appreciate the wonders of science in a spirit of curiosity and critical thinking.    

The focus of the program is two- fold:

  1. Demystify science, make it accessible and fun such that children who are inclined towards it are encouraged to pursue it further 
  2. Support children understand the topics in their science curriculum, respond to their doubts and ensure that they get good marks thereby also increasing their self- confidence to pursue science, if they are interested

 

In an effort to understand children’s needs and perceptions about science, a small interaction was held with students of Class 9 and 10. The students were inhibited but expressed that they found physics toughest of the lot and that they are really scared of it. They were receptive to the idea of having science sessions but said that they have found online classes difficult to understand and therefore preferred offline classes. During a similar interaction with teachers, they said that students were highly distracted during class and almost resistant to participate despite the teacher constantly encouraging them to ask questions and doubts. They felt that such a response could be due to the long break from school and subsequent online classes where children could easily remain passive without feeling compelled to participate. They also felt that offline classes would be better so that they could be physically energized to participate. 

Given these interactions, the resource team is working on a curriculum focusing on:

  • How can online sessions be made truly participatory?
  • What kinds of tech tools and methodologies can be used such that sessions are exciting and fun?
  • What are the topics that will be dealt with in the sessions? 
  • What will be the duration and frequency of sessions?
  • Who will conduct which session?
  • How will the program be structured? For instance can a few offline interactions also be fitted in?