What is KLP?

The Karnataka Learning Partnership was formed as a framework for nonprofits, corporations, academic institutions, and citizens to get involved in improving government schools in Karnataka. Our work has touched thousands of children in the state.
Visit our website: www.klp.org.in

Friday, March 27, 2009

Activity-Based Learning in Tamil Nadu

Similar to Karnataka's Nali Kali programme, Tamil Nadu's Activity-Based Learning programme is based on Rishi Valley principles and is designed to provide a flexible, child-centric learning process. Here's a perspective on the programme from an education advisor at DfID (the UK's development aid agency). He is impressed with the programme and wonders whether it could be adapted to other country contexts:

"I was fortunate enough to be attending the annual DFID Education Advisors get together in early March. This year Chennai (formerly Madras), India had been chosen as the venue, to allow us all to get a first hand view of a very special learning method that has been introduced to most primary schools in Tamil Nadu State.

Activity Based Learning (ABL) has its roots in the Rishi Valley Rural Education Centre that was established 50 years ago by Indian educators, who went on to devise creative methods in teaching and innovative learning materials. In 2003 the approach was been taken up and trialled by the State Department of Education in a few Chennai school. Since 2007 ABL has been rapidly scaled up and is now practised in all of the 37,500 government / government-aided primary schools of Tamil Nadu; a State with a population of 62 million that exceeds that of the entire UK! DFID has contributed to this process through its financial support to the Indian Government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) program that promotes universal access to elementary education and which has underwritten over 95% of the costs of introducing ABL in Tamil Nadu.

Walking into the first of five ABL schools I visited I was struck by the sense of order and the well maintained compound; it felt a long way both in distance and operation from the schools I often visit in Northern Nigeria.

‘He who would search for pearls must dive deep’ was the proverb chalked up by the entrance to Rajankuppam School in Thiruvallar District.

Inside the classroom the difference was immense. Children of all ages from 5 – 9 years (equivalent to the first 4 grades) sat in mixed groups on reed mats on the floor, totally absorbed in activities they were following from work sheets. The classroom was like an Aladdin’s Cave of learning, with the walls and ceiling (using a grid of wire) displaying the students’ work and imaginative home made posters and displays.

Chalkboards, some the shape of animals lined the lower sections of the walls, allowing the children (not the teacher) to practise writing and attempting exercises.

As a child finished an assignment they would seek the teacher’s feedback, then move on to the next exercise that was identified using a colourful ‘ladder’ wall-chart that allowed the student to progress at his or her own pace. The teachers, dedicated women clad in colourful saris, had merely to guide;- there was little need for lecturing and discipline given the children’s enthusiasm and interest in the friendly stimulating environment.

I quickly joined in and helped children to use an Abacus and listened to them read in both their native Tamil language and English. With an older group of students I discussed the environment and the harmful effects of pollution. I was able to watch students perform songs, rĂ´le play and shadow puppet shows that developed cultural skills and acquire language.

There was no doubt in my mid that ABL had made a big difference in motivating children to both attend school and to help them learn. In some schools there had been initial parental scepticism about the radical changes being made, but this was quickly dispelled when the positive impact upon the children became evident. Village Education Committee’s have also been instrumental in the ABL transformation process, supporting the schools with funds and material support.

Returning to Nigeria, I reflect on whether such a major change in school practise could be introduced in poorer African countries. Shortages of resources and funding would certainly be a challenge, but just as difficult would be the institutional changes needed to build capacity and motivate teachers to adopt such a new approach.

Hopefully with ‘deep diving’ at least some ‘pearls’ from ABL can be adapted and introduced in other parts of India and spread further in other developing countries around the world.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

creativity and education

Creativity and education: Contradictory impulses?


If education is seen and practised as an activity of regimentation, then creativity, by definition, would have no place in it. Is that what we want for our children?

This anecdote is based on a real life incident. Teachers in a school found a seven-year-old boy quite odd. Though he was well mannered and never got into fights, his answers were often seen as “different”. So the teachers tried their best to “educate” him.

Teacher: What does the cow give us?

Boy: The cow gives us cow dung.

Teacher: That’s not a good answer. You should say “the cow gives us milk”.

Boy: But why, Miss? Does the cow not give us dung?

Teacher: Stop acting over-smart! Why can’t you be like a normal child? I will send a note to your parents! You are the fellow who drew an amoeba in art class, right?

Boy: Yes, Miss. We were asked to draw an animal. I picked an amoeba that my big sister told me about! You see, I liked it because it has no fixed shape! And it moves about using pretend feet…

Teacher: Enough! Why do I get these oddballs in my class!?

Is “creativity” in opposition to “education”? Education is commonly treated as a standardised and sequential activity — like training, providing identical skills and transmitting predetermined information. Students are fed received doctrines, positions and views. First standard followed by second, third…tenth board exams, plus-two and then preparing for college admissions…

Notion of educaion

How many times have you heard young students say something like, “I byhearted and byhearted all the expected questions but the question paper was different …even our teachers agreed!” Or parents say “… the American system is different…children have to think. No use just learning things.” Teachers and even parents sometimes find creative children difficult to handle. They might even consider a creative child too fruity, a trouble maker, hard to “educate” like the boy in the story above. Of course, there are a few “alternate” schools that allow “creativity” to flower. But as the child comes closer to the eighth or ninth standard, many parents start to become uncomfortable about their choice of “alternate” schooling systems. The pressures of board exams cannot be wished away. Some switch — at times with a bit of reluctance — putting their children through regular “education” rather than “creativity”.

Examinations and standardised testing techniques tend to incentivise homogeneity and undermine creativity. That does not, of course, mean that standardised testing has no value. In the medical field, for example, standardised tests can be very useful. Such tests can provide information on whether your red blood corpuscles count is within the normal range or not or whether your body mass index, or BMI, is within acceptable limits. However, the problem arises when doing well on a standardised test becomes the ultimate aim of learning.

Is creativity really in opposition to education? Let us think again. There is quite a lot of misunderstanding about creativity. Creativity is not haphazard — creative work requires system and discipline to actually produce something. Take musicians for example. How do you think A.R. Rahman produces such superb music? Not by being haphazard! You need to be very good in your field and also have the freedom to speculate and innovate. Creativity is not limited to specific fields like art or music, creativity is seen in all fields. Medicine, physics, cooking, and even policing, benefit from creative input. Creativity is not opposed to intelligence — it is organically linked to intelligence. Top mathematicians and writers are highly intelligent people. That is how they think of new ways of doing things. Creativity does not make you do your work badly. In fact, if you are good at something and like what you do, you will not just find fulfilment, you will also be able to contribute by innovation and resourcefulness. Thus we need to counter at least three popular myths that surround creativity:

Myth 1: Creativity is limited to special fields, like art or music so it is no use trying to be creative if you are an electrician or a journalist; in fact all fields have the inherent potential for creativity.

Myth 2: Creativity is limited to special people; in fact all people have a streak of creativity in them.

Myth 3: Creativity is what it is, you either have it or not and there is not much one can do about it; in fact you can develop and build upon your creativity.

Education experts have argued that the old model of sequential and standardised education can, in fact, “train students out of their creativity”. Learning by rote, memorising and reproducing preset information is not the essence of education. It can help in doing well in standardised tests, but not much more. Once you actually start to work, you may find that it is people who are resourceful, who innovate, can find ingenious ways of doing things that are much in demand.

Encouraging diversity

Standard education may try to suppress diversity and inspiration (including in fields like art or music seen as inherently creative) but it is very difficult to eliminate them. Cars or bottle caps can be manufactured. It is much harder to “manufacture” people. Nor should education attempt to do so. On the contrary, teachers should be equipped to build and encourage creativity as part of their professional training. And how is that to be done? Teachers and parents should further not just knowledge about the subject, but also nurture divergent thinking, many different angles and answers to a question. They should build confidence among students to speculate, to experiment, to think differently, however unorthodox it may seem. It does not mean that they should be ignorant in the subjects. Students need to be on top of a discipline and also speculate, innovate, explore many different angles, as an inherent part of learning the discipline. Young children can have enormous confidence in doing things that may seem different — going ahead without any fear of failure. Adults can quite easily undermine this confidence by discouraging them.

Here is an example of a little girl in class two and her art teacher.

Teacher: What are you doing?

Girl: Making a picture of God.

Teacher: But no one knows what God looks like!

Girl: They will, in five minutes…as soon as I am done.

Now, do we really want to discourage this little girl? And the little boy at the beginning of this piece?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Focus on Quantity at the Cost of Quality

The North Block, in New Delhi, houses key gove...Image via Wikipedia

Pulapre Balakrishnan on the UPA legacy and that the attention the UPA has devoted to primary education has been relatively obscured by some big initiatives in higher education:
As initiatives must be judged by outcomes, so must be the actions of the government of the day. And outcome in the educational policy is judged by the advancement of learning. Governments in India have generally steered away from this indicator, preferring that of provisioning. Thus, official agencies purvey indicators of enrolment, the teacher-student ratio and school infrastructure. It may be said that the first two indicators have shown some improvement. However, the teacher-student ratio in Indian schools has shown a secular worsening since independence, and there is no evidence that a permanent reversal of this trend has even been initiated. Anyway, the teacher-student ratio is yet not an indicator of learning.

As the Union government does not provide data on this, we must rely on that provided by private agencies. Non-governmental organization Pratham publishes an annual report on the state of education, and the most recent one shows unacceptably low learning outcomes in the country.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nali Kali

Nali Kali’ concept to spread to more schools

Shankar Bennur

First and second standard to adopt the activity-based method in June

Nali Kali will be introduced in 33,000 more schools in 2009-10

The concept focuses on individual care and child-centric, activity-based curriculum

MYSORE: Several government primary and higher primary schools in the State will adopt the ‘Nali Kali’ way of teaching to make learning for children fun and meaningful. When the schools in the State reopen after summer vacation in June, children in the first and second standards will switch over to the activity-based learning method.

S. Selva Kumar, State project director, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Karnataka, told The Hindu that the Nali Kali methodology was being expanded from the next academic year and added that the training of teachers under this had been completed.

“Materials for Nali Kali are being prepared. The work books and child portfolio books have been redesigned to develop more interest towards learning among the children,” he said.

He said the field staff of SSA, Karnataka, recently visited schools in Tamil Nadu where the activity-based learning, a project similar to “Nali Kali” had been launched, to familiarise themselves with the finer aspects of the project.

“We are fine-tuning Nali Kali methodology by incorporating new features to make it effective for retaining more number of children in schools and to implement the concept across the State. We plan to have more than two teachers for implementing the methodology,” Mr. Kumar said.

He said the concept will be introduced in 33,000 more schools in 2009-10.

The teacher designs the methodology on the basis of the competency of the children, and in this ensures cent per cent achievement of competency in children, according to the office of the SSA.

Success rate

The concept, which focuses on individual care and child-centred and activity-based curriculum, had already been introduced in select schools in the State. The success of this methodology in H.D. Kote taluk of Mysore district made schools in other districts emulate it.

When Mysore district came under phase II of the District Primary Education Project (DPEP) in 1998, the government decided to replicate the H.D. Kote experiment in the whole of Mysore district.

As this methodology is more appropriate in multi-grade situations, the government introduced it in 10 “janashala” blocks, seven DPEP blocks in Mysore and eight SWASTHH PLUS (Sanitation and water at schools towards hygiene and health — putting the lessons learnt to use) blocks in Gulbarga and Yadgir.

The Nali Kali methodology of teaching is in force in about 13,691 schools in the Stateunder the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).

According to SSA, Nali Kali effectively eliminates the formal system of roll calls, examinations, promotions and ranking — all these now deemed “unhealthy” between the age of five and 14.

Flexible curriculum

A child who is absent from school for several days or weeks owing to seasonal agricultural work, illness or temporary migration can re-enter the learning continuum at the level where he/she left off without having to go through the distress of catching up on large chunks of

School Chale Hum

Beautiful video of children from all across India going to school.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Number of Out-of-School Children Dropping in Karnataka

From TOI:

"Empty classrooms in government schools in Karnataka are slowly getting filled up. Various state government initiatives to bring back children to school has seen a 50% decline in out-of-school children in just a year's time.

The out-of-school census done by the education department has revealed that the total number of out-of-school children is 35,637 for the age group of 7-14. Of these, 18,526 are boys and the remaining are girls.

Last year, the total number of out-of-school children was 72,365. Of these, 36,511 were boys and 35,854 were girls. Last year, the total number of students who never enrolled in school were 45,582 and drop-outs were 26,783."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Feedback from Children

We have received a tremendously encouraging response from children to our 'Oduve Nanu' reading programme. Postcards were distributed to children in classes 4 and above, who came under this programme, in all districts.

We have received responses from around 5,500 children so far and more are pouring in.

Some of the responses were:

1.I learnt to read ‘sarala padas’ – simple words.
2. Attractive cards tempted me to read.
3. A new story card each day is a good idea.
4. Stories were interesting and simple.
5. My friends and people at home also read the cards.
6. Illustrations helped me visualize the story easily.
7. Our textbooks should be like this.
8. Through these cards I have confidence that I can read.
Seen below: one of the reading cards

Child Malnutrition in India

India has the world's worst rates of malnutrition. This photo essay from the New York Times explores the depth of the problem and its relation to education. It's impossible to ignore nutrition when thinking about education. Worth a look.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lenovo Donates PCs to Kannada, Urdu Government Schools

Lenovo's efforts towards promoting 'regional language computing' amongst children:
(click on the image to read)

Child Labour High in Karnataka

From Express Buzz:

BANGALORE: Over 22 years after the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act was passed, the situation has only worsened. After crackdowns on hotels, farms, mills and many other workplaces, now most cases of child labour are being passed off as kids working for families and forwarding their family trade. The stark reality is that children are being contracted in large groups from impoverished regions and are brought to work in cities by either distant relatives or people who claim to be so. Today, India has the largest number of child workers in the world and according to a 2001 census, Karnataka ranks third in the number of children employed, and a 2007 census says that 93,276 children in the state have never been to school. Cotton cultivation is where thousands of children are employed today in South India. Bt crops are an innovation which includes adding Bt toxins to the crop to make it resistant to pests while causing much less damage to the environment.

Cotton is by far the most popular Bt crop with farmers in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu adopting the new seeds and reaping bumper harvests. But it also means that many children are being brought in from the backward regions of the states, as they provide cheap labour. This is sanctioned by the unfortunate families of the children for an extra source of income.

Leaving aside the organised exploitation of children, if you keep your eyes open closer home in our glitzy city, you would surely notice minors slogging it out at eateries, garages, markets and tea shops under terrible working conditions to get their family through the day.

Most of these children have been brought in from impoverished regions in Karnataka and other states, in most cases by somebody from their own family, albeit distant. After getting paid the contract fee (which is anywhere between Rs 500 to Rs 5,000, depending on the age and ability), the ‘family members’ leave the hapless kids at the mercy of their employers.

Meenakshi from APSA (an organisation working with child labour), says, “We encounter a lot of cases where young children, mostly boys, are brought in at an early age by their relatives, and are subsequently left to fend for themselves. Two young boys we were working with recently met with accidents at work and we have admitted them to Victoria Hospital.” Eleven-year-old Niyamat’s parents passed away in an accident in their Uttar Pradesh village last year, and he was brought to Bangalore by his uncle who lives in JC Nagar. Instead of providing the child a decent education, he taught him how to repair punctured tyres and kept him at his garage in the same area. The young boy isn’t even aware of what it is to go to a school.

The grimy garage is his world, his cage. His aunt, while monitoring him changing a tyre, says, “We don’t have an option. How are we to feed an extra stomach, when we don’t have enough for ourselves? He should consider himself lucky that at least he is getting food and shelter after his parents died. He would have been much worse back home.” Like Niyamat’s aunt, there have been many people who have argued that children are better off working and making a honest living. They say it is better than living in abject poverty back home and eventually getting drawn into vices which generally come with living on the poverty-stricken streets. This argument highlights the cruel choices we have left for millions of helpless children in our country — work or be condemned to a life ridden with drugs, prostitution and crime. And even then the choice is left to their ‘distant family’.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

School Quality From the Other Perspective - A Household Survey

As KSQAO results are discussed, it's important to keep in mind the ASER results for this year, which show some very slight improvements in Karnataka's reading and math levels. ASER is different from KSQAO because it tests kids at home rather than at school, and focuses on a few functional competencies (such as "can the child read a sentence?") rather than the broader range of abilities and knowledge covered on KSQAO.

As the map below shows, less than 50% of children in standard V in Karnataka cannot read a standard II text. Click here for the full report.