EVERY CHILD IN SCHOOL AND LEARNING WELL
In the last 20 years, India has made tremendous progress in universalizing children’s access to elementary school. Since 2005, more than 90% of all children in the 6 to 14 age group have been enrolled in school. By 2010 this figure had reached 96% or more and remained that way till the pandemic. While the problem of every child in school has been largely solved, the goal of every child learning well is still far from being achieved.
ASER reports from 2005 to 2018 indicate a pattern of persistently low learning levels even for basic skills like reading and arithmetic. Even as late as 2018, the ASER survey showed that half of the sampled children in Grade 5 are struggling to read text at a Grade 2 level. Pratham’s efforts for the last two decades have been largely focussed on finding a solution for this learning crisis Over the years, the approach that has evolved is called Teaching at the Right Level or TaRL.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE TaRL: IMPLEMENTING LEARNING CAMPS IN GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS
From 2012 to 2017, Pratham had been working directly on helping children in Grade 3 and above, catch up on basic reading and arithmetic. This teaching-learning approach is called Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL). Targeted at children enrolled in government schools in Grades 3 to 5, these intensive bursts of activity (30-50 days or 3 to 5 camps of 10 days each) ensured that by the end of the last camp more than 70% of children were able to read simple texts fluently and confidently do basic arithmetic operations.
JOURNEY FROM ‘LEARNING CAMPS-TaRL’ TO HAMARA GAON:
Building on the successful experiences with the TaRL Learning Camps, by 2017-18, we took several more steps. These steps were based on questions like:
- Once children acquire foundational skills of reading and math, how can we help them sustain these gains, grow and learn further?
- Typically, the target population for Learning Camps has been children in Grades 3, 4 and 5 but what about children in other age groups in the village who also need help in catching up?
- Most importantly, how to prevent children from falling behind?
The overarching challenge was how to durably change the learning situation in a village or urban community such that at least basic skills or foundational literacy and numeracy was taken care of. In 2018, we decided that we should work for three to five years in the communities where we worked “directly”. (Direct interventions are those in which full-time Pratham team members work directly with schools and communities, children and teachers.) We felt it was possible to work towards the goal of all children reading and doing basic arithmetic. Not only could we support children to learn and thrive but also with the help of local people, create engaging learning environments in the community.
To continue to innovate and evolve, we started the multi-year “Hamara Gaon” (Our Village/Our Community) intervention. The program is usually implemented in a cluster of 25 communities (either villages or urban communities. A team of five to six Pratham team members are responsible for transforming this community.
The three-year goals included ensuring that:
- Young children (age 3 to 5) develop strong foundational skills, become “ready for school” and progress in a way that will not need catch up efforts in future. (Wherever possible, Hamara Gaon programs bring in a layer of Early Childhood Education working in partnership with the local Anganwadi (Early Childhood Care and Development Centres run by the government).
- Children will continue to enroll in school and attend school regularly.
- Children in Grade 3 and above learn to read fluently and with understanding, gain knowledge of numbers and become confident with basic arithmetic operations and calculations.
- Children learn how to work in groups with other children to do projects and other activities together.
- Local people (families, mothers, youth) engage with children to support their learning.
- Wherever possible, children become familiar with the use of digital devices and digital content as a means to achieve some of these goals.
The overall objective of Hamara Gaon was to understand how in a period of three years a village could be transformed in terms of ensuring basic foundations of learning for every child at least for the elementary school age group. We also envisaged Hamara Gaon to be the active laboratory where methods of teaching-learning and materials could be developed, as well as become the locations where impacts on learning could be measured and effectiveness of the approach could be shared more widely with other partners and governments.
Hamara Gaon today
In 2022-23, the program reached 5,192 communities and benefitted ~3,86,000 children.
HAMARA GAON PROGRAM IN POST-COVID WORLD
The disruptions and discontinuities due to the COVID-19 pandemic led to many changes in the way that we interacted and engaged with the Hamara Gaon communities. Here are some key elements of our renewed efforts:
A stronger push for “catch up” is needed to help children recover from the learning losses of the last two years. During the pandemic, we were able to successfully mobilize community volunteers who ran promising TaRL “catch up” learning camps in communities. Thus, along with work with teachers and schools, youth volunteers will continue to play an ongoing role in supporting children’s learning.
During the lockdown, we engaged directly with families of young children (pre-school age and those who were of Grade 1 and 2 age). We sent them activities to do with their children via phone messages (SMS and WhatsApp). We also connected regularly with families via phone calls for follow up and feedback. We saw mothers participating actively with their children. Young mothers were encouraged to form their own mother-child groups in the neighbourhood and get together regularly to do activities with their children. In the current version of Hamara Gaon, mothers and mother’s groups have emerged as a vital part of young children’s learning journeys.
In July 2020, the Government of India launched its New Education Policy (NEP 2020). The document strongly recommends that acquisition of foundational literacy and numeracy in primary grades should have the highest national priority. For us, too, in the next two-three years, it is very important to demonstrate that these national goals are achievable in our local Hamara Gaon communities.
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