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Providing the tiny tots their own Room to Read

Curriculum Development, Literacy, Quality

“Good m-o-r-n-i-n-g, Ma-a-aam!” A rising intonation is what the ears are treated to the moment you walk into a classroom. The chorus is familiar: stretched, loud, shrill, warm —all at once and always a specialty of school kids, underprivileged or not. Schools are shut – winter holidays for the bachha party. Some though, the weaker kids, a less fortunate bunch who need extra classes have to trudge to school a couple of times a week to put in some more hours. At a eucalyptus-lined grey building that is a primary school in Delhi’s Andrews Ganj- run by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) this is the lot that sits cross-legged on a rug-covered cement floor of a room that is a library.

Libraries in MCD schools are not a given. All don’t have them. And if they do, they’re badly maintained and thinly stocked. The books lie in a perpetually-locked steel almirah so kids can’t access them, can’t tear them and can’t read them.

Here’s where the Room to Read (RTR), a non-profit organisation steps in. It became an official charity in 2000, and travelled through South-East Asia before reaching India in 2003. Since then they have spread to nine states and thousands of schools, distributing books to children across the hinterland. RTR was dreamt up by a former Microsoft executive, John Wood, with a focus on literacy and gender equality through education.

Under RTR they take a local school under its wing for three years. They set up a library – somewhat unconventional since the kids here don’t have to be silent; it doubles up as an activity room with games, poetry and dance recitals. It’s evident by their squeals and the possessiveness with which they hang on to their little colourful books that the kids enjoy this space. It’s usually a room, stocked with bilingual books. Comics are still a bad word.

Books like Lombdi Ka Tofa (Gift of the Fox), Boond (Raindrop) and Banku Ek Chai Peene Wala Ghoda (Banku, a Tea-Drinking Horse) goes through a selection process to deem a book “child appropriate” before the kids and their imagination run riot.

Sadanand Rawat, principal of another MCD primary school says in the last 25 years he hasn’t seen school children this interested in reading and winning poetry competitions. He praised the NGO for the interest created, for the lagan jo jaag rahi hai.

Neha, a student of the MCD Andrew’s Ganj, a little thing of 8, with big, dark eyes and four siblings, whose favourite is the story of Gilahiri (Squirrel), says when she takes the books home, her siblings get excited and squabble over who gets to read first.

Purushottam Parasa, RTR’s state manager for schools in Andhra Pradesh says he’s seen a lot of change in the children they started – fluency being one of them.“The kids are so excited to see books different from their curriculum – the colours and pictures attract them and it’s evident how much they enjoy learning.” Favourite (Telugu) books of the students in AP schools: Upayam (An Idea), Nenukuda (Me Too), and Chitteluka Pencil (Small Rat Pencil).

The kids with impoverished backgrounds and all are not just improving their reading skills, but are telling stories, making pictures, drawing, and writing stories. RTR also eradicates bleakness, doing up the place with chart paper cut-outs of birds and flowers and characters from the books. This helps a child’s latent talents to flourish.

Baby Hema, a 4th standard student at Kurnool Rural MPES Mamidalapadu School (a once flood-effected village), according her class teacher, was a slow student and irregular at school. But in the past few months Hema has improved her reading skills and begun to participate in school activities. Earlier she was shy and afraid to interact with friends and teachers. But after the exposure to books, she began coming first in class and is today a proud ‘class leader’.

Sunisha Ahuja, RTR’s country director says they “need about Rs12,000 per girl to fund her education for a year and about Rs2 lakh to fund a library of 1,000 books to support a school for 3 years”.

RTR’s funding is courtesy individuals, foundations, corporates and through our chapter members. “Our Chapter in Mumbai raised 15% of our 2011 annual budget,” says Ahuja. While the budget for 2011 was Rs30 crore, next year they are aiming at Rs34 crore that will spread the written word further.

Daily News and Analysis. 01-01-2012

1 Comment

Two surveys and a crisis

Learning Achievements, Literacy

If our best schools are below global averages, our overall system is bound to be near bottom in global comparisons

Let’s start with a recap of some news from the world of education that has held the attention of the general public in the past few weeks.

The results of the second Wipro Education Initiatives study on actual learning levels in India’s “best” (as polled by upper middle-class parents) schools have been widely reported. By virtue of being the “best” schools, these are also the schools that are held as models in the country.

The conclusion of the study was that actual learning levels of students in our best schools were below global averages. Students did well in areas that required memorization and procedural skills, but were way behind on understanding, conceptual clarity, thinking and application. The study, conducted this year, also showed a worsening trend on all parameters, as compared with a similar study from 2006.
Close on heels of this study the results of the latest OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were reported. Started in 2000, this is one of the very few rigorous, periodic cross-country studies of education at school level.

Two states from India—Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh—had participated in this round of PISA. This meant assessment of students of the wider, state-run schooling system. This is the first time that India has participated in PISA. Of the 74 countries and regions across the world that participated in the study, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh ranked 72 and 73, respectively—at the bottom of the heap—only above Kyrgyzstan. Shanghai topped the charts, and Finland also figured right at the top, as it has in all past studies.

The two studies are very consistent—if our best schools are below global averages, our overall system is bound to be near bottom in global comparisons. The studies are also consistent with the everyday experience of anyone involved with education in India—that our school system is focused on memorization and exam marks not on real education.

This crisis—India’s education deficit—affects wide swathes of our everyday life, both at economic and societal levels. It has a serious bearing on our future. It’s just that cause and effect are not always easily traceable.

It’s easy to see this causality for economic prosperity and growth. The education deficit severely limits our capacities and competitiveness at every level—from the individual to the entire country. It also stunts our progress as a society. There is no way that we will move towards a just, equitable and humane society with this kind of education.

It’s not as though there have been no efforts at improving our educational system. There have been numerous efforts—driven by governments and by other organizations. But these have been completely inadequate for the scale of our country, its diversity and it complex social realities.

There are no simple, easy solutions. There are no magic bullets. There is no “innovation” that can fix our education. We have to take the hard, long route—because that is the only route. We have to fix the basics—really fix them and then build on that—not take superficial steps.

First, we must build on a sound notion of education. Education that fosters capabilities of multiple kinds: cognitive, social, emotional, ethical and others. And all these at a deep, not superficial, level like the ability of “rote memorization”. It’s the overall schooling experience that must foster the students’ abilities on all these dimensions—the curriculum, the school culture, the teacher, the classroom practices, etc. This might seem like an esoteric, theoretical point to make, but the fact is that most of our ills in education stem from not getting this fundamental right.

Second, we have to work on the basics of what makes a schooling system good, not tinker at the periphery. We have to overhaul our teacher education system. This is a crucial issue; with its current shape we will never get anywhere. The curriculum, curricular support material, and our assessment (examination) systems all need dramatic improvement. We need to transform our educational leadership and management to support such an education, and the school culture it requires. We need to do all this (and some more) factoring for the complex socio-economic, linguistic and cultural reality of our country.

Lastly, we must be clear that this will take decades of sustained work. We will have to stay with the same course for 20-30 years before we see real differences. And we will have to work in this sustained manner at two different levels—at the level of people coming in fresh into the education system (e.g. new teachers) and at the level of people already in the system (there are seven million of them).

Everything here is a repetition of what much wiser people have said before. I am repeating it with the hope that placed in the context of cross country comparisons the urgency of action will be more apparent and it will urge us to take steps—some small, some big. Everything counts.

Anurag Behar is chief executive officer of Azim Premji Foundation and also leads sustainability issues for Wipro Ltd. He writes every fortnight on issues of ecology and education.

livemint.com The Wall Street Journal. 28-12-2011

Comment

Demand for private tuition classes under the free education policy. Evidence based on Sri Lanka

Licenses and Regulations, Literacy

Research Paper
Authors: Pallegedara, Asankha

Private tuition classes are growing phenomenon in Sri Lanka especially among students who prepare for competitive national school qualifying examinations. It is one of major education issues under the free education policy in Sri Lanka. It can tarnish the real purpose of free education policy. In this paper, we examine the demand for private tuition classes in Sri Lanka by using two waves of Household Income and Expenditure Surveys (HIES) conducted by the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) of Sri Lanka in 1995/96 and 2006/07. We find that the demand for private tuition classes has increased in recent time among households. It seems that the private tuition expenditure has changed from a luxury good in 1995/96 to a necessity good in 2006/07. If the increased demand for private tuition classes is reflecting parents’ concerns on inadequate and poor, but free education in public schools, the Sri Lanka government needs to reconsider its free education policy.

To read the full length paper, click here.

Comment

Crossing boundaries : gender, caste and schooling in rural Pakistan

Access to education, Learning Achievements, Literacy

Authors: Jacoby, Hanan G. and Mansuri, Ghazala
Policy Research Working Paper

Abstract
Can communal heterogeneity explain persistent educational inequities in developing countries? The paper uses a novel data-set from rural Pakistan that explicitly recognizes the geographic structure of villages and the social makeup of constituent hamlets to show that demand for schooling is sensitive to the allocation of schools across ethnically fragmented communities. The analysis focuses on two types of social barriers: stigma based on caste affiliation and female seclusion that is more rigidly enforced outside a girl’s own hamlet. Results indicate a substantial decrease in primary school enrollment rates for girls who have to cross hamlet boundaries to attend, irrespective of school distance, an effect not present for boys. However, low-caste children, both boys and girls, are deterred from enrolling when the most convenient school is in a hamlet dominated by high-caste households. In particular, low-caste girls, the most educationally disadvantaged group, benefit from improved school access only when the school is also caste-concordant. A policy experiment indicates that providing schools in low-caste dominant hamlets would increase overall enrollment by almost twice as much as a policy of placing a school in every unserved hamlet, and would do so at one-sixth of the cost.

For full length paper click here.

Comment

Educating all children – without exception

Access to education, Literacy

Education is one of the most important issues on Singapore’s national agenda: It takes up about one-fifth of the Government’s annual budget. The Minstry of Education invests a significant amount of resources in making the educational landscape a vibrant and creative one that maximises the potential of Singapore’s most important resource – its people.

To underscore its commitment, Singapore signed in 1989 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding international document that accords the full range of human rights to children, including the right to education.

We also instituted the Compulsory Education Act in 2000, which makes it a criminal offence for parents not to enroll their children in school and ensure their regular attendance.

Yet, there is a segment of children – those identified with physical and other disabilities – who fall between the cracks in Singapore’s educational system.

There are no public schools for these children; instead, many attend special education schools built largely by the MOE and run by voluntary welfare organisations. These schools receive more than 80 per cent of their funding from the MOE, have long waiting lists and charge fees on a means-testing basis.

Is education not a basic right? Representations on this issue were made to the MOE in 2004 by the Joint Committee for Compulsory Education for All in its April 2004 report A Case for the Inclusion of Children with Special Needs in Compulsory Education.

Of course, there has been much progress in the past few years. Ms Denise Phua, the MP for Jalan Besar GRC, is well known for her successful efforts to set up Pathlight School, the first autism-focused school that offers a unique blend of mainstream academic training and life-readiness skills.

With support from the Asian Women’s Welfare Association and principals of mainstream schools, the MOE built several schools for children with disabilities. In addition, some children from special schools received early intervention, worked their way into mainstream schools and are now graduates from our polytechnics and universities with responsible jobs.

Many inspire others with their achievements. Ms Grace Chan, who has Down’s Syndrome, is the author of a book, I am Human, Not Alien (2005), and holds a permanent job at Goodwood Hotel.

Singaporeans cheered when Ms Yip Xiu Pin, born with muscular dystrophy, won a gold medal and set a world record in swimming for the 50m backstroke at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Mr Navin Nair, who has cerebral palsy, graduated at the top of his class from an Australian university with a degree in Business Administration and has just been hired as a Talent Attraction Coordinator by Adecco, a leading global Human Resource agency.

We can, and should, build on our nation’s educational achievements by ensuring that every child is given ample opportunities to reach his or her full potential. This requires that we address the needs of a small but growing number of children with disabilities in Singapore, who require early intervention services – which ideally, should begin well before a child is three years of age.

Early intervention, when done well and in a timely manner, prevents and or mitigates physical, social and academic challenges that could exacerbate difficulties that emerge later.

A well-designed system of special education will not only ensure that young children have the requisite support to transition from infant care to primary school. Such a system will also include an ample supply of professionals with the expertise and resources to be able to work collaboratively.

These professionals must screen and evaluate children for early intervention, identify needs, create individualised education plans, implement them and monitor appropriate interventions that support the learning processes of children who demonstrate a variety of social and academic challenges.

In a country that prizes its only natural resource – people – Singaporeans with special needs are defying the odds and inspiring others, often without much government support.

If, in this wealthy nation, we are to live up to our commitment to give all our children the right to education, and to bring to life our national identity as “one Singapore”, then we owe it to ourselves to create opportunities for all Singaporeans to live a productive and high-quality existence.

We could start by, first, extending MediShield coverage to children with special needs so that parents and families, already saddled with onerous medical expenses, can access much-needed extensive therapies.

Second, remove means-testing for the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children and provide full subsidies, similar to those provided to every other Singaporean child who attends an MOE-administered school.

In the ’90s, a lively national debate took place on the issue of whether our MRT stations should be made accessible to people in wheelchairs and, if so, who should pay for it. Today, we all recognise that in a civilised society, the elderly and infirm should be empowered to move around safely and efficiently and all our train stations are now wheelchair-friendly.

If the MRT system could be redesigned to ensure that individuals with disabilities can use it safely, then what about our system of education?

We believe that Singapore has the ability to light the way for the rest of the world and design schools that work for all its children. What we need is the courage and the will to be the example the world awaits.

The New York Times-Today, July 18, 2011

Comment

Bihar could have full literacy in two decades

Access to education, Literacy

PATNA: Bihar’s literacy rate may be the lowest in the country at 63.8 percent, but it could achieve total literacy in about two decades like the rest of India, predicts a new report.

During the past decade, the literacy rate in Bihar has increased by 17 percent, much faster compared to nine percent for the entire country, the report points out.

“If Bihar is able to maintain its present momentum in educational progress, it will hopefully achieve total literacy simultaneously with the rest of the country,” said the report, “Elementary Education in Bihar: Progress and Challenges”.

According to the report, among all Indian states, the literacy rate is the lowest in Bihar. The 2011 census records it at 63.8 percent compared to 74 percent for the entire country. “The only ray of hope in this otherwise depressing scenario is the faster spread of literacy in Bihar during 2001 to 2011 than in India as a whole,” the report said.

The report was released by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen three days ago, which was jointly prepared by the Pratichi India Trust and the Centre for Economic Policy and Public Finance, Bihar. It pointed out that the present momentum in the progress of literacy in Bihar can be maintained only when elementary education in the state is strengthened.

“The differences between the all-India and Bihar literacy rate was only 4.5 percent in 1961, it has gradually increased to 18.2 percent by 2001,” the report said. “Fortunately, the spread of literacy during the last decade has been faster in Bihar than in India as a whole, reducing the gap in literacy rates to 10.2 percent,” the report said.

It said there are certainly many signs of change. The number of schools has jumped, the shortfall of teachers has come down sharply, attendance of students is definitely up and the enrolment ratio has reached the comfortable figure of 98 percent.

The availability of schools has now been doubled as the number of schools per one lakh population has increased from 60.2 in 2005-06 to 107.3 in 2008-09.

The overall enrolment ratio in elementary education was found to be extremely high, about 98.1 percent for children of 6-14 years. Nearly 95 percent of the students are enrolled in government schools, the backbone of the elementary schooling system in the state.

The report added that there has been an advancement in teacher recruitment in Bihar in recent years, bringing their strength to about 4.33 lakh. However, the total required is at least 7.28 lakh, implying a shortfall of about 40.5 percent.

The Economic Times, July 08, 2011

Comment

16.1% of India’s ‘literates’ can’t read: IIM Ahmedabad study

Learning Achievements, Literacy, Quality

AHMEDABAD: Census-2011 reports that the effective literacy rate in India has risen to 74.04%, which is 9.2% higher than the level during the previous census. But how reliable is the Census-2011’s data?

Can those declared literate at least read an elementary textbook?

A paper by two professors of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) says that a sample survey in four Hindi-speaking states had revealed that the Census-11 figures for literacy rate may be exaggerated by upto 16.1%. The main reason for this is that the Census’s methodology was flawed. For Census-2011, citizens were accepted as literates if they said they could read but no practical tests were conducted to test their claims to literacy.

For their paper titled, “Can India’s ‘literates’ Read?”, Prof Brij Kothari and Prof Tathagata Bandhopadhyay of IIMA studied the literacy level among 17,782 people in around 20 villages of 4 districts in four Hindi-speaking states.

These districts are Dausa in Rajasthan, Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, Umariya in Madhya Pradesh and Muzaffarpur in Bihar.
The sample survey was done by adopting two methods – census method (by just asking head of the family or person if they are literate) and reading method (by practically make people read a paragraph).

Kothari and Bandhopadhyay used both the Census Method (asking head of the family or person if they were literate) and the Reading Method (asking people to read from a text) to determine literacy.

The paper says that the Census-2011 method indicated a literacy rate of 68.7%. Literacy among women was found to be 55.7% and among men it was 80.4%. But when a sample of the respondents was asked to read a Grade 2 text, the results were considerably disappointing. The paper says that a sample, when tested for basic reading ability, was found, at best, to be 52.6% ‘Reading Literate’. In contrast, the method adopted by Census-2011 would have found the literacy level to be 68.7%.

“The Census method could be said to overestimate the literacy rate by at least 16.1%,” states the paper.The paper further says that if the definition of literacy is restricted to persons who can demonstrate a minimum reading ability of Grade 2 (Class 2) level, the reading literacy rate drops further to 25.8%.

“In that case, the Census method could be said to overestimate the literacy rate by an astounding 42.9%,” the paper says. The researcher state in their paper that an average education of Grade 9 is necessary to become a good reader in school. But to become a lifelong good reader a Grade 10 education is required given the present quality of education in rural schools, the paper states.

“A grade 4 to 7 education is more likely to result in weak reading skills in school and later in life. Those who do not complete primary education to Grade 5, are very likely to be non-readers later in life,” the paper states.

DNA, June 13, 2011

Comment

Muslim student enrolment goes up in State

Literacy, Minority Education

When it comes to participation of Muslims in school education, Karnataka has earned a distinction in the country with the state recording a significant rise in their enrolment right from elementary to upper primary level during 2009-10.

According to a government report on the status of elementary education in India, recently released by Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal here, there was an increase in the enrolment of Muslim children across the country during 2009-10. The number, however, went up more than double in Karnataka during the period compared to the figures recorded in previous years.

Sharp rise

The state, where 14.67 per cent Muslim children of total Muslim population were enrolled in primary classes and 13.81 per cent in upper primary classes during 2008-09, witnessed a sharp increase of 35.52 per cent and 37.13 per cent respectively in them during 2009-10, the report prepared by National University of Educational Planning and Education (NUEPA) noted.

The enrolment at elementary level too rose to 35.99 percent of the total Muslim population in the state during 2009-10 from 14.42 per cent recorded in 2008-09. “The analysis of data suggests improvement in participation of Muslim minority children in elementary education programmes,” the report said.

The data compiled from across 13 lakh recognised schools offering elementary education across 635 districts spread over 35 states and union territories reveals that Muslim children enrolment rose to 13.48 per cent in 2009-10 across the country from 10.49 per cent in 2008-09.

Girls ahead

Of the total 5,44,70,000 enrolments in upper primary classes in the country in 2009-10, Muslim enrolment was 64.8 lakhs across India and the percentage of Muslim girls to total Muslim enrolment in upper primary classes was about 50 per cent which is above the national average of girls enrolment in upper primary classes, the report said.

Of the total Muslim enrolment in primary classes, the percentage of Muslim girls stood at 48.96 during the same period which was quite similar to the share of girls in overall primary enrolment (48.38 per cent), it added. The NUEPA report noted that the enrolment data for the year 2009-10 also reveals that there are certain pockets in the country which have got high percentage of Muslim enrolment.

“There are about 1,07,945 schools which have got more than 25 per cent Muslim enrolment (to total enrolment in elementary classes) which is 8.28 percent of the total schools that impart elementary education in the country,” it said.

  • Number of Muslim children enrolled in Karnataka schools more than double the figures for the entire country during 2009-10.

    * State witnessed sharp increase of 35.52 per cent and 37.13 per cent in primary and elementary class enrolment respectively.

    * During 2008-9, the figures were 14.67 per cent and 13.81 per cent respectively.

    * Enrolment figures rose to 13.48 per cent in 2009-10 across the country from 10.49 per cent in 2008-09.

    * Percentage of Muslim girls enrolment 50 pc above the national average in primary class enrolment

    * Certain pockets in the country also reported high percentage of Muslim enrolment.

Deccan Herald, February 6, 2011

Comment

The average wages of a male who is fluent in English is 34% higher than a male with the same background and education, but with no English skills

Literacy

The two maids at home and my driver do not know any English, but each of them has made sure that their children are sent to English-medium schools.

They have good reason to. Even passable knowledge of the language is an opportunity to break out of the traditional job trap, especially in urban areas where there are ample opportunities in call centres, retail outlets and clerical jobs. The globalization of the Indian economy naturally means that there is a wage premium for those who speak the global language.

But how big are the returns to English skills? Mehtabul Azam of the World Bank, Aimee Chin of the University of Houston and Nishit Prakash of Dartmouth College have recently used data from the 2005 Indian Human Development Survey to estimate the extent to which wages rise in the case of a person with knowledge of English (see chart). For example, the average wages of a male who is fluent in English is 34% higher than a male with the same background and education, but with no English skills.

While the returns are higher in the case of men than of women, there is clear evidence that the parental struggle in poor urban families to send their children to English schools is neither ignorant nor futile.

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

www.livemint.com, May 30 2010

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