Monday, December 08, 2014

Sikshana from outside-in

Back in 2007, when I decided to quit IT, move back to India and enter the social sector I was not very optimistic of a long inning. But leading Sikshana has been such an exciting and rewarding experience, I am still part of it after 7 years.  With focus on having fun while helping every child learn, we were reaching new milestones at a rapid pace.  But in the last one year whenever I gazed beyond the horizon I would begin to wonder if we were heading in the right direction. And as much as I tried, being on the ship made it very difficult for me to be objective. I had to disembark, at least for a short while and thankfully personal commitment forced me to take a sabbatical and move to US 5 months ago. 

Out here in the silicon valley I did some volunteering and a bit of consulting in the area of non-profit and education, spent few days in the classrooms of low income schools, observed my own daughter's schooling up close, read quite a bit and finally had enough time to contemplate!. In these 5 months, I got a chance to work with some of the most intelligent and passionate people in the for-profit and non-profit sector working to make the process of education better.  I got to experience the positive energy that a bunch of dedicated school administrators and teachers bring to schools every day. Saw the power of the community running a decentralized public school with excellent infrastructure and state of the art technology.  I began to wonder what we could do back in our rural schools in India, even if I could get just a fraction of what I am seeing here. 

Having spent so many years in Sikshana, force of habit, I started to look closely at the outcomes of all the efforts here. The kids in most schools here are getting the best inputs one can possibly imagine, excellent pedagogical plans, dedicated teachers, wide use of varying types of technology with many schools getting close to being 100% digital classrooms. But we all know how US stacks up in the world with regard to education and a quick web search will pop up some scary numbers right here in the heart of the silicon valley in terms for high school dropout rate or college readiness. My own observation here so far has been mixed with kids in elementary schools being very engaged in the learning process and as I progressed to middle and high school the interest among kids in learning appeared to be dropping dramatically.  

There are multitude of reasons for this situation and many people are working on figuring out solutions, but one area where I don't see enough action is on addressing the lack of motivation to learn among kids. Here I recall a line from our founder ESR, "If a child has decided not to learn, you can't teach them. You first need to get them to want to learn". This has been the DNA of Sikshana from day one and guess what, I think I found why I was feeling uneasy when looking beyond the horizon! We had started drifting!

Right from day one, Sikshana has been focused on motivational inputs for the children, teachers and the parents. The impact of the program was measured in quantitative terms by assessing the children's learning levels and the rest were mainly qualitative metrics which worked fine when we were in a few schools. Then the program expanded rapidly, to cover more schools and we started seeing dramatic improvements in the quantitative assessments. Gradually, scoring 100% in the student assessments started to become the focus of the team. We even changed the tag line from "Empowering government schools to improve themselves" to "Quality education for every child". I could see the subtle shift here, where we started taking responsibility of ensuring every child learns rather literally. Also the new breed of corporate donors came into the picture and started focusing on the impact measurement, accountability etc., and pretty soon with over 1000 schools to work in we all started to focus only on the academic outcome. The end result started mattering more than the process itself and this was the problem. But even with the shift, the motivational inputs are still being delivered at the school level and all that is needed now is to bring it to the forefront. 

Looking from outside, I can clearly see the value of Sikshana.  It is probably the only one of its kind with focus on motivational inputs and operating at such a large scale of nearly 1200 schools with over 180,000 children. This is a program that works today, with all the existing constraints and at just over a couple of hundred rupees per child per year it is a program that is worth sustaining for the long run. With just a few tweaks the program can live up to its full potential and help every child who needs a little bit of motivation to start learning.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Still Competing and Improving

One of the girls Megha N.G. from our initial story and is still going strong. Just got a newspaper scan of her winning the district college level championship and qualifying for the state finals. Wishing her all the best from all of us in Sikshana Foundation.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sikshana - A New Initiative in High Schools

Sikshana was offering Scholarships to deserving students from High Schools who fare well in the final examinations to pursue further studies. During last year alone, thirty students were awarded about Rs 3000 each based on merit and economic criteria. The prospects of getting this financial assistance did have a cascading effect on others; though no serious studies were conducted on the impact, our own informal assessment was that this could have spurred at least a few hundred students towards better performance. The downside of such a program was that it impacted almost exclusively those at the top end of the spectrum, whereas the focus of Sikshana had always been on those at the other end. 

We realized that the scholarship, once awarded, helps just one student - the one who receives it. That, by any standards, should be considered as a poor 'return on the  investment'. We started examining the feasibility of getter a better leverage for the funds deployed in terms of student coverage, especially in the weaker segment. 

After many rounds of brainstorming, we came across what looked like a far better way of doing this, without compromising on the focal issue: helping the deserving students to pursue higher studies. In each school, we identified the students who looked most likely to fail in the examinations in spite of the best efforts using the traditional approach. We asked the class whether any of the 'brighter' students are willing to come forward to helping their weak friends during the next three months in a sustained and structured imitative.  

Under this, each student volunteer needs to engage with five of their friends on a daily basis. The outer parameters for the program will be as specified by us. Roughly this requires 90 minutes of combined study in a day, six days a week at a mutually agreed location, where the activity will be monitored. For such an involvement the student will receive Rs 3000, subject however to the condition that four of the five under his tutelage pass the final examinations. It was highlighted to them that such an effort at coaching others, apart from the financial incentive, will also be to their benefit since it will result in  improving their own scores. 

We were not sure how such a repackaged scholarship program will appeal to the students; there were doubts whether the good ones who deserve such assistance will really come forward to participate in a program with its associated elements of risk. There were also a number of sociological factors that came into play here; the village dynamics, involving gender and caste sensitivities, was pretty rigidly structured in each school zone to restrict the options available for such interactive sessions. 

To our great surprise, the new idea was enthusiastically received in all the schools. Already 50 students have come forward in 20 schools to take up this challenge and go for the scholarship. This will mean that 250 kids are now being placed under an innovative peer learning program with an incentive for performance. This works out to 25% of the total number who are in the high risk category for the ensuing examinations. 
At the same time, we are also running a second pilot with a smaller batch size with three 'learner' students. Here the incentive is non-financial; the students are being promised a holiday at a location of their choice. 

We are keenly studying all aspects of both pilots; the success of either or both will show the way we have to go during the following years.

E S Ramamurthy 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Missing Skills- A Test for Sikshana

Recently I walked into a First Year Pre-University class in Dodda Alahalli to get an idea of what happens to a typical student in the Higher Secondary Stage, something that Sikshana may have to deal with in the near future. The exposure was indeed a rude shock even to  a hardened person like me. 

There was absolutely no sign that these kids have really evolved into the upper teens; for all purposes they were still a bunch from High School who have accidentally strayed into the Higher Secondary stream. The class room dynamics was the same in the "You teach- I listen" mode. On the part of the lecturers too, it was business as usual: cover the syllabus, conduct tests, evaluate and grade the students. Anything beyond what is explicitly stated in the curriculum is strictly a 'no- go'. As a part of the course there seems to be no stipulation on any extra- curricular activities for the students. No one stays an hour beyond the college hours for activities such as debates, special lectures or meets of any type that will add value to the 'education' that is being imparted. 

I asked the staff about the performance of the last batch of the students; as expected they had a mediocre 60% pass rate where even a pass which does not mean much in terms of academic achievement. When queried about the reason for such a poor result, pat came the standard response: the students who come in from High Schools are found to lack the "basics".  

That struck a chord in me; I have heard this term- and the excuse- often enough at every stage. When students were found to lack even the basic reading skill in 6th Std the response invariably was that these kids were not their own; they came from LP schools which do a shoddy job. Two years pass thereafter in the Higher Primary schools during which a lot could be done to undo this damage but never gets done. When these kids move into High Schools, the refrain from the teachers there is the same; the incoming students lack the basics and they could do pretty little to make them pass the Tenth exams with the three years on hand. It seems to be the same story at every stage. Any surprise here really ? No, not as I see it.

There are two fundamental flaws in this scheme of things. 

First, the entire system is built around fulfilling the needs of an externally administered syllabus thrust on students and teachers. Acquisition of a skill is never an issue in this scheme. An example: in the Kannada class and the subsequent tests, a student is checked for knowledge of content in the given text rather than the underlying lingual skill. A well written answer which does not reflect correctly on the content is viewed more adversely than another that gives the right one in a poor lingual format. This is what encourages rote learning; it results in kids who are unable to deal with any content other than what they have come across in their text books. 

Worse still, the kids tend to miss out on essential skills such as comprehension and enunciation. For them a sentence is just a string of words and a para is one of sentences. There is no planned/ sustained effort within the framework of the existing system towards understanding, analysis and reaction to the content in the text. In effect, nothing is done to acquire the above skills;  neither is there any effective tool to monitor their acquisition or absence. The  net result is one or more of the following:

The kids are able to read a given text fluently but  are unable to recall the gist of what they read. The few successful ones just repeat verbatim what they read, showing that it is coming from memory. Once the text becomes long enough, this ability gets stretched beyond limits to a point at which he/ she fails in this futile effort. The interface under check here is between reading, comprehension and expression. 

One can narrate a simple story slowly and ask them to narrate back the gist of it at the end. Comprehension at this stage should in fact stretch far beyond this when they should be able to come up with answers for complex queries like the moral of the story. I have done this often enough and most kids fail this test even in the High School, and that too at the first level. Interfaces here is listening / comprehension/ expression. 

There is always a possibility that the kids are unable to express themselves even though they might have understood the content. The kids were then given a story to read and at the end asked to write down the gist of it. The results were no different; the interface here is reading/ comprehension/ writing.  

The common factor in all the three is obviously comprehension, a skill essential for all forms of learning which is difficult to define and even more difficult to measure. Sikshana came across this barrier first during its drive towards 'total' acquisition of reading skill. After all, what does reading fluency amount to if what is read is not understood? Ironically it took some time for us to realize that one does not automatically entail the other. 

The subject of comprehension does not suffer from lack of learned treatises and analytical studies. But when it comes down to something that can be done in the context of a public school in an environment like ours, we found there was little to go by in terms of the following:
Tools for intervention
Tools for assessment
Acceptable and valid Benchmarks

Sikshana is presently coming with a few inputs under each of the above; a pilot program is being planned based on them.  

The goal simply stated is this: A student who listens to a few minutes of spoken content is able to comprehend it and come up with a gist of what he heard. Without this skill, is there any hope of such a student grasping anything that is transacted in the classroom and use it for his academic advancement? 

E S Ramamurthy 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Every Child means...

“Are we really impacting every child in our system?” is one question that I have been asking myself ever since I started heading the Sikshana operations 6yrs ago with nearly 10,000 children. Today we have set out to ensure delivery of quality education for over 180,000 children and with just over 40 of us in Sikshana the biggest challenge for me is to ensure that we deliver our tag line "Quality Education For Every Child".  I always keep my ears open for stories where we are touching the last child in the system and 3 of them stuck with me for over a year now.  While I am happy with the year end data of 2012-13 (shown at the end of the blog) which shows very clearly the improvement in the bottom 10%, stories such as these reinforces my belief that we are not losing out our little ones in our rapid scaling. And now the stories ....

Teacher Komala with Deepti
Meet child DP, a 3rd standard student of Kanajenahalli govt school, who is hearing and speech impaired. Our mentors over the last one year have been interacting with her during their school visits and kept encouraging her to keep attending school. They also discussed the issue with the teachers and one of the teachers Ms. Komala started taking special interest in her. A few changes in the teaching style like looking at DP while speaking and a little extra attention ensured DP was involved in the learning process. When I checked on her this week I found that DPis now in 4th grade, and is able to write sentences in kannada and solve simple arithmetic problems with ease.

The next one we came across was MK, who studied in 7th class in Doddamarale primary school. He is borderline mentally challenged and has physical development issues as well. Constant encouragement from teachers and Sikshana mentors has enabled him to pursue his studies. In the process his classmates became aware of his condition and were happy to see him progress in class and have made him one of their team. Our mentors have also visited his home and advised parents to seek medical help and things started looking up for this boy. Today his mother takes him to the Chikkaballapur town everyday so he can attend 8th class in the local government school.

MD was enrolled in class VI in the local Government School in P. Rampura village in Kanakapura taluk but never showed up in school. His teacher Natashekar and Sikshana Shala Hitaisi (volunteer) Shankar visited his house and counseled the student and his parents. Although the child started attending school, he was still  irregular and disinterested. The real reason of his absence came to light when MD and his father, were caught in the act of begging in the nearby Kanakapura town. During the course of begging and going from house to house they landed in front of the Sikshana office!. Our mentors who were in the office filled the begging bowl with writing papers, notebooks, pens, pencils etc and topped it up with solid counseling. They discussed the adverse consequences of begging on the child’s future etc. After that he was very regular to school and took part in our Reading program and acquired ability to read Kannada fluently. This week when I checked on him I found out that his family moved and he took a TC (Transfer Certificate) and left since he wanted to join to a new school and continue his studies.

Our mentors have more such stories and for me such stories along with the data below from end of last year is very reassuring. We are happy to see 279 schools already at 100% and another 179 will join them as soon as they get that one last child to acquire the reading ability. And with the reading program and the renewed effort and focus this year, we are confident of hitting the 100% target in all our 735 upper primary schools by March 2014!

Total Number of Schools No. of Children Skill Type No. of Schools where every child in Class7 has acquired skill No. of Schools with just one child left to achieve 100%
735 21326 Arithmetic 158 (2658 children) 129 (2655 children)
Kannada 279 (5862 children) 179 (4630 children)

PS: 100% means we are obsessed not with numbers but with our mission of ensuring Every Child Learns. A percentage point to us means that "Last Child" whom we don't want to lose!

Friday, February 15, 2013

An Amazing Exhibition at Hoskote

I have the privilige of 'Ghost Writing' a Blog for the first time - on behalf of one of our Mentors, Shivanand H of Hoskote. This concerns an amazing Exhibition their team conducted to demonstrate the impact of our Signature Initiative- the Sheets Writing Program as it is called.  The entire text is his, except for some lingual editing done by me.  

When I first saw the photo that is shown below, all I could say was "VOW". It is an awesome demonstration of various capabilities, not the least of which is the logistic management. I would prefer to give my views on the significance of this Event in another Blog as including them here will take the full credit away from Shivanand and his team, guided by Vishwanath and Raj Kumar.

E S Ramamurthy

Block Level Writing Sheets Exhibition and competition
February 08, 2013
Shivanand Hangaraki

  208 students participated
  104 school teachers
  Top 10 students had selected in Kannada (6th and 7th )
  Top 10 students had selected in English (6th and 7th )

An Amazing Exhibition at Hoskote

On February 8, 2013 in Hoskote. Sikshana Foundation organized Block Level Writing sheets Exhibition for 6th and 7th class students from 104 schools. Two students  participated from each school; a total of 208 students had participated in the Exhibition.

BEO had informed all the schools that the students and teachers should gather in the morning in front of his office. Sharply at10 AM, all the students and teachers had gathered with their individual writing sheet files for exhibiting on the occasion.

Students took special care to introduce their writing sheets since every student had come to get a rank in TOP 10 in English or Kannada. Students introduced themselves and when asked questions explained   about how they were in the beginning, number of sheets they were writing once they started and the improvement in their hand writing after some time.

Mr. Raj then spoke about the program: also how technology is affecting these days writing on the papers. He talked about Sikshana's support to the students to improve their handwriting, as it is required for a good future. He said how important this is even when we are using technologies face book, twitter and mobile texting. He suggested that this   Writing sheets exhibition should be conducted in every cluster, then at block level.  District and State  level competitions should also be organized in future.

Ms. Usha then shared her experience with others. Whenever she used to visit the schools  students came forward to show their writing sheets but there was no time to observe everyone. But today she got an opportunity to observe 208 students and also select the TOP 10 in Kannada and English language of 6th and 7th class . She told the students that all of them should get prizes for hand writing improvement though some of them only may  get the ranks.

BEO Mr. Basavarajegowda gave his feedback. He said he is sure that the Students will continue to write sheets even after they go to High schools. This will bring  Bangalore Rural once again to the ten Top ranking in SSLC results.

Mr. Shankarmurthy Administrator of BEO: He felt happy that Sikshana Foundation has organized for the first time in the State a writing exhibition of this type in Hoskote Taluq. He said  that no NGO had gave preference to Hand Writing in primary schools till today.

In front of the BEO office, we arranged Benches with seat numbers for the participating students. One side were 6th students and on other side were 7th students, sitting in order   to Exhibit their writing sheets.

Every student had brought files with the sheets they had written; they were in a 3 parts in terms of improvement of handwriting. There were 150 to 200 written sheets with every student.  Some students had used color code on the papers like Red, Yellow and Green. The color coding impressed the observers and other schools students.

At this time, we also conducted a 15 minute writing test for all students. Within the allotted 15 minutes, more than 100 students had completed one full sheet (back to back). At that moment we realized the impact on student’s hand writing style and speed was awesome.

The students also shared with others the different skills they have learnt while doing this: time management in writing, self improvement, analyzing type of skills.

Five students each in 7th and 6th for Kannada and similarly 5 each in English were given prizes at the end. We are getting the responses from them and the school as video clips soon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Right Lesson from Finland

Recently I attended a Forum where there was a call for re-introduction of detention as a means of curtailing the low standards being obtained in the Government Schools. At the same meet, a lot of references were also made to the practices in the Educational system of Finland, a country which has been receiving a lot of favorable- and totally justified-  attention in our Media these days. I feel that these folks are missing out of one of the most important aspects of their schools.     

There is no detention in the Finnish schools either and this has not come in the way of their ensuring that the kids passing out of 12th Grade invariably acquire all the skills that are commensurate with the Grade. Besides various other features that are the hallmark of their system, there is one that should receive our serious attention; this pertains to the practice of allotting kids to the 'skill appropriate' classes rather than to the 'Grade or Age  appropriate' ones. 

A student who is found to lack a specific skill is sent to one of the lower Grades where that subject is currently being taught; for all the rest where he is on par with others, he/ she stays with his colleagues. This has two major advantages. The student does not feel 'humiliated' by the process of detention as in the traditional system, a step which is unduly harsh for a single lapse. It also provides a huge incentive to the kid to rise up to the occasion and acquire the skill at the earliest, as it will provide him with the opportunity of rejoining his friends. Being left in the company of kids in a lower Grade is an experience any kid would like to avoid under all circumstances. 

I tried to test this concept out in one of our schools near Hubli. Two Seventh Graders here were unable to do a simple arithmetic division of whole numbers, even after one month of our remedial effort. In a direct confrontation, I asked them whether they think it is appropriate that they go through the class like this, especially when the skill under scan is something they ought to have acquired three years back; with a shy smile they agreed that it is not. 

I gave them an option. They could go back to the remedial program for two more weeks and acquire the skill. The alternate: they could go to the Head Master voluntarily and request him to send them to 4th Std for the Arithmetic class alone  until they learn to do division. Two weeks later, I was informed that both have passed the 'test' successfully. The HM did not even have to send them to a skill appropriate class! 

On some of these issues, we should learn to look at the scene from the point of view of the students. An example: All of us know that roughly 50% of the kids in 7th Std cannot do a simple division in Arithmetic. That does not prevent the system from forcing them to sit through the Math class in the High School where the lessons start from Differential Equations! The poor kids have no option except to go through this painful experience day after day, at the risk of being marked absent. I would rate this as the harshest form of cruelty that we can inflict on them. Allocation of a skill appropriate class to such students will be a boon for them in more than one sense. 

Unfortunately our system is so rigid that even this change cannot easily be replicated in all schools without due Administrative approvals from the State. Will we ever see a time when the HM gets the autonomy that he/she deserves so that he/ she can  innovate for better outcome in the classroom? Until then, we may have to keep looking at Finland. 

E S Ramamurthy 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Learning through Development of Non-cognitive Skills -A Sikshana Initiative

There are some very disturbing facts about primary education in the Public School System that needs a close look. These are adequately highlighted in the ASER reports from time to time. For instance, 27.6% % of the students in 7th Std lack the ability to read in own language; 51.7% of them cannot divide a three digit number by a single digit. These are skills that they should have acquired at least three years earlier. The thing that causes greater concern is that this problem may, in the absence of further interventions, go unaddressed through High School and may eventually become lifetime issues.

The above shortfalls are notwithstanding the fact that the teachers are well equipped to handle them, both in terms of qualifications and experience. Neither can they be traced to the students’ inherent abilities and intelligence as, barring very few, most of them appear to be bright enough not to fall in this bracket. It is obviously a case of teaching taking place and not learning.

The two factors, which are widely regarded as the causes for this discrepancy, are motivation and volition on the part of the students *(1).  The major component of Sikshana, as a program, was designed to motivate the students and get them to become interested in the process of learning. It was observed that even where these efforts have had an effect, the learning levels were not registering an increase beyond a point.

The typical intervention for those who did not possess the skill was to ask them to ‘study’ – in the conventional sense- Kannada text at home and keep doing it under the supervision of the teacher till they acquire the skill of reading fluently. It was soon realized that, while someone like the teacher in the class can impart knowledge, a skill needs practice- something that the student needs to put in an effort for. Reading fluency is a skill that falls in this category, especially for those who know their alphabets. Since such a practice needs to take place at home, the ability and willingness of the student to do this for the right duration and at the right time every day assumes significance. Assuming that the motivational efforts put in are adequate to get the desired response, a pilot program was run during 11-12 in 413 schools with 9730 students along these lines; in spite of a highly focused effort and close follow-up, the year long program could only result in 84.7% of the students acquiring the skill. While this was higher then the 72.4% norm at the National level and 65.8% at the State level, it fell woefully short of the program goal of 95% plus.

In parallel, the Kannada teachers in 10 randomly selected schools were quizzed about the feasibility and the time needed for coaching a typical class of 20 students lacking this skill to an extent they can read Kannada as prescribed. The responses were near unanimous: every one of them said they could do it provided the kids were under their total control and that this would be their only assignment. The time indicted varied from two to six weeks at the maximum. A pilot program was run in 40 plus schools with an assigned teacher – brought from outside the system in some of them – to take responsibility for this task. This met with limited success though no correlation could be established between the success rate and the causative factors. The only indication was that wherever the person in charge was able to elicit a positive response from the kids in his charge, the results were up to the expectations. Since the distinguishing characteristic of such a successful resource person could not be established it made the entire process difficult to define and replicate.

Two questions popped up at this stage: how does one make a student want to put in the desired effort and how does one ensure he/ she does it till the skill is acquired? It was decided to address these two issues through an appropriately designed pilot program in one of our schools.

The concept behind such a program is that reading fluency is a skill, needing practice for mastering. It was felt that roughly 30 hours of reading spread over a month under controlled circumstances could be tried out in the first phase. The contours of the program evolved along the following lines.

Prior to the commencement, the kids identified for the purpose are given a briefing. The message at this time is to include the following:
Not being able to read own language at this stage is unacceptable
This is perhaps the last chance for them to acquire this skill before they move on to High School, since there will be no more interventions of this type.
If and when they commit themselves for a period of 30 days, there is a high probability that they could acquire this vital life skill- something that they have been unable to get so far in spite of spending years. (Data from successful camps are shown here to prove this point.)

 The practice sessions are to take place in the school premises- during the working hours wherever feasible. They should be of one-hour duration, six days a week for five weeks- no break permitted on any grounds, neither are changes in timings. The theoretical basis for the ‘no break’ rule is that the repetitive prodding for the right word- described below- should take place at such a rate that does not allow the memory of the last episode to lapse. Further the entire regimen that ensures strict observance of discipline plays a key role in pre-disposing the child to success. We will revert back to this factor again later.

Learning is enabled from a peer rather than from a ‘teacher’. In fact, no teaching takes place in this interaction. Kids are known to prefer practicing a skill in the company of their peers; enough has been written about the advantage of learning with a non-threatening support system in an alternate environment, where the one at home/school has failed.

The learner student is paired with another who has the required skill during the session. Both are given identical reading material of appropriate level. The learner is asked to try reading the text. Whenever he comes to a stop, the mentor student is required to read out the word loudly. This intervention should happen after the learner has made an effort to read and not later than 2/3 seconds after the attempt, in case he/she fails. The time delay is designed is to ensure the learner is not frustrated due to persistent failures and keep a steady pace of reading going. The entire process involves three steps: effort to read, hear the correct word in case of failure and read it correctly this time while observing it ‘visually’. An association between these is thus brought about in the mind of the learner, which is bound to last for some time. If the practice sessions are frequent enough, difficult words will recur to an extent that they get registered permanently.
A Facilitator will oversee the process and ensure compliance to the above. He/ she will not intervene in the process in the role of a teacher.

The anticipated success of the venture is no doubt built on the above process and its finer details to some extent. However the factor that plays a much larger and more effective role is the macro -message built into it. This is the incidental acquisition of the vital non-cognitive skills that go to differentiate a successful learner from the rest. These are perseverance, determination and grit required to acquire a skill or knowledge *(2). Once a kid agrees to submit himself/ herself to a strict regimen as described above, he/ she is already pre-disposed towards success.

To put the above to test, a Pilot was run in a school at Hosadurga with 13 students. These were what one would call as ‘down and out’ kids who besides having huge skill gaps also tend to skip classes frequently and are not known to evince great interest in learning. After a briefing for a day as prescribed, a camp was run from 31st Aug to 5th Oct; this period incidentally included three major festival holidays. It ran with total attendance on all weekdays without a break; the kids were showing unprecedented enthusiasm and a sense of pride in their progressively increasing level of competence. At the end of the period, 10 of them passed the standard test for Level 2 reading; two acquired it after an extension of the program by two more weeks. The success rate was indeed a significant improvement on our past experiences.

A second phase of the program was initiated during Oct in two clusters: 28 schools with 283 kids in Kanakapura and 15 schools with 223 kids in Hoskote. Again the schedule coincided with the mid-term holidays and three major festivals of the season. Notwithstanding this, the attendance in both centers has been near total.

Results from this phase show that the improvement gained in a month far outpaces that obtained in our earlier efforts. During 2011-12, a total of 3789 students studying in 7th Std in 136 schools of KP and Hoskote Blocks were taken up for remedial action using conventional techniques. At start, the number of students who did not possess the prescribed reading skill was 1091. During the course of ten months, this came down by 737, the rate of attrition working out to about 8 % per month. Under the current pilot program in the same two blocks, 506 students lacking the skill from 5th to 7th Stds were taken up; the reduction obtained during the stipulated 30 days is 327 amounting to 65%, a significant increase over the earlier figure of 8% in the same period. The program is now being extended to cover all 7th Std students in Sikshana schools by Jan ’13.

To complete the process, an analysis of the students who failed to acquire the skill has already been taken up; once the causes are identified, a remedial program to cover these kids will be placed in position at the end of which they will qualify for a second attempt under the present program. The aim continues to be that every kid passing out of 7th Std- barring those with severe disabilities- possesses the prescribed reading skill by the end of the current academic year.

The issue here is however not the efficacy per-se of the adopted learning process. It is about the role of non-cognitive skills and their relevance to enhancement of learning levels through controlled processes. Once this is established as expected, Sikshana will have a powerful tool to address other skill gaps too in a similar manner and will be in a position to aim at their ‘near total’ acquisition.

E S Ramamurthy

Note:  *(1) / (2)  “ How Children Succeed”– Paul Tough, HMH Publications
                               "The evolutionary importance of rapid instructed task learning" - Michael Cole 

The Student Power

We underestimate the resilience of the Public School System and , as a result, arrive at generalisations that are often very uncharitable. The school at Sheshagirihalli in Ramanagaram Block is a case that illustrates this; in fact it amazed me too when I came to know about the program that is being run there.

The HM of the Government High School in this village, Ms Manjushree, reflects the vibrant optimism that one can see in many schools defying all odds. She took over a school this year that posted a modest 62% pass in the last SSLC examinations with a student strength of about 50 in Tenth Grade; that is not a small number with which one can juggle percentages. For Sikshana, it is  the second year with this school. Our Mentors Srikant and Shivakumar have been visiting the school regularly and they reported that it is well on the  way to achieving a perfect 100 this year. This surge is seen to be the result of an innovative program that the HM has initiated, spurred by two of our suggestions. Sikshana has always been affirming that the students will do well only when they take it upon themselves to do so and that the additional effort needed for this should take place at home- not at school where the ongoing efforts are at saturation levels. The HM took these seriously and started organising study groups to function from home. 


First, she called a meet of the parents to get their concurrence to holding such sessions at home, to be monitored by them for compliance. There were minor but very interesting hiccups such as caste affiliations coming in the way of the kids getting together at their homes, even if it is for studying and for limited durations. She managed them well and to every one's satisfaction ; but then that is another story by itself. 


The groups were formed at school taking into account the location of the residences, compatibility and skill levels. Once this is completed, the sessions started in all designated places under the supervision of the host. Each group was given on a daily basis the work to be done on that day and the completed  work was checked the day after at school. Provision was also made for monitoring the progress by  


phone; the HM got the numbers of the parents in each location and made it a point to check that the sessions are going on smoothly. After a month of such close monitoring, she has now reduced the frequency to more sustainable levels gradually after ensuring that the program has taken root. 

A talk with the students showed how enthusiastic they were about these study groups; the above video clips prove the point. 

It is no wonder that the HM is confident that the school will get a perfect score in the coming examinations.  The program at Sheshagirihalli deserves to be emulated by other schools; it is proof of what can be achieved by tapping student power.