Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Government’s attempt to Disrupt Education System through ICT: A case study of initiatives in Bihar and Rajasthan

Dheeraj Kumar
(Dheeraj works in the Central team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

Digital technology has revolutionized every aspect of modern life. It has become almost impossible to imagine our lives without mobile phones and other communication technologies. In recent years, learning technologies in high-cost schools have taken a leap, while government funded education still lacks the basic ICT infrastructure. Government interventions in ICT in education have been largely limited to the digitalization of data collection process with an attempt to make the system more transparent and responsive.

Learning technologies governed by ICT and digital framework have the potential to majorly change the way education is administered and transacted in today’s classrooms. There have been quite a few efforts from the state government to solve the access, equity and quality related issues by providing the ICT infrastructure in the selected schools, but the real challenge has been the integration of the technology into classrooms and in the lives of the teachers.

Without a holistic digital education policy, any standalone ICT intervention comes with a risk of widening the already existing gap in the country’s current education system. Vast demographical and geographical diversity of India also adds to the challenge of forming an uniform national digital educational policy. Education being a subject on the concurrent list, makes the role of state governments crucial to formulate policies to overcome the challenge of diversity and maximize the benefits that can be achieved through ICT. While many states are taking active steps in this direction; we look at a few such digital interventions made by the state governments of Bihar and Rajasthan to reflect on the impact of those efforts.

A mid day meal session in progress
In last several years, Bihar has witnessed many reforms in the education system, as well as, faced challenges with respect to infrastructure and service delivery such as connectivity, electricity, and so on. Bihar made an attempt in digitalizing the education system by building a digital monitoring system for implementation of Mid Day Meal schemes.

Mid Day Meal MIS

In Bihar, BEPC (Bihar Education Project Council) implements an MIS (Management Information System) for real time monitoring of the mid day meal scheme throughout the state. The group of all the monitoring officials can access information pertaining to number of meals served, amount of grains distributed and fund disbursed on real time basis. Additionally, it enables the officials to plan for advance two months through funds estimation.

Both the planning and the execution are done at different levels such as block, district and state. Seeing the success of mid day meal schemes in attracting and retaining children especially of parents from low income strata or below poverty line, there is a plan to devise a central scheme throughout the nation. It is likely, that this mid day meal MIS scheme will be replaced by a central scheme of similar nature.

Pilot for Model schools

In order to conduct a pilot on “Model Schools” around 1,000 high schools have been chosen and equipped with a modern computer lab facility. This project has been spearheaded by Adarbhut Sanghathan Nigam and funded by Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA). Each of these modern computer labs possess at least one server, 10 computers, networked with printer and Scanner, computer furniture, etc. Each lab has power backup facilities to improve the physical infrastructure and its efficient utilization. The schools have a devoted IT trainer to provide quality computer education to the students. This project is implemented under Public Private Partnership (PPP) model to alleviate the associated risk of failure on operational and financial front. Bihar government has selected two service providers for this project Pearsons and Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS).


Rajasthan Education Initiative
The state government of Rajasthan has embarked on digital interventions across the state in an effort to provide quality education and easy access to each student, especially the marginalized children and those with special needs.

One such interventions of Rajasthan state government was Rajasthan Education Initiative (REI) which is a joint effort with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Global e-Schools Communities Initiative (GeSCI) and World Economic Forum. This MoU was flagged in 2005 to improve the general public education throughout the state with a special focus on improving the state of girls’ education, rural marginalized children and children with special needs. REI implemented several ICTs and ICT enabled learning including School Computer Education Program, Computer-aided Learning programme (CALP), Girls of Rajasthan and Computer Education program famous as project GRACE.

A computer class in progress
Though REI could not achieve the targeted success in terms of actually disrupting the education system in the state and lessening the gap, the major flaw was not the initiative but its ad-hoc activities, scale of tasks being limited to pilots and lack of innovative approach. However, this initiative has presented immense learning curves pertaining to management of multiple stakeholders and successful implementation of ICTs and ICT enabled services, especially in the primary education. It proved to be a huge experimental learning, and efforts were made to mainstream REI under the flagship project Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). Under REI, about 30,000 teachers were trained in ICT and 15,000 schools received several REI digital interventions, providing access, enrolment, and retention of children, particularly in primary education.

Taking a definite step forward, Government of India has initiated the National Mission in Education through ICT which has been envisaged as a centrally sponsored scheme to leverage the potential of ICT in teaching and learning process in higher education institutions.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Reflection on LOTB Assessments

Baishakhi Paul & Jitesh Dhoot
(Baishakhi and Jitesh work in the Central Team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

Learn, Out Of the Box programme started its journey with the introduction of a new technology called “WebBox” which was provided to low income schools with an objective to make classroom learning fun for students and to improve learning levels. Schools were provided with required hardware and WebBox had preloaded content for class 6th and 7th of Math and Science. Moreover, the exceptional feature of internet access through Webboxes was made available to all schools. In order to maximise the utilization, LOTB provided and still continues to give rigorous classroom support and teacher training.
To assess the usefulness of WebBox in classrooms, learning level and performance of students, enthusiasm and perception towards various teaching-learning practices and teacher skills, the programme underwent an evaluation through Internal and External assessment and inferred the following:

Internal Evaluation

To measure the student’s learning outcome pre and post tests was conducted which was pen/paper based in 50 random schools in 6 states. Mysore and Delhi had less than 50 schools so fewer schools were chosen from these states. Assam and Himachal Pradesh were not included as they had a different academic calendar. The assessment tools were designed to understand the changes in cognitive and content dimension among students. Significant improvement in performance was observed in high engagement schools where monthly subject specific usage of WebBox was more than 5 days. Qualitative assessments were conducted in 30 schools across 6 states followed by 12 and 6 schools respectively in Delhi and Mysore. In qualitative assessments, most of the students reported that they understood the content from WebBox, and that it promoted group work and helped them understand the concepts better. LOTB has deduced from its journey that most of the students prefer studying with friends more than doing it on their own. Science experiment videos were the most liked and accessed content from the WebBox amongst students. Majority of teachers accepted that technology helps to build interest amongst students. All classroom observations pictured that most schools had basic infrastructure for an interactive digital classroom but many classrooms had various problems like space, poor internet signal etc. WebBox related issues were a major challenge in the programme. From internal assessments it was also observed that teachers needed support in pedagogical skills and content knowledge. Also, additional support was required to integrate various activities into conventional teaching in classrooms.

External Evaluation

The external assessments were conducted in phases with changes in the design of study from being proto-type in first year to experimental-control design in third year. To understand the usage of Webbox, assessments were organized in Assam, Mumbai, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand in two ways that were pen/paper based and qualitative study on treatment and control groups. Only students who appeared for pre-test were evaluated for post-tests. With average changes in scores it was clear that the overall performance was improved in small steps and not in masses. Students and teachers both accepted that WebBox had improved the student attendance and their interest in learning. A large number of teachers reported that classroom participation had improved due to different activities conducted in the class.

There have been many positive impacts of the WebBox though many teachers felt that wireless technology would improve their teaching experience as that will give them mobility. The external assessment team also provided a suggestion to redesign a few areas of the programme as technology and teacher training is critical but at the same time not sufficient to improve the learning outcomes of the students. They also recommended on making the content error free, engaging school authorities and providing additional training and incentives to the teachers.

Way forward – Based on our past experiences and learnings throughout the programme journey in the last three years along with the impact assessment reports, we are trying to reflect through more focussed interventions and programme redesign.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Rekha Gupte
(Rekha manages the Learn, Out of the Box programme in Mumbai)

LOTB has the opportunity of interacting with diverse schools and teachers. Regular visits of our field staff in Mumbai schools exposed us to the fact of teachers facing challenges in teaching and learning methodologies. Some teachers keep exploring various ideas and try to bring innovations in their teaching-delivery mechanisms but majority of them stick to their regular teaching styles.
Teaching-learning implementation in Mumbai classroom

Teachers often don’t get a chance to brainstorm on problems faced by them. LOTB rendered support and took a step to cater these difficulties of school teachers where they could think, discuss, ideate and implement various solutions. This helped us to build a network of teachers who would work together to solve various issues faced by them innovatively.

The Process of Networking

Teachers of Mumbai schools were asked to pen down any one unique innovation which they implemented in classrooms and received a positive feedback from students.

The "changemaker" brainstorming session
Initially, not many were interested in sharing their experiences but gradually as we started showing them the bigger picture, the intent and the importance of the activity, the engagement and enthusiasm proliferated. As we all know group learning is always helpful, similarly the group of teachers collectively worked like a think tank and figured out ways for efficient interactive teaching-learning mechanisms.

All the thoughts recovered from these intensive brainstorming sessions were collected, shortlisted and stated as “Out of the Box Ideas”. A group of teachers subjecting to these unique ideas was formed and they were appreciated and lauded for their vision of excellent education. Apart from verbal recognition, many teachers were given “Changemaker Influencers” certification from STiR.


A teacher sharing her ideas
As expected, teachers were happy after their first network meeting and started participating proactively. They were recognised individually and praised by the school management and formed an identity of their own.

The teachers started feeling empowered as they formed a cluster that contributed to a pool of diverse ideas and innovations and were constantly commended for. They started seeing a value in their work and respected each others opinions.

With the introduction of this networking exercise, teachers started sharing their other classroom experiences and envisaged a different classroom environment.

So, do you think networking always makes life easy?

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Application of 'Application' in Education

Durgesh Tiwari
(Durgesh works in the Central Team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

As applications are soon becoming the next centrepiece of our lives, we look at a few common and uncommon applications which can be used innovatively in schools with students or among teachers:

Teacher groups are increasingly becoming prevalent on WhatsApp. While initially the platform was used for social interactions, some schools have started sharing subject related questions and other education related information on the platform. LOTB is currently undertaking a pilot in four of its states to connect teachers on WhatsApp and engage them in insightful conversations. Teachers have been excited about the pilot and have been responding with great enthusiasm. Watch this space for more on this!

Google Earth
This humble application provides a unique perspective of Earth and helps teachers to delve deep into the planet with their students. While this application can be very helpful to explain concepts of geography, it can also be a great impetus for gathering early attention of a child. 

Khan Academy
Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos and a personalized learning dashboard that empower learners to study at their own pace in and outside of the classroom. While self-learning is still not a common practice in schools, this application is being used by teachers for enhancing their content knowledge. Khan Academy has recently launched their website in Hindi.

An integrated application for students, teachers, educators and parents; e-pathshala presents content through a relatively simple interface. The students section provides digital textbooks for all classes, eResources such as videos, slideshows etc. while the teacher can explore curriculum material, policy related documents etc. This application was launched in November 2015 by Government of India during the National Conference on ICT in School Education and has been used extensively in schools.

With mobile phone penetration on the rise and teachers becoming more comfortable with technology; use of mobile applications in classrooms will be much higher in the coming times.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Teaching Innovations from Uttar Pradesh

Shubhendu Chakravorty
(Shubhendu works in the Central Team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

As in daily life, a creative response to a peculiar problem is generally termed Innovation. While this terminology may be foreign to teachers in low income private schools, its execution in classroom is not. In fact, lack of resources and eager minds often become breeding grounds for such innovations.

This piece documents such innovative teaching practices from two such schools in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

A teacher conducting the Oral period
[Sunrise Career Convent School, Lucknow]

The Principal of Sunrise Career Convent School had been concerned about the low learning levels of the School, especially since many students could not even memorize alphabets or recognize numbers. The learning levels remained very low in spite of adequate classroom focus.

The School has a two gate system in the School, i.e. apart from the main gate of the school building a second gate actually blocks the access to the students’ area. As per the Principal, this had been done to clearly demarcate the student and administrative area.

The Initiator-Mrs. Snehlata Shukla
The School has used the rear end of the second gate opening to the School courtyard as permanent display for Number Counting, Alphabets, Parts of Human Body etc. and introduced an ‘Oral Period’ which made knowing Alphabets and Numbers fun and that too outside of Classroom!

i.e. - Innovation Explained

• Grouped as per Learning Levels
The Oral Period is attended not by one Class in particular but a mix of students depending on their learning levels. The photograph displays a group of children from different classes attending the period.

• Visual Recall
Apart from the period the Gate helps in visual recall of the numbers etc. and children also use it for games in the recess breaks.

• Teacher Connect
As per the Principal, any new teacher joining conducts the Oral Period as it gives her a chance to connect with children across classes.

Posing with the Principal
The Oral Period has significantly improved the learning levels of students. Interesting activities are conducted with younger kids for making them learn numbers & alphabets. Learning becoming more activity oriented and this being outside the classroom has been the key!

Sunrise Career Convent School was awarded third prize in the ‘LOTB Teaching Innovation Contest’ organized during the current academic year.

[Oxford Academy, Lucknow]

WebBox content used for blackboard explanation

The School is 25kms. from city in rural Lucknow. Most guardians are farms owners and laborers. The attendance of students is extremely erratic especially during farm seasons. The learning levels and basic conceptual clarity has been very low in the school.

WebBox used as visual display and reference tool
One of the best performing Schools in the state, in terms of participation-the Teacher and the Principal have been enthusiastically using the WebBox for Math, Science and even other subjects. However, it was observed by the Teacher that students are not able to cope with the WebBox content and may be find it uncomfortable or even intimidating.

The Teacher decided to change the approach and instead of using the WebBox actively in the Classroom, he started preparing for his classes extensively from the concepts, activities and examples of WebBox and delivered it using blackboard while using the WebBox also, to explain the diagrams etc.

i.e. - Innovation Explained

‘See’ is the most preferred section primarily since the video content can effectively replace long explanations of the Teacher and serve as a useful introduction to the topic. However, the uniformity in approach of the content may at times hinder understanding especially of the slow learners or irregular students. In this case, the Teacher customized the use of the WebBox and instead of using it as a primary teaching element in the classroom, it was used to pick up concepts, activities and examples which were used in the class through chalk & talk method while the WebBox was used as a secondary tool. This has also enabled the teacher to weave in a lot more local examples especially related to agriculture-the primary preoccupation of the students when not playing!
Happy kids pose during recess!

Both the Teacher and the Principal have found this approach working as students understand concepts much better. Though aspects like group discussions still don’t form part of the class but there surely is progress in the overall classroom environment.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Journey of WebBox in Learn, Out of the box

Durgesh Tiwari
(Durgesh works in the Central Team of Learn, Out of the Box programme)

Learn, Out Of the Box made an intervention in the methodology of teaching in classrooms by introducing a unique device in schools called “WebBox”. This self sustained device had preloaded content for class 6 and 7 of Math and Science. The content was loaded in a defined framework of “See, Think and Do”, essentially to cater the needs of diverse learners and their learning styles. The WebBox did not aim to replace the traditional syllabus or teaching methods, rather, supported efficient delivery by teachers in classrooms with its additional learning content through internet.

The unique device-"Webbox"

In the first year of WebBox, teachers were less receptive and comfortable handling the technology and textbooks together. Also, the initial motivation of teachers towards using WebBox was reduced which was a challenging task for our field staff and consumed majority of their time. The process of transitioning our traditional classrooms into technology enabled classrooms was critical for the program. Our team dealt with a lot of apprehensions of teachers like: underlying functionality of WebBox, importance of videos and images in classrooms, usage of internet, time management, etc. By the end of first year, teachers had understood that technology and textbooks used in tandem reflect an ideal classroom.

The second and third year of the WebBox , saw its deployment in several schools with various teachers trained on the same. Teachers had started utilizing the WebBox in classrooms as per their comfort. The ease to operate technology had increased thus enabling teachers for:

Motivated boys at Mukundpur Urban learning centre
• Showing Videos to Students
• Conducting Group Discussions
• Conducting Activities
• Using Practice Questions and Quizzes for assessments
• Using internet to show additional content to students etc.

This disruptive approach also seconded the theory that urban teachers are more exposed and comfortable with technology as compared to rural teachers. WebBox had become a part of daily routine of teachers and its usage had been proliferated because of content related internet surfing. It helped the children to absorb concepts easily and gave ideas on creating low cost TLMs with its “Think and Do” Section.

While the Web Box was a substantial device in its own, there were a few technical setbacks like: android version, wired device, 2G connection, etc. As technology has now become an integral part of all LOTB schools, there is an immediate need to upgrade the WebBox to a much efficient solution to counterpart the advancements in technology and continue the spirit of this intervention amongst the teachers.