Improving the way learning takes place in state-run schools is one of Naandi’s oldest and most widespread interventions. It complemented our work of delivering midday meals to children in schools. Apart from the nutritious meals, we provided education support to children in over 2000 schools located in rural, urban and adivasi areas across the country.
Working with children, teachers and educationists over the years, we zeroed in on Cooperative Reflective Learning as a method that ensures children learn, overcoming the multi-level, multi- grade challenges (see below) faced by teachers and students in government schools.
In most classrooms all children in the same grade are not of the same age, nor have they been schooled for the same number of years.
It is common for parents in rural areas or those who haven’t been to school to enroll children much after they are six years old.
Therefore, classrooms often have children of different ages with different levels of learning (multi- level).
Cooperative Reflective Learning believes that a non-threatening, interactive and participatory transaction between children and the learning facilitator is a must in the classroom to ensure learning in children. In the classes, group learning and interactive learning tools were used instead of rote or teacher-driven unilateral learning. Instead of a teacher, a ‘facilitator’ guided children to learn and understand concepts through group discussions and demonstration. This was followed by applying this understanding to work sheets and work books so every student was clear about how the concept was used to solve problems.
Cooperative Reflective Learning not only helped students and teachers overcome multi-level, multi-grade challenges, it also addressed the issue that most of the 150 million children enrolled in government schools were either first generation learners or children with no supportive learning environment available to them after school hours. After school learning support, time and space is what we provided everyday to children with the help of local unemployed youth, trained in the cooperative reflective pedagogy.
Supported primarily by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, nearly 3000 academic support centres using Cooperative Reflective Learning methods were operational in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh in over 2000 schools.
To assess whether our Cooperative Reflective Learning based academic support centres was effective in improving learning levels of children, these classes were monitored through a two- year, rigorous, randomised controlled trial. The trial took place in Mahabubnagar district of Telangana. Called Support to Rural India’s Primary Education System (STRIPES), it was part of a bigger health intervention trial conducted by Effective Intervention of UK and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
STRIPES evaluated whether the learning levels of children living in a village that received the academic support programme was different from that of children in the villages that did not receive the support. In all, 8114 children from primary classes were part of the trial for a period of two academic years. They were tested in mathematics and language.
At the end of the trial in 2012, the learning level test scores were significantly higher among students who received academic support than those who did not. The score of all the children who received academic support was 60.2 against 44.3 of those children who did not receive the support. This proved that the academic support centres positively influenced the learning levels in children who received it compared to children who did not receive it. Of the trial and the results, Dr Peter Boone, Programme Director, Effective Intervention said,
“The findings of this two- year rigorous trial give us great confidence that it is possible to substantially, and within reasonable cost, improve education outcomes in some of the poorest regions of India.”