A classroom run on constructivist principles, Zilla Parishad Upper Primary School, Kosara, Chandrapur District, Maharashtra
This is a report of a visit to an exhibition on innovations in education,where we came across examples of ongoing quality education practices. We met a teacher from a school where children do not have to carry heavy bags to school, nor do they get homework assignments. During school hours they sing, dance and play-act, learning while having fun.
In another school, each student has a tablet in her hand. This tablet contains over 10,000 pages of study material and offers scope for activities like colouring, creating music, playing interesting games and taking photographs. These may sound like privileges which only students of expensive private schools would enjoy, but all these activities are apparently going on in government schools in Maharashtra right now. These are some glimpses of the movement for quality education in the state, known as Pragat Shikshan Maharashtra, or PSM for short.
On left, dice with words, thrown and used to construct sentences. Exhibit from Kolhapur District, Maharashtra.
The state’s Primary Education Department developed the idea of PSM. The core premise of PSM is that no student should be left out of education, and their fundamental concepts should be sound. Its aim is to build clarity of concepts and thinking. It focuses on language and maths, skills that are needed for complex tasks in all subject areas in higher classes.
Teachers are encouraged to follow the path of constructivism, which focuses on the learner and sees the teacher as a facilitator. Constructivism urges acceptance of the fact that human beings learn through their own experiences and observations. It rejects notions that place the teacher at the centre of the learning process, as if the students are only passive listeners. Conventionally, students were made to memorise concepts and facts without due attention being paid to their capacity to understand them. Constructivism asserts that students know a lot, and continuously learn from their surroundings and peers. The teacher’s role may be compared to that of a ladder that will support learners, but the learners must make the effort to learn for themselves.
This then describes,Shikshnanachi Wari,an exhibition showcasing educational innovations, held at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune from 27-31 January 2016. The exhibition was organised through the combined efforts of the Primary Education Department of the Government of Maharashtra, Maharashtra State Council of Education, Research and Training, Pune, (MSCERT) also known as Vidyaparishad and Shyamachi Aai Foundation.
The exhibition was inaugurated by the state‘s Minister of Higher & Technical Education, Shri Vinod Tawde, the then Education Commissioner Shri Purushottam Bhapkar and Member of Parliament Smt Anu Aga. Present at the inauguration was also the Principal Secretary, School Education & Sports, Shri Nand Kumar.
Many schools, and innovative teachers from all across the state, participated in the exhibition. What they had in common was that their work is based on constructivist thinking, and they practice activity-based and student-centric education. Visitors were introduced to the extraordinary teachers behind the 53 interactive corners showcasing a variety of innovations in education.
The exhibition was arranged in thematic clusters, that included constructivism (gyanrachnawad in Marathi), activity-based learning, digital tools, and innovative teaching methods in subjects like Mathematics and English.The aim of the exhibition was to inspire the visiting teachers to initiate similar experiments in their schools.
Many schools and active teachers who have implemented constructivist ideas in their work took part in the Shikshnanachi Wari exhibition. A stall from the Kumthe Beat from Satara drew much attention. It was the first beat in Maharashtra’s government school system to start implementing constructivist methods and hence is considered a critical factor behind the inception of PSM. The thirty nine schools in this beat have been termed as ‘Pragat’. Here every single student has access to the resources for quality education under PSM.
While the rest of the schools have holidays in summer and re-open on 14th June every year, schools in Kumthe beat admit students of the first standard from 1st March. In this period of one and a half months they run a joyous and playful education programme. This ensures that the youngest students get used to the idea of coming to school every day and when all the other students join in June, the first standard is well settled in school.
The games they play have almost no costs – they play with marbles, play games with sticks and stones and enjoy themselves on swings. They are allowed to play for as long as they wish to. Props like pebbles, tamarind seeds and bead necklaces are used to strengthen their sense of mathematics. Through such games the children learn to recognise numbers and rapidly perform addition and subtraction.
For language development, a technique called “mind mapping” is used to extract the words learners already know before they come to school. Using the words they themselves generate, they come to understand letters, their sounds, and the strokes used to form them. Then words are formed, using the familiar letters. The words turn into sentences which turn into medium paragraphs and then simple plays. At each step the learners are motivated to use their own examples and imaginations.
The teachers have devised simple tools like word cards that each have a letter, a word in English with its Marathi translation, a picture that conveys the meaning of the word, a sentence using the word, along with the meaning of the sentence. These cards cover over 5000 English words. There are also word puzzles and rhymes based on the featured words. Much of the credit for Kumthe Beat’s success with constructivist approaches goes to their Education Extension Officer Pratibha Bharade who has worked tirelessly with teachers to raise the quality of the schooling experience for children in Satara.
On left, a word game to identify the name of an animal, its plural form, its sex, its young one, its call and its shelter.
Another school that has linked itself to the objectives of PSM is Bhorchya Kenjani, a Zilla Parishad School in Pune district. The school’s campus surpasses that of any private school in Pune city. Beautiful buildings are surrounded by gardens containing a variety of flowers, fruits and vegetables – all maintained by the teachers and students of the school. Students of primary classes (I to IV) in this school do not carry school bags. They keep their textbooks at home for self-study and practice. The students here are not categorised on the basis of their age or their grades but on the basis of their interests. The classes have names like English lab, Maths lab and so on. If a child feels like she needs to practice more maths, she is free to sit in the maths lab for that day. All the labs are filled with games such as cards, marbles and digital tools to aid learning, similar to the Kumthe Beat schools.
Even the walls and floors are painted with games and riddles. The children write on them with chalk. Students go wherever they wish to and teachers do not scold them for wandering. In this colourful environment, students learn using props like tamarind seeds, beads, play money, playing cards and coins. The vegetables grown by the students are used in their mid-day meals. This school also has solar panels, through which enough power is generated to make the school self-sufficient in electricity.
Another stall that drew a crowd was conducted by teacher Mahesh Ghugre from Gadhinglaj in Kolhapur district, bordering on the state of Karnataka. Kannada is the first language of a majority of children in his school, and many come from families of farmers and daily-wage labourers. They often have difficulties with Marathi, which they need to know well as they move to higher classes. They are also sometime required to stay at home to help in farm work or do household work when their parents are away. To address these concerns, Mahesh Ghugre came up with what he calls “fun and frolic school”. The school’s ambience and its teaching methods are designed to prevent childrenfrom feeling that attending school is like a punishment.
Mahesh Ghugre has invented a number of interesting learning aids. In order to increase familiarity with the alphabet and to improve handwriting, a child needs to practice their writing. When Ghugre realised that impoverished parents could not afford notebooks for handwriting practice, he crafted a magical slate, using available materials. The back of this writing pad is supported by a cardboard sheet, and a lined sheet of paper from a notebook is pasted on the front of the cardboard, over which a plastic sheet is stuck. The child uses a sketch-pen or a non permanent marker on this to practice writing. After the writing is done, the pad can be wiped clean with a duster and the same “slate” re-used.
Another innovation is a rolling chart to familiarise children with the consonants and the vowel signs that modify them. The consonants are written in bold lettering on a sheet of paper which is wrapped over a wooden plank and a rolling plastic sheet is draped over it. The rolling plastic sheet has only vowel signs on it. This sheet can be placed over the consonants to form combinations like
In order to enable practice in the use of idioms and common phrases, Ghugre created a set of “half yours and half mine” cards. Clusters of words are broken up and distributed over two sets of cards, and students asked to pick cards and form idioms and phrases using them. Counters made of discarded matchboxes, with two different words written on either side, are used by students to form sentences. Mahesh Ghugre was very happy to report that every Zilla Parishad school in Gadhinglaj works on constructivist lines, and the quality of education has vastly improved in recent years.
There is a Gram Panchayat school in Madha taluka of Solapur district where Ranjitsinh Disale teaches. He has made an electronic version of the Balbharati textbook which he calls e-Balbharati. At his own expense, he created the QR codes for all the Balbharati textbooks for standards 1 to 4. Using an application commonly available on smart phones, the required code for a particular textbook may be scanned to get audio or video clips or games pertaining to that book. These materials bring out interesting aspects of the content of the book, which the child would never have had access to otherwise.
Disale‘s website also makes question booklets available online, so that students may practice for their exams and see the results immediately on their own email accounts or those of their teachers or parents.
Today some 7,427 district council schools with around 1.5 lakh students in Maharashtra are using these QR code-based e-Balbharti textbooks. To find out more, you could visit this blog at “http://ranjitsinhdisale.blogspot.in
The last exhibit we visited was by a school very well-known in Maharashtra – the Zilla Parishad Digital School of Pashtepada in Thane district, run by Sandeep Gund, a teacher of many talents. He started this school with the support of the villagers, local NGOs and other donors. Here, too, students do not bring schoolbags, and everyone has her or his own tablet. Apart from that, the teacher uses an interactive touch screen instead of the traditional blackboard and chalk.
The students’ textbooks are stored on their tablets along with an extensive collection of animation clips and live action films, songs, games, besides which they have access to some 10,000 pages of other educational material. The children take each others’ photographs, record their stories, and make videos. The school has its own medium studio set-up where the teacher records videos of students’ cultural activities and shares them over the Internet.
To ensure continuous power to support the digital infrastructure of the school, Gund has assembled a battery system that runs on solar energy. Many others have replicated this portable solar kit after visiting the school. This teacher has been awarded two President’s Awards, and has been conducting motivational workshops with thousands of teachers across the state so that many more such digital schools may be started.
Though we were not able to visit all the stalls at the exhibition, we were really impressed by the teachers we were able to meet. They were all highly committed to creating quality educational experiences for their students. Around 8000 other teachers visited the exhibition during the five days it was on. They must surely have been inspired by their face-to-face meetings with the innovators, experiments and success stories, and will try, we hope, to replicate what they saw, in their own way.
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Photos: Giri Ratan Singh and Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Translation and editing: samata.shiksha team