VIDYA-JYOTI PROGRAM TRANSFORMING EDUCATION IN RURAL SCHOOLS IN BORDER DISTRICTS OF RAJOURI AND POONCH IN J&K

STATUS REPORT:
Jul – DEC 2019
And
PLANS FOR ACADEMIC YEAR 2020-21

  1. Background and Context

We started the year with an objective in the current academic year (2019-2020) to deploy the Vidya Jyoti solution in 20 schools in J&K. Vidya Jyoti is a composite of several different programs as described in the grant application, here is a quick summary:

  • Digital classrooms: Introducing the latest digital learning platforms and content to schools and training the teachers to utilise them in classroom delivery. “e-Pathshale” kit  developed by our partner Children’s Lovecastle Trust (CLT) has been introduced earlier to schools in the 2019-20 academic year and we decided to continue it.
  • Live interactive virtual classes: Volunteer teachers would teach and interact with children live via video sessions. Partnering with e-Vidyaloka who has pioneered these deployments.
  • Teacher enablement and training: Activity Based Learning (ABL) methodology training to teachers to improve the student engagement. Training from Agastya International Foundation to improve the science teaching specifically.
  • Improving English proficiency of students:  deployment of the  ‘Right to Learn’ digital platforms developed by English Bolo to significantly enhance the ability of English teachers to teach the prescribed syllabus.  
  • Ullas Program: Ullas’s aim is to shape the thinking of young minds in their adolescence (Grade 9-12) with specific focus on the economically challenged sections towards chasing their dreams and aspirations. Aseries of “CAN DO” workshops that are conducted regularly to ignite the students minds and motivates them to work towards their dreams actively.

One of the first things we discovered was that the ground realities of the border regions of J&K present significant challenges even to tasks that would be considered ‘normal and easy’ elsewhere! Except in towns like Rajouri, getting to the schools itself is a difficult and time consuming task given the distance, mountainous terrain, poor roads, and lack of public transport. Internet connectivity is generally unavailable or spotty at most of the remote school locations. Schools are understaffed. Although the teachers are sincere, hard working and committed, they generally lack adequate qualifications.  To add to the woes, areas could be closed off unexpectedly due to enemy shelling and other hostile activities that are part of the daily life in these areas. The revocation of Article 370 in August 2019 and the attendant severe restrictions on Internet availability caused us a major delay in execution. The closure of schools affected time available for Vidya Jyoti interventions as school administrations were under the pressure to complete the syllabus.

Under these circumstances, our plans to expand to 20 schools proved too ambitious and we were forced to scale back. During September we made a decision to focus on the existing schools and only take on 2 more schools than previous year, conduct baseline and teacher training programs, and to pilot implementation of the Ullas programs in 3 schools in partnership with Ullas Trust, and lastly getting the program team adequately staffed and trained for a larger intervention.

The following institutions were selected for the intervention, some retained from previous year.

SchoolLocationDescription
Army Goodwill Public SchoolRajouriArmy run school, good teachers and best infrastructure, manygood students from rural areas
Tender Feet SchoolKeriArmy run school near border, good infrastructure, students are mostly from backward low literacy communities
Model AcademySagraArmy run school near border, good infrastructure, students are mostly from surrounding peasant communities
Garibdas AcademyKG TopArmy run school near border, students are mostly from surrounding peasant communities
Pinewood SchoolSabraArmy run school near border, good infrastructure, students are mostly from surrounding peasant communities
Pinewood SchoolHamirpurArmy run school near border, students are mostly from surrounding peasant communities. Newly added for 2019-20
Govt Higher Secondary SchoolJamola, RajouriGovt school, SBC chairman/Sarpanch is young, dynamic, and supportive, students are mostly from backward low literacy communities. Newly added for 2019-20.

Gramonnati hired Shakoor Ahmed Lone as a full time leader and Program Manager for our activities in J&K in Aug 2019. Shakoor has MA in Mass Communication and has worked in Chinar International as a Project Co-ordinator at district level, prior to that he served at Pratham. He has a wealth of prior experience in the area of remedial programs for underserved schools and children. He has deep knowledge of the education system in J&K and the ground realities there. He is the first member of our program team in the region and came on board from 1st July 2019.

Iqra Shakeel is an alumnus of Army Goodwill Public School, Rajouri and completed her 12th in 2018-19 year. She comes from a very poor family and very bright talented youngster. She was part of the Gramonnati programs during the previous year and expressed her wish to work for Gramonnati programs. She is now pursuing her BA in Jammu. Children lighten up and connect with her instantly when she takes up training sessions. She has joined our team as a part time field co-ordinator from July 2019.

Sobia Kosser has an MA in Sociology and lives near Bhimber Gali. She is an alumnus of Pinewood School, Hamirpur. She also has joined our team as a field co-ordinator since 1st Oct 2019.

Program Interventions

During 2018-19 we had provided digital infrastructure and content for classroom use in several schools. Digital content provided by CLT is called as “e-Pathashale” and has videos and teaching material for Science, Maths, and English as per NCERT syllabus for classes 5th to 10th. At the beginning of 2019-20 we set out to evaluate the usage and efficacy of the kits. Our program team visited all the pilot schools and observed the usage and held discussions with the stake holders. While the contents were of very good quality and easy to use, the overall usage was not upto our expectation. The primary reason for this was the rather low levels of student and teacher capability in understanding English language. This prevented both students and teachers from sustaining active interestin learning using digital content.

This made us recalibrate our decision to deploy the model more extensively. Following decisions were taken based on this experience.

  1. No more new procurement of CLT e-Pathashale, only renew the existing content licenses. Provide more training and monitor kit usage, and redeploy to other schools or institutions as necessary
  2. Defer procurement of DLP projectors till mid year (a new model with better features available by Nov 2019)
  3. Evaluate the baseline skills in using the language and provide more basic interventions
  4. Slow down in implementing more digital classroom interventions until the stakeholder readyness is re-established.

During July 2019 Vidya Jyoti program team put together a simple evaluation survey similar to the ASER survey. The survey would assess the reading, writing, comprehension skills, basic math and science knowledge both at primary and high school level.

The program team conducted student level learning assessments for around 1500 students in 6 schools (except PWS Hamirpur). While 70% students in AGPS Rajouri did meet the minimum requirements, only 15% students met the level in TFS Keri. However none of the students in the other 4 schools were able to qualify. These extremely disappointing results clearly indicated the need for sensitisation of teachers to bridge this learning gap.

Learning Assessment under progress at GHSS Jamola
….and at Garib Das Academy

The dismal results prompted the program team to introduce the use of Activity Based Learning Methodology. The key feature of the Activity Based Learning (ABL) method is that it uses child-friendly educational aids to foster self-learning and allows a child to study according to his or her aptitude and skill. ABL serves as one model of child-centered, child-friendly education, which is the mandate of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) Act in India. The program team has implemented the following two interventions on an immediate basis since Oct 2019.

  1. A two day teacher training on ABL methodology to improve classroom engagement and to address the gaps.
  2. Remedial classes to students based on ABL methodology to students of 9th standard on a pilot basis to improve their learning skills (the same group was targeted by Ullas program described later in the report).

Teacher Training

As a first step, a two day teacher training program was conducted for teachers of these schools to improve their teaching capacities and to make them more effective in addressing the needs of their students. These programs were well attended and received very positive feedback. We will plan to expand this training to cover all teachers in all schools where we engage. Also we will add refresher trainings each year to keep the teachers well equipped and address any concerns in utilising the methods.


Remedial class for students in progressTeachers’ training at Model Academy Sagra

Remedial Classes

A second step was to conduct remedial classes employing the well known ‘Activity Based Learning’ for all the students. These classes focus on enhancing the interest of the students in learning and  on their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. Once again, this well tested approach is showing positive results and warrants an expanded and continuing program.

Remedial classes for students

Ullas Workshops

A third program aimed at students in grades 9 thru 12 was launched in collaboration with the Ullas Foundation. Ullas conducts ‘Can Do ,…….If I can dream it, I can do it! ‘ workshops to identify and promote young achievers and to encourage all students to dream big and think big. It follows up by providing them ‘summit classes’ during the academic year. These are 5 interactive life skill classes per year per grade which continue to nurture, teach and encourage students to become higher achievers.

Vidya Jyoti program manager Shakoor Ahmad, and field co-ordinator Iqra Shakeel have travelled to Chennai, and Delhi to be trained as a trainer in the Ullas workshops during the months of July-Aug 2019. Following that the program team arranged for the launch of the program in 3 schools subsequently with the participation from Ullas Delhi chapter. The chosen schools were AGPS Rajouri, Pinewood Hamirpur, and GHSS Jamola. This program has seen a very successful and positive start and a very enthusiastic response. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It will be expanded to cover more schools and will be continued in the three schools where it has already been launched.

At a Ullas Foundation program in AGPS Rajouri
Brig Saurabh Sharma – Commander of 25th Infantry Brigade, Rajouri recognizing the work of the Vidya Jyoti program team at Army Goodwill Public School, Rajouri. Receiving the honor is Shakoor Ahmad Lone – Vidya Jyoti Project Manager, far right are Iqra Shakeel and Sobia Kosser – field co-ordinators.
 
….and recognizing Sukanya, the prime mover from the Ullas Foundation
….and recognizing Sukanya, the prime mover from the Ullas Foundation

Plan for rest of 2019-20, and 2020-21 Academic Years

We have learned a lot from our year’s experience with the pilot schools and from stakeholder  feedback. We will implement a modified Vidya Jyoti program in 2020 which we believe will be much more effective and transformative.

The main elements will be:

  1. Ongoing Learning Assessment of students in reading, writing, speaking, listening and basic math skills to determine where they stand with reference to established benchmarks.
  2. Remedial classes for students in these areas to the extent and duration required. Based on current scenario we anticipate that this will be an ongoing requirement. The main focus of the remedial classes will be on:
    1. Reading, Writing, Speaking & Listening competencies
    1. Soft skills and Personality development (21st century skills)
    1. Enhance student’s interest level in studies, and self-learning
  3. Teacher training programs to make them more effective in engaging students.
    1. Identifying the positives and building on them
    1. Pre-School preparations and lesson plans
    1. Reading activities: Pre Reading, During Reading, Post Reading
    1. Activities like Thematic Mind Map (word, sentence, story level), Visual Memory (word, sentence, story level), Picture Reading (word, sentence, story level), Basket Game (letter, word, sentence,), Word Association (word, sentence level), Sentence auction (sentence level),
    1. Word wall, Sight words to improve vocabulary
    1. Implement peer teaching within classrooms
  1. Improve science teaching by training teachers on “Constructivist Approach to Science Teaching” and “Make Your Own Lab” trainings by Agastya International Foundation. Based on the feedback from last year’s trainees and further discussion with pedagogy experts from Agastya a modification has been done in this years training. The main focus of the 4-day workshop will be on “constructivism” and teachers will get a chance to try out the new learnings immediately. There will be a follow up visit from the Agastya team to monitor the classroom implementation subsequently. Because of this change we have to increase the budget allocated for this training and yet adjust within the overall budget till end of the program.
  2. Focused tutoring – Padhao Didi
    Studies at J-PAL (Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab) by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo (this years’ winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics) in Randomized Control Trials have clearly shown that focused tutoring is extremely effective in improving the academic performance of under privileged students and that it works much better than providing free books or additional teachers in schools. We intend to pilot a focused tutoring program in the rural community. Our plan is to hire local graduates, preferably women, who are bright, talented and motivated. These young women will not only be tutors but will also act as ‘Big Sisters’ and role models. 
  3. Digital Classrooms
    It is our hope that the CLT kits will prove much more useful to students and teachers this year and usage will increase. We don’t plan  any additional deployments this year. However, we will procure and deploy around 15 Android based DLP projectors which can connect to the Internet and project content from any source. These would be an additional resource for students and teachers and the content would be of their choosing and more in line with their needs and abilities. However due to continued shutdown of Internet in this region, we are looking to collate some free content relevant to primary and high school and provide them in an offline mode.
  4. e-Vidyaloka: Live interactive on-line classes. We were unable to implement these last year due to various challenges including the restriction on the Internet in J&K in the last few months. We are hopeful of making a beginning once the restrictions on the Internet are removed. These classes would help augment teacher capacity and are likely to be more effective once the students have been through the remedial classes. Our partners at e-Vidyaloka are very eager to begin and have several Hindi and Urdu speaking volunteers lined up.
  5. Extending Ullas program: Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback that we have received from this year’s program at three schools, we are working with Ullas tryst to expand this to all higher secondary schools under our intervention in 2020.
  6. Right to Learn digital platform deployment for English learning. This platform is  developed by our partner English Bolo, and we are in continued discussion to pilot this program. This also requires an active internet connection for proper monitoring and content dissemination.
  7. Partnership MoU with Director, School Education, Jammu – this is mandatory requirement for extending out interventions to the government schools in the region. The only state government school (GHSS Jamola) came into our program due to proactive follow up by the young and dynamic Sarpanch of Jamola village and the gram sabha approving the intervention unanimously.

4. Impact Assessment

SchoolBaseliningTeacher TrainingUllas  ProgramCLT ePathashaleActivity Based Learning
AGPS Rajouri750 110 110
Pinewood School Hamirpur 560 60
GHSS Jamola450655250250
Model Academy Sagra1208 100150
Garib Das Academy605  120
TFS Keri608 100250
Pinewood School Sabra906  120


5. Conclusion
It has been an period of continuous learning and adaptation to the ever changing ground situation for Vidya Jyoti program team. However the team has been able to overcome obstacles and continue to think long term despite the difficulties posed by the mindset, geography, demography. As the situation in the region and internet connectivity improves the program can be expanded in size, scope and efficacy to cover many more schools in the region.