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Bridging the gap

ThinkZone, a Cuttack-based social enterprise, using innovative ‘School-in-a-Box’ education solution, offline technology, proprietary teaching activities and class management tools to deliver quality early grade education programmes.

Published on December 21, 2020 at 2:49 am

Updated on March 20, 2021 at 06:49 am


E arly childhood programme.
ThinkZone, a Cuttack-based social enterprise, using innovative ‘School-in-a-Box’ education solution, offline technology, proprietary teaching activities and class management tools to deliver quality early grade education programmes
With one of the largest populations in the world, India has been facing several challenges in its different sectors, one of them being education. Across India, over 260 million students are studying at more than 1.5 million recognised schools in the country. Among these, less than 45% of the children in Grade 5 are of Grade 2 or less while 25 million students fail to cope up with their classes and suffer from severe learning deficiencies.
Several factors have led to these figures but it can be broadly identified into gaps in the curriculum, unavailability of teachers, substandard infrastructure and problems with the implementation of the whole educational programme. For the primary grade, the curriculum starts with mostly all the subjects at once, for a child who is in Class 1, there is a time bounds to learn and start writing and to perform in the tests. Usually writing and learning alphabets of any language or simple numbers and mathematical understanding takes a lot of time. If this process does not start at home or in any pre-school facility, a kid taking direct admission in Class 1 is in serious disadvantage. The result is that this disadvantage travels with him as he moves ahead in the curriculum and classes. With a no-detention policy till Class 8, it is common within the kids, especially from an underprivileged background with lack of good educational facility, to show signs of severe learning deficiencies even when he is in a much higher class.
In India, right now the dropout rate shoots from 4% in primary to 17% in secondary levels. Out of the many things, it also indicates that the severe learning deficiencies obtained during primary education stay on and only grow as kids move into secondary grades. In some of the rural and remote areas, the schools are understaffed, teachers are overburdened with teaching kids, school management work and all other governmental work that they are assigned round the year, including elections and surveys. Thus any new programme introduced by the government is rarely implemented.

Early childhood programme class underway.
Pre-primary education is one rarely-talked-about topic in the country although it should be the primary focus right now. The National Educational Policy Draft 2019 states with evidence that 85% of a child’s cumulative development happens before the age of six. The Integrated Child Development Service and under it the Anganwadi scheme has played a major role in improving the health status in the rural hinterland but nothing concrete has yet been set up for the curriculum or for monitoring the learning outcomes.
ThinkZone, a Cuttack-based social enterprise, has been working on these educational challenges since 2014 in rural Odisha. Thinkzone follows the “Teaching-at-the-Right-Level” (TaRL) – an MIT evidence-based approach and uses an innovative ‘School-in-a-Box’ education solution, offline technology, proprietary teaching activities and class management tools to deliver quality early-grade education programmes.
The ThinkZone solution for these challenges works in two phases – remedy and prevention. Thus the programme works in two phases i.e. The Early Childhood Programme and The Primary Grade Programme. Its Early Childhood Programme focuses on the kids who don’t get the right support in the early stage and fall behind on the following important development skills:
1. Physical: Unstable (Example: Unable to hold a pencil and write, no hand-eye coordination etc)
2. Language: (Example: Unable to understand and speak simple sentences)
3. Social and Emotional: (Example: Cannot interact with fellow children, cries when goes to an external environment)
4. Memory: (Example: Unable to understand and recollect simple objects)

Refresher training of educators from the community.
The Early Childhood Programme focuses on these parameters via a skill-based approach by working on the development of Physical (gross motor and fine motor), Language (listening, reading, writing, speaking), Social and Emotional (personal work, play and inter-relation) and Memory Skills (classification, pre-mathematical concepts). Children become school ready and eager to learn, thereby enabling a successful transition to a primary school learning environment. To be able to assess whether the programme has the desired effect, we assess children’s learning outcomes based on 15 broad learning parameters under the above 4 mentioned skills (physical, language, memory and social & emotional). This is the prevention part of the syllabus to help them cope up with the deficiencies while they haven’t yet started their journey into the competitive world.
The second phase of the solution is to target the kids who are already in their primary grades but are falling behind. The remedial programme is for children who are already in formal primary schools but several steps behind basic learning competencies. They fall behind due to the inability to perform even the most basic tasks in the classroom, develop behaviour problems and a lack of motivation for staying in schools. Some of the key skills which children lack are:
1. Language: (Example: Grade 4 children unable to read and write letters, common words, and paragraph with 4 simple sentences – Grade 1 Level)
2. Arithmetic: (Example: Grade 5 children unable to tell time, do simple currency operations, 2-digit subtraction etc – Grade 2 Level)
The Primary Level Education Programme is a level-based and not an age-based programme with every level having a particular conceptual ability defined (Example: 2 digit addition and subtraction for certain level and fractions addition and subtraction for some other level). The focus of the programme is on improving reading fluency, reading and listening comprehension and moving from one level to another, and improving arithmetic ability.
To be able to assess whether the programme has the desired effect, we assess children’s learning outcomes based on learning parameters of reading and arithmetic skills of all the levels. Both the programmes are an after-school programme and are run by a trained woman of the community. These women are provided with training beforehand for understanding and incorporating age/level appropriate curriculum through activity-based teaching methodology. The training also constitutes usage of teaching and learning materials which is a part of the School-in-a-Box and using the ThinkZone Application for mobile phones containing activity plans for the educators among many other things. Every month they also get refresher training to revisit various topics from the curriculum as well as new activities or content for the kids on the mobile application and through offline sessions.
ThinkZone also engages with low-income group families via different community outreach programmes to make them understand about quality education. It also enables and empowers them to adopt modern educational practices at home. Parents receive small learning modules which they can try at their homes with children. Apart from this, they also receive monthly updates about the learning outcome of their children.
In the past few years, ThinkZone has impacted over 4,000 children while engaging more than 200 trained educators from the community. ThinkZone has been working in three districts and has covered more than 350 villages through the programme. There has been a 50% average increase in the learning levels of the children in these centres. Ninety per cent of the enrolled children have jumped 2 levels up from their existing language and arithmetic levels in one year of the Primary Grade Programme while 80% of enrolled children in the Early Childhood Programme have developed 12 of the 15 required learning parameters in a year. ThinkZone has also started working with Anganwadis in Cuttack district recently and will soon start working with primary schools to provide quality education.
The goal to achieve quality education for all can only be achieved when we have all the stakeholders – government, parents, students, teachers, the community, NGOs and organisations like ThinkZone – working towards it together. Filling the gaps in Pre-Primary and Primary Education is one of the several solutions which can be a game-changer in solving this big crisis of the country.

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