Math and Reading Intervention Garners Amazing Results for India's School Children
India, like other low-income countries, has had challenges in educating its poorest populations and children in rural areas. For the last three decades, India's largest education NGO, the Pratham Education Foundation, has been working to alleviate this situation. Pratham has been successfully implementing its Learning Camp teaching model in schools throughout India. Learning Camp is helping to turn challenging gaps and problems into opportunities and achievements. Learning Camp Program Coordinator Meera Tendolkar was the featured panelist for the Global Reading Network webinar on August 31, 2017, which focused on understanding how mathematics supports reading. Tendolkar noted that to understand the full nature of the recent turnaround in education outcomes for students that have come through the Learning Camp program, you must review the previous gaps and problems. Those included children entering school at younger ages than the curriculum was planned for with little to no early grade (pre-k and kindergarten) educational preparation. In addition, many rural students have little to no support from parents who may be semi-illiterate to illiterate themselves and unable to help with homework.
The Indian government, recognizing the problems, in 2010 passed the Right To Education (RTE) Act, which stipulates that all Indian children, ages 6 to 14, should be given a free education. But the gaps in grade-level learning persisted. In 2016, assessments found that less than half the nation's schoolchildren in grade level 5 could read even grade level 2 material. Only about one in four grade level 3 students could do subtraction problems. Only 43.3% of grade-level 8 students could work division problems. A new approach was needed. And what the Indian government and Pratham came up with was amazing!
The approach is called CAMaL, for Combined Activities for Maximized Learning. In Hindi, CAMaL means amazing! And once they got started learning with this new method, students and their teachers saw amazing results in a short three-year period from 2015 through May 2017. Tendolkar says Learning Camp, which she likens to really great after-school tutoring sessions, asks children to use all their senses to learn from their surroundings. They listen to what is said, say what is heard, write what they say or hear, and read what is written as they add and subtract or multiply and divide.
A Learning Camp generally runs for a duration of 30 to 50 days, two to three hours a day, at six to ten-day intervals, with three to four breaks in between. First things first, though the students are tested, one-on-one, to assess their current level of knowledge of math and reading skills. Then they are grouped in clusters according to that level so as not to be intimidated by other, more accomplished learners. After they absorb the leveled material, students progress to the next, higher cluster level with slightly tougher material to master.
Some Learning Camps are conducted during the course of the regular school day. Others are offered after school. Some schools have multiple camps going at the same time, depending on the student population and need. One observer noted that in a rural village outside of Calcutta students were so enthusiastic about their school's Learning Camp they volunteered to come on Sunday!
Learning while at play, Campers engage in whole-class activities and small group or level wise activities. There are games to develop a child's basic arithmetic abilities, understanding of word problems, and numerical and alphabet recognition. Storytelling, guided questions for self-expression and comprehension development.
Since its inception in 2015, the Camps have demonstrated that Learning can be amazing when students are having fun and aren't worried about what a classmate thinks about their abilities. The CAMaL method, Tendolkar reports, has shown significant improvement in learning outcomes in math and reading for both rural and urban school locations. In mathematics, at baseline in 2015, 47% of the Indian school children assessed could not recognize two-digit numbers. Following the intervention, now in 2017, 93% of the same children are able to do addition and 86% are able to work through subtraction problems. In reading, the outcomes are even more stunning. More than 80% of the children are able to read at least the standard level 1 material after the intervention—up from only 24% at baseline in 2015. And close to 60% of the children are reading at the standard level 2 after attending a Learning Camp.
Through Global Reading Network's Senior Researcher, Deepa Srikantaiah, serving as Discussant for the webinar, attendees wanted to know how a Learning Camp compares with a typical school environment. Tendolkar explained that the Camp is more child-centered. When a word problem is presented in school, she says, it is not usually discussed. In Learning Camp students are encouraged to "puzzle it out" to find multiple potential solutions. And, she noted, many teachers report their once shy and non-participating students come back into the classroom after attending a Learning Camp have become among the first to raise their hand to answer a math question or volunteer to read.
Another attendee asked about costs and teaching resources. Tendolkar explained that Learning Camps are staffed by Pratham paid personnel and volunteers from the villages where schools are located. Other resources come through government partnerships providing training, materials, and teaching models. Many a camp game has involved chalking up the classroom floor. And materials are often brought from home and nearby farms by the students themselves—sticks and pebbles for counting games, for instance. Tendolkar says the total financial cost of language and math materials for each camp is the equivalent of $40.00 US.
The Pratham Education Foundation has also started a pre-school only Learning Camp in India for students under the age of 6 and another supplemental Kids Reading program for first and second graders. "At present," Tendolkar says, "there are 1,638 Learning Camps organized in India, serving some 56,000 students with another 3,000 children expected to attend by the end of the 2017-18 school year."