Our philosophy on children’s education
Sodhana’s head Dr.P.D.K.Rao inspired by the writings of Ivan Illich (De-schooling society fame) and Jiddu Krishnamurti, designed innovative ways of learning which were very different from the conventional teaching methods. It does not need a great psychologist to tell us that children learn a lot by observation, listening, imitation and other cognitive methods.. Children have extraordinary memory power and are physically very active. It is a known fact that a child is capable of speaking his mother tongue before he is 3 years old, sometimes even two languages if he grows up in a bilingual environment. So it is possible for the child to acquire learning skills as a by-product by creating a joyful and playful environment for the child where there are no slates, no bag load of books etc. This is the philosophy behind our work on education.
Our initial work on education
Sodhana’s initial work on education started with government primary schools in first and second standard. A well trained and enthusiastic young volunteer was placed in government primary schools which were understaffed. Some of the main problems that we identified were high drop outs, low girl child enrollments, incompetent staff to teach kids. In order to cover up their deficiencies , government authorities throw the blame plainly on the community.
Based on our experience the following issues were identified as the reasons for the above problems:
- 1. Lack of school readiness for rural kids.
- 2. The ambience in the school is not conducive for learning.
- 3. Incompetent staff.
- 4. Understaffed schools.
- 5. Teachers lacked innovative methods to teach.
Some of these issues were tackled by converting the government primary syllabus into activity based teaching to make the school environment livelier. But still we felt more needs to be done at the pre-school level . Sodhana as a philosophy believes that the word drop out is a derogatory term, which is intended to put the whole blame onto the community. The children are actually pushed out of the schools deliberately by incompetent systems which are in place. To solve this problem in a more holistic way Sodhana came up with the idea of pre-school(Balabadi).
Concept of Balabadi (Pre-school)
The concept of Balabadi was introduced mainly to cater to the needs of 3-5 year age group. The curriculum is so designed that the child acquires all the learning skills through games, songs, conversations, storytelling, colorful charts and group activities. All these activities have been designed based on the local arts and cultures of the people. The songs sung by the community while working in their rice fields have been slightly modified for the same; games played by the children have been reworked to incorporate alphabets, numbers, so that even the child doesn’t know that he is actually learning them. Under the mid day meal programme nutritious and well cooked food is served to all children in hygienic conditions in these pre-schools. The teacher and assistant teacher are expected to eat the same food served to children during lunch hour.
Sodhana’s experience has demonstrated that this approach brings out the artistic, creative and leadership qualities in the child and also the child loses his inhibitions if he has any. Proper physical growth of the child is also ensured by involving him in physical activities. But these preschools required a lot of innovation in designing the activities and great care was taken in selection and training of pre-school teachers. In selecting the pre-school teachers, care was taken to see that they have artistic and cultural talents and can mix easily with children. The minimum qualification for pre-school teacher is 10th class pass. The selected candidates will be given 10 days of classroom training which consists of various subjects including selection of site for construction of pre-school, getting the community to come forward to donate the site and contribute material and manpower for the construction of pre-school hut.
Conducting the survey of pre-school age children and their families was also part of the training. Preparation of low cost or no cost teaching material, and enabling them to bring out their own creative talents also takes place during the training. Great care was taken in designing a participatory training programme so that the trainees participate joyfully and actively enabling them to lose their inhibitions to sing and dance.. After the government authorities got convinced with our methods, our team also trained all the anganwadi teachers of both states of Telangana and Andhrapradesh.
We are happy to inform you that Professor Anil Gupta I.I.M., Ahmadabad and also of Innovation Foundation of India spent a day with us visiting our preschools. Mr.D.Chakrapani I.A.S. (Retd.) Director, C.I.P.S. (Centre for Innovations in Public Systems) visited our preschools. He conducted workshops on Sodhana’s model of preschools in different state capitals. He also sponsored National work shop on Preschool education on November 8 th 2013 at Sodhana. He also got our preschool model documented by his research assistants.
Sixteen years of Sodhana’s work from 1979-95 on land issues and women’s groups provided Sodhana the necessary community support to intervene in government primary schools and to initiate pre-schools for early child education as anganwadis were found to be non- functional.
Currently the pre-school activity at the village level is the responsibility of the Anganwadi workers. But pre-school is only one of the components among various other responsibilities that they handle. Pre- school activity rates very low in their order of priority and is often neglected. The Anganwadi workers are not competent enough to teach the pre-school kids and lack necessary trainings. The Anganwadi worker’s post is highly political in nature and our experience shows that in some of the villages it is auctioned. The ambience in the premises of the schools is not conducive for learning. Most importantly the community has a minimal role to play in all this .These factors have a very bad impact not only on the pre-school kid but also it makes higher education redundant.
Our suggestions at the policy level
Based on our experience we would like to suggest the following:
1. Pre-school must become part of the government school education and should be taken up more seriously.
2. Two years of pre-school and the first two years of primary education i.e. first and second standards of primary education must be clubbed together for the 3-7 years age group children. In this age group the child is physically very active and brain development is about 70% of the total life span. The child learns mostly through cognition, this requires the teaching techniques to be based on audio, visual and physical activities. The teaching methods should be designed in this way the child experiences the joy of life and learning.
3. The DIETS the faculty must be well trained in activity based cognitive teaching methods.
4. The teacher selection for this age group i.e. 3-7 years should also focus on the communication skills, writing skills, artistic and cultural talents. The role of DIET is to further fine tune these skills and talents in the selected teachers.
5. The age of the teacher who teaches 3-7 year old children should be between 18-35 years and should never exceed 35 years. The teachers who complete 35 years of age move upwards to teach children in and above 3 rd standard.
6. Regular trainings should be given to the teachers by competent resource persons.
7. Sodhana strongly believes that the pre-school age is the most important stage of a student. If we fail to cultivate interest for school at this age then all interventions in the secondary and higher education will become redundant.
8. Right to education will only remain a pipedream if pre-school education is neglected.