Fellow’s Perspective on AIF’s Digital Equalizer Program (Part I)

During the virtual orientation, the AIF Fellowship Class of 2020-21 was given an overview of the American India Foundation’s (AIF) commitment in catalyzing social and economic change through high impact interventions in the fields of education, livelihood and public health. Coming from an education background, I found the programs of Digital Equalizer (DE) and Learning and Migration Program (LAMP) very inspiring and was keen on visiting the project sites in person to acquire a more nuanced understanding of the impact of technology based learning on students learning levels as well as the ramifications of migration on children’s education. Since my Fellowship host location is in Gujarat, I undertook an exposure visit in the districts of Surat and Dang for DE and LAMP programs respectively.

Utsarga and two staff members sit across the head teacher's desk with some distance, masks on.
Interaction with the head teacher of Pardi Karde Primary School, Sachin Block, Surat

Currently, the Digital Equalizer program is running across 18 government schools in Surat integrating STEM education into classroom learning for children in grades 6-8. With funding support from Larsen & Toubro, the American India Foundation has provided science and math activity kits to under resourced schools to foster experiential learning as well as bridge the digital divide with the provision of a computer and projector in the classroom. The AIF facilitators are responsible for identifying age appropriate digital content in the form of presentation decks and videos as well as supporting the teachers in preparing formative assessments to continuously monitor children’s learning levels and close on the learning gaps.

Left image: the school courtyard with trees, plants, and sitting area for the kids. Right image: the classroom with a whiteboard and projector, desks and chairs.
View of the school campus & digital classroom.

 

Collage of science experimentation stations for students from the DE program, among them batteries and semiconductor stations. A banner focusing on math and engineering futures, reading: simplifying STEM education for social change.
Science and math models provided by AIF to foster experiential classroom learning.

By leveraging technology into classroom pedagogy, the traditional approach of chalk and duster has paved way for student directed classroom engagement. The Digital Equalizer (DE) and Flipped Methods are two progressive approaches used in the classroom space to improve upon students’ learning outcomes. The DE approach emphasizes on student engagement to first consolidate upon the learning before proceeding with the lesson. During instructional time, the teacher takes help of digital contents such as ppts and videos that have already been mapped to the curriculum by the AIF facilitators to further build upon the student’s understanding of the topic. In the project based learning, students undertake experiments suggested in the NCERT book as well as develop similar models displayed in the activity kits before reflecting upon their learning by completing a set of questionnaire in the worksheet. The Flip Method approach on the contrary to DE is not a teacher driven classroom engagement. Once the content is screened before the class, students are made to sit in peer learning groups. Teachers’ play the role of active facilitator to ensure everyone gets a fair chance to contribute to the group discussion and that there is no misunderstanding in any of the concepts. Finally, the students are given an assessment to review upon their learning.

The National Education Policy “emphasizes on conceptual understanding rather than rote learning” (NCF 2020) [1] . The culture of rote learning is largely still present today across both government and private schools wherein children are made to “recall facts and demonstrate routine skills without understanding their basis or when to use them” (CCS 2001)[2] . The National Curriculum Framework notes, “We have bartered away understanding for memory-based, short term information accumulation” (NCF 2005)[3] . To address the culture of rote learning, the NEP 2020 suggests constructive teaching learning environments in classrooms and flexible adaptation of the school curriculum as per the local context and children’s learning needs.

While interacting with school leaders across three government institutions, I learnt that they were all very supportive of the Digital Equalizer program given the improved learning outcomes in children for math and science subjects. The technology contributed in bridging the digital divide, reducing the fear of learning and transforming the classroom space from rote learning to a more experiential dynamic approach in which students learn by doing, thereby, connecting classroom learning with their day-to-day lived realities.

Collage showing students during classroom break, studying in class, and an outdoor area with physical exercise and play stations, as well as the hallway lined with potted plants.
View of Kudiyana Government Primary School, Olpad Block, Surat.

Last year, during the prolonged months of school closure in view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIF facilitators were the first to initiate online learning for children in the DE partnered schools. They first collected children’s names and phone numbers from the school teacher and then reached out to them personally over the phone before sending across videos and worksheets on WhatsApp. For those children who got access to their smartphones only by the evening were reached out separately and were likewise sent voice notes with necessary instructions. The resourcefulness of the DE team to reduce the learning loss in children actually helped the government teachers later to quickly adapt to online teaching using WhatsApp as the digital medium of instruction.

The parents’ community has been supportive of the DE program because children have started regularly attending school given the dynamic teaching methods and experiential nature of learning in classrooms. The facilitators informed me that parents whose children study in nearby private schools have been inspired by the technology based learning environment in government schools and assistance provided by the AIF facilitators to bridge the learning gaps of children early in the pandemic. In view of the constant support provided by the DE field team to improve upon the learning outcomes of children in government schools; many parents in the locality have started considering government schools as a better alternative to low fee private schools given the project based learning and digital classroom transaction.

 

References: 

[1] National Education Policy (2020).  

[2] Centre for Civil Society (2016). Report on Budget Private Schools. Chapter V: Discussion on education outcomes in budget private schools based on data from large-scale assessments studies. 

[3] Ministry of Human Resource Development [MHRD]. (2005). National Curriculum Framework. 

Utsarga is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Shaishav in Bhavnagar, Gujarat. For his fellowship project, he is supporting and strengthening life skills training, self-designed learning techniques, and sustainable living practices for children and locals of vulnerable tribal communities. The self-paced, student-centric approach fostered at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education (SAICE) provided Utsarga with ample opportunities to develop his interest in the field of alternative education. After his graduation from SAICE in Arts and Humanities, he pursued his Master’s in Education from Azim Premji University. During his Master's programme, Utsarga learnt about various issues plaguing the public education system and acquired a first-hand understanding of some of the challenges pushing children out of elementary schools in rural communities. His latest engagement has been a research internship with the Central Himalayan Rural Action Group, where he studied school leadership in the context of organisational culture and community participation and its effect on children’s overall learning outcome. He contributed in strengthening the physical education program and raising funds for the school apart from conducting household surveys to understand the socio-economic condition of families, sources of livelihood and management of natural resources. In 2019, he participated in a 15-day entrepreneurial train journey to interact with social change-makers and explore alternative practices to bring quality education in the government schools of rural India. Utsarga is grateful to be serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow; he is looking forward to broaden his understanding of the education sector and experiment alternative practices in the public school system by fostering an all-round development in children.

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