Modern education systems typically create well-defined curricula for students with an emphasis on subjects like Science, Mathematics & Social Science. The foundation pillars of such systems are the examinations. But what if the well-defined curricula are actually creating a disconnect between the knowledge a child gained in school and their everyday experiences? The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005 stresses the point of a growing burden on children due to the existing curricula. It states that the curriculum has evolved in such a way that it creates not only a physical burden on students in the form of multiple heavy textbooks for all subjects but moreover a mental load of all the syllabi a student was expected to cover in a short period of time along with the pressure of continuous exams. The problem can be summarized by saying a lot is taught but little is learnt or understood. To mend this problem, some state governments have collaborated with UNICEF and other NGO’s to introduce methods of joyful learning in schools. One such method is the Activity Based Learning Method or ABL Method.
What is the Activity Based Learning Method?
ABL is an educational approach where children learn at their own pace through various supervised activities. It is a more interactive and engaging method of teaching children. ABL encourages kids to explore, experiment and learn independently through activity-based techniques. Teachers use different learning materials to make teaching and learning more joyful. Some of the tools that are used in ABL include:
Flash cards to encourage self-learning.
Rack & Tray: The classrooms are arranged with specially designed racks for each subject. Blue colored racks for Mathematics, yellow for Language, green for Environment, etc. Each rack contains a specific number of trays with cards and special symbols.
Ladder: Ladders are a specific way for the children to learn step by step and at their own pace. There are 3 colored ladders (Maths/blue, Language/yellow, Environment/green), each with different milestones.
Workbooks that are designed according to the ladder’s activities help teachers understand the progress of each child and align their program accordingly.
Rainbow Activities: Rainbow activities are considered a separate subject. The term rainbow is used because there are seven main categories of activities, each divided into several sub activities. These activities have been developed for the comprehensive development of the children.
Teachers pay attention to the class and let the students learn by themselves using different ABL materials available in the classroom. They clarify any questions the students might have. The teacher acts as a facilitator and encourages students to be more explorative and experimental. The interactive materials raise interest among students and encourage them to actively participate in the learning process without any burden.
A case study on ABL from Gujarat
The government of Gujarat introduced ABL under the name of PRAGNA (Knowledge) in 2010 and received some positive feedback in the years to follow. Today, the state government is running the PRAGNA scheme in 33,000 state run schools for classes 1 and 2. For the implementation of the PRAGNA scheme, the government of Gujarat has invested 150 crore rupees and trained 80,000 teachers from all over the state.
The classrooms are designed based on the PRAGNA approach: with subject specific set ups and two teachers per classroom. On alternate days, children change the classrooms. Classroom 1 is for Gujarati and Environmental Science and classroom 2 for Mathematics and Rainbow activities, etc. In PRAGNA classrooms, there are no tables, chairs, benches or any kind of fixed furniture, and everybody (teachers and students) sits on mats or carpets.
In a PRAGNA class both classes 1 and 2 are combined, and they are divided into 6 groups by teachers according to their level of learning. The teachers introduce the concept of the activities to the children in the first 2 groups. Peers will help to practice the activities with the children in the third and the fourth group. Then, the children are asked to perform a particular task without the support of peers to develop the habit of self- learning. This is a very effective process to make groups learn on their own and also through their peers. Ultimately, all of them work together which fosters their social and emotional growth.
With the implementation of the PRAGNA scheme, significant changes have been observed in the students. Some of them are:
- An increase in the regularity of students coming to school
- Enhancement of social & creative skills among students
- Students become more confident
- Learning outcomes are improved
After successful implementation for 7 years, the government scaled down the program in 2017. Despite the training efforts, teachers were not happy with the program due to an increase in the workload. This is clearly stated in the survey report prepared and submitted by the Gujarat Evaluation Department under General Administrative Department in 2017.
Despite its positive impact on students, it is not that easy to implement ABL in India, as it increases the burden on both state governments and teachers who are much more familiar with traditional methods of teaching. The case study mentioned above has shown that even after providing extensive trainings for teachers, the PRAGNA scheme had to be scaled down after facing backlash from teachers. This is not only the case in Gujarat; other states that have implemented ABL are facing the same issue. This is a huge loss for students and an increasing burden on them. The traditional rote learning method does not only create a burden on students, it also hampers their social and creative skills. A report from UNICEF suggests that in India, as many as 53% leave secondary school without having learned the skills needed for a decent job. To mend this problem, the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) emphasized holistic learning approaches instead of traditional learning approaches. It recognized soft skills such as communication, cooperation, teamwork and resilience, as life skills. The proper implementation of NEP 2020 can help students develop academic expertise and skills without any burden and can bring a revolution in the history of the Indian education system.
- Kristtine L. slentz&suzaanne L. Krogh, “Teaching Young Children” WesternWashington University, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 1981