A year of learning for T.N.’s primary school educators

Schools have to identify learning gaps cropping up at the stage where children pick up basic skills

It has been over a year since primary school students in Tamil Nadu attended school. Schools in the State were shut in March 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. While educators hoped for schools to reopen sometime early this year, the State has now been gripped by a second wave and schools are expected to remain shut for longer.

For private schools that have been able to go the online way, initiating online classes or virtual assessments came with its own set of challenges.

“It isn’t feasible or practical to expect young children to take up 50 or 60-mark exams after attending online classes. We had to rework our approach and found that oral assessments and project-based learning worked best with young children,” said Priyanka Ghosh, Principal, Vikas Mantra Public School.

While the early primary classes are when children pick up basic reading, writing and speaking skills, having visual aids, project-based activities and oral assignments helps. But what are schools doing to identify learning gaps that are bound to crop up at this stage?

Ms. Ghosh said that they had a 24-day bridge course for students, which aimed at going over core concepts as well as administering diagnostic tests. “This not only helped us identify and address gaps that have cropped up, but also where we, as teachers, can do better in this coming year,” she said.

Parents who were worried about their children picking up the basics turned to tuition classes, mostly in their neighbourhoods, where they could meet a teacher one-on-one and learn. Archana V. Iyer, who runs TBC, an online tutorial service, said there had been a marked increase in demand for classes for children in the primary school age group. “In the absence of regular schooling, offline sessions with younger students for basic reading and writing skills were the need of the hour among parents,” she said.

With COVID-19 cases increasing and the State currently under a lockdown, educators are preparing themselves to begin another academic year online for young children wherever possible.

“For young children, there is no significant learning possible unless a significant relationship is built with teachers. We realised this is what schools should first focus on if they are going the online way. Instead of jumping head first into instructions and the curriculum, building up a rapport is where the focus should be,” said K.R. Maalathi, an educator who works with schools through the ‘Happy Tots’ early education programme.

The bridge course route, to assess learning gaps, was also taken by the School Education Department this year as they distributed workbooks to students of Classes I to IX, which they could use alongside courses aired on Kalvi TV.

“While the programmes on Kalvi TV throughout the year for primary school students, as well as the bridge course, were good initiatives, it hasn’t reached a large number of students. We estimate that for at least 70% of our students, little to no learning has taken place in the last one year,” said Sha. Mayil, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Primary School Teachers Federation.

The students he is talking about are those from rural areas with little to no Internet connectivity, or with working parents who aren’t educated enough to guide the children. “Some primary school students are enrolled in neighbourhood tuition classes and they have been learning the basics. But for a large number of students, learning the basics will happen only when they get back to school,” he said.

In some government schools where students had mobile phones, teachers created WhatsApp groups and shared resources such as worksheets and videos with them. “There are some very good videos on the DIKSHA platform which we shared with students who had access. This, however, is no replacement for the basics that students pick up in classrooms,” said a teacher from Tirunelveli.

She said that whenever schools do reopen, there needs to be time allocated to work with primary school children on the basics and catch them up to speed.

“Academic terms can no longer be about completing the portions alone,” she added.

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