Posts Tagged ‘ASER’

Learning through Development of Non-cognitive Skills -A Sikshana Initiative

October 31, 2012

There are some very disturbing facts about primary education in the Public School System that needs a close look. These are adequately highlighted in the ASER reports from time to time. For instance, 27.6% % of the students in 7th Std lack the ability to read in own language; 51.7% of them cannot divide a three digit number by a single digit. These are skills that they should have acquired at least three years earlier. The thing that causes greater concern is that this problem may, in the absence of further interventions, go unaddressed through High School and may eventually become lifetime issues.

The above shortfalls are notwithstanding the fact that the teachers are well equipped to handle them, both in terms of qualifications and experience. Neither can they be traced to the students’ inherent abilities and intelligence as, barring very few, most of them appear to be bright enough not to fall in this bracket. It is obviously a case of teaching taking place and not learning.

The two factors, which are widely regarded as the causes for this discrepancy, are motivation and volition on the part of the students *(1).  The major component of Sikshana, as a program, was designed to motivate the students and get them to become interested in the process of learning. It was observed that even where these efforts have had an effect, the learning levels were not registering an increase beyond a point.

The typical intervention for those who did not possess the skill was to ask them to ‘study’ – in the conventional sense- Kannada text at home and keep doing it under the supervision of the teacher till they acquire the skill of reading fluently. It was soon realized that, while someone like the teacher in the class can impart knowledge, a skill needs practice- something that the student needs to put in an effort for. Reading fluency is a skill that falls in this category, especially for those who know their alphabets. Since such a practice needs to take place at home, the ability and willingness of the student to do this for the right duration and at the right time every day assumes significance. Assuming that the motivational efforts put in are adequate to get the desired response, a pilot program was run during 11-12 in 413 schools with 9730 students along these lines; in spite of a highly focused effort and close follow-up, the year long program could only result in 84.7% of the students acquiring the skill. While this was higher then the 72.4% norm at the National level and 65.8% at the State level, it fell woefully short of the program goal of 95% plus.

In parallel, the Kannada teachers in 10 randomly selected schools were quizzed about the feasibility and the time needed for coaching a typical class of 20 students lacking this skill to an extent they can read Kannada as prescribed. The responses were near unanimous: every one of them said they could do it provided the kids were under their total control and that this would be their only assignment. The time indicted varied from two to six weeks at the maximum. A pilot program was run in 40 plus schools with an assigned teacher – brought from outside the system in some of them – to take responsibility for this task. This met with limited success though no correlation could be established between the success rate and the causative factors. The only indication was that wherever the person in charge was able to elicit a positive response from the kids in his charge, the results were up to the expectations. Since the distinguishing characteristic of such a successful resource person could not be established it made the entire process difficult to define and replicate.

Two questions popped up at this stage: how does one make a student want to put in the desired effort and how does one ensure he/ she does it till the skill is acquired? It was decided to address these two issues through an appropriately designed pilot program in one of our schools.

The concept behind such a program is that reading fluency is a skill, needing practice for mastering. It was felt that roughly 30 hours of reading spread over a month under controlled circumstances could be tried out in the first phase. The contours of the program evolved along the following lines.

Prior to the commencement, the kids identified for the purpose are given a briefing. The message at this time is to include the following:

Not being able to read own language at this stage is unacceptable

This is perhaps the last chance for them to acquire this skill before they move on to High School, since there will be no more interventions of this type.

If and when they commit themselves for a period of 30 days, there is a high probability that they could acquire this vital life skill- something that they have been unable to get so far in spite of spending years. (Data from successful camps are shown here to prove this point.)

 The practice sessions are to take place in the school premises- during the working hours wherever feasible. They should be of one-hour duration, six days a week for five weeks- no break permitted on any grounds, neither are changes in timings. The theoretical basis for the ‘no break’ rule is that the repetitive prodding for the right word- described below- should take place at such a rate that does not allow the memory of the last episode to lapse. Further the entire regimen that ensures strict observance of discipline plays a key role in pre-disposing the child to success. We will revert back to this factor again later.

Learning is enabled from a peer rather than from a ‘teacher’. In fact, no teaching takes place in this interaction. Kids are known to prefer practicing a skill in the company of their peers; enough has been written about the advantage of learning with a non-threatening support system in an alternate environment, where the one at home/school has failed.

The learner student is paired with another who has the required skill during the session. Both are given identical reading material of appropriate level. The learner is asked to try reading the text. Whenever he comes to a stop, the mentor student is required to read out the word loudly. This intervention should happen after the learner has made an effort to read and not later than 2/3 seconds after the attempt, in case he/she fails. The time delay is designed is to ensure the learner is not frustrated due to persistent failures and keep a steady pace of reading going. The entire process involves three steps: effort to read, hear the correct word in case of failure and read it correctly this time while observing it ‘visually’. An association between these is thus brought about in the mind of the learner, which is bound to last for some time. If the practice sessions are frequent enough, difficult words will recur to an extent that they get registered permanently.

A Facilitator will oversee the process and ensure compliance to the above. He/ she will not intervene in the process in the role of a teacher.

The anticipated success of the venture is no doubt built on the above process and its finer details to some extent. However the factor that plays a much larger and more effective role is the macro -message built into it. This is the incidental acquisition of the vital non-cognitive skills that go to differentiate a successful learner from the rest. These are perseverance, determination and grit required to acquire a skill or knowledge *(2). Once a kid agrees to submit himself/ herself to a strict regimen as described above, he/ she is already pre-disposed towards success.

To put the above to test, a Pilot was run in a school at Hosadurga with 13 students. These were what one would call as ‘down and out’ kids who besides having huge skill gaps also tend to skip classes frequently and are not known to evince great interest in learning. After a briefing for a day as prescribed, a camp was run from 31st Aug to 5th Oct; this period incidentally included three major festival holidays. It ran with total attendance on all weekdays without a break; the kids were showing unprecedented enthusiasm and a sense of pride in their progressively increasing level of competence. At the end of the period, 10 of them passed the standard test for Level 2 reading; two acquired it after an extension of the program by two more weeks. The success rate was indeed a significant improvement on our past experiences.

A second phase of the program was initiated during Oct in two clusters: 28 schools with 283 kids in Kanakapura and 15 schools with 223 kids in Hoskote. Again the schedule coincided with the mid-term holidays and three major festivals of the season. Notwithstanding this, the attendance in both centers has been near total.

Results from this phase show that the improvement gained in a month far outpaces that obtained in our earlier efforts. During 2011-12, a total of 3789 students studying in 7th Std in 136 schools of KP and Hoskote Blocks were taken up for remedial action using conventional techniques. At start, the number of students who did not possess the prescribed reading skill was 1091. During the course of ten months, this came down by 737, the rate of attrition working out to about 8 % per month. Under the current pilot program in the same two blocks, 506 students lacking the skill from 5th to 7th Stds were taken up; the reduction obtained during the stipulated 30 days is 327 amounting to 65%, a significant increase over the earlier figure of 8% in the same period. The program is now being extended to cover all 7th Std students in Sikshana schools by Jan ’13.

To complete the process, an analysis of the students who failed to acquire the skill has already been taken up; once the causes are identified, a remedial program to cover these kids will be placed in position at the end of which they will qualify for a second attempt under the present program. The aim continues to be that every kid passing out of 7th Std- barring those with severe disabilities- possesses the prescribed reading skill by the end of the current academic year.

The issue here is however not the efficacy per-se of the adopted learning process. It is about the role of non-cognitive skills and their relevance to enhancement of learning levels through controlled processes. Once this is established as expected, Sikshana will have a powerful tool to address other skill gaps too in a similar manner and will be in a position to aim at their ‘near total’ acquisition.

E S Ramamurthy

Note:  *(1) / (2)  “ How Children Succeed”– Paul Tough, HMH Publications


Milestone for Sikshana – A Sequel

May 12, 2011

 A Sequel at GGM School, Kanakapura

In one of the blogs earlier, I went through the process of obtaining ‘unbelievable’ levels of improvement from the students in terms of the basic skills. This was from a large number of schools across different clusters giving it acceptable statistical validity. Notwithstanding this, we were having problems in getting comparable results from a few schools with a specific profile; these were the ones located in relatively larger towns and having student strengths in excess of 60 in a single class room. We were almost about to conclude that we may have to adopt here a strategy different from the one that  worked in smaller schools in villages.

In order to understand the factors that made such a big difference, we focused on one such school – GGMS, Kanakapura in which there were 73 students in 7thStd. When we carried out the ASER based assessment in this school during July 10, 51 of them were unable to read Kannada fluently and 63 to carry out division of simple numbers in Arithmetic.

GGMS Kanakapura

These were unacceptably high numbers compared to our other schools in the cluster and way below the State averages. The program as implemented in other schools was tried out here too but the numbers failed to register any significant improvement. The numbers in this school by the end of Jan 11 after six months of the program stayed at 38 and 39 respectively, showing no significant improvement.

I thought it is time I visited this school and had a chat with the teachers and the students- which I did in the first week of Feb 11. I found the class to be very lively and responsive; on a first look the kids appeared to be quite bright, capable of doing anything given to them well in real life as long as it does not call for these specific ‘academic’ skills. Interaction with the teachers showed that the school had surplus staff; so shortage of manpower cannot be the reason either for the poor outcome seen. It struck me that this availability of teachers beyond the optimal level could even be the cause of the problem, instead of being an advantage. It did emerge slowly that I was not far off the mark; no single teacher felt that he/ she is accountable for the performance or the lack of it in the case of individual students. The two typical syndromes- “Let Jack do it” and “Why Me” – seemed to be working here.

To break the gridlock, I had a frank chat with the students; I told them bluntly the facts as they are: that they would soon be entering a High School without the basic skills needed to handle the class room work, that no one will bother to fill up their shortfalls once they leave the primary school, that most others in their age group are far ahead of them in terms of learning levels and that includes kids in ‘hallis’ ( villages) – something about which they ought to be ashamed. I told them that they are all intelligent enough to perform far better but have just not bothered to put in the minimum effort needed; and that if they dont pull themselves up soon enough they will regret it for their lives. Lastly, I pointed out to them that they have just eight weeks to make good their shortfalls and that we are willing to give all the help that is required by them to meet the deadline. The response was electric; unanimously the kids said – give us a dedicated teacher, we will put in extra hours and show that we too can do it – in four weeks! They also promised that they will also help out each other in the process of learning.

Back in the HM’s room, we worked out the logistics and went on to organize the classes, not just for the lagging students but the entire group, having in mind the above promise of mutual co-operation. The classes started by the second week of Feb 11 with near 100% attendance and unmatched enthusiasm.

By the time the term came to an end in March, the number of students who could not reach the ASER benchmark for Reading and Arithmetic dropped down to 4; this was amazing by any standard. This compliance level at 95% is on par with other schools if not a shade better.

We could learn a few lessons from this experiment:

The specified ASER skill standards are attainable in two months under normal circumstances in any cluster of schools.

We have not been doing enough to tap the ‘student power’; given a challenge they can be expected to rise up to the occasion.

A dedicated teacher and a bunch of kids who are motivated to face a challenge is all that is required.

How does one bring about the conditions shown as pre- requisites under the last Para is a question I would like to leave unanswered for the present. We need more data before definite conclusions can be drawn on this count. Analysis apart, we know for sure now that it works!  That the pilot in GGMS was not just a flash in the pan was further proved by a similar feedback from a second school where the same approach was initiated a month later; results from this school are just coming in.

We now have in our radar the above five schools and we plan to sort out their problems based on this experience during the first quarter of the ensuing academic year.

E S Ramamurthy

Milestone for Sikshana – A Prologue

May 12, 2011
What Makes Us Tick

Human beings are the same everywhere; if you want to get something done by them, you need to know what makes them tick. It is a simple fact of life but most of us miss it often enough. The poor performance seen in the Public Education System (PES) is one such instance.
I was routinely checking the outcome in terms of the learning levels in some of our award winning schools last year.

Hulibele- Where it started

These are schools that were having amazingly good  track records in terms of overall scores under conventional assessments. It struck me as odd that even in such schools there were a significant number of kids, who lacked basic skills – in this case inability to divide numbers in Arithmetic. I found that this was as high as 25% in the Fourth Grade, something unacceptable to me in the School which I was in. I asked the teacher in charge who was a competent person why this should be so; she said that her school will make it up in the next few years before the kids left for the High School. I had a hunch that this may not be borne out by facts; hence I walked into the Seventh Grade to check it out. To my amazement, I found the ratio of kids who lacked this skill was more or less the same in this class too. The teacher here was an equally good one; her initial reaction was that this is due to the influx of kids from single teacher feeder schools at the Sixth Grade.  When we started analyzing the profile of the ‘failing’ kids, to her surprise we found that the ratio was the same in both groups.

I sat down for a chat with the staff of the school. Soon it emerged that most  kids who do not acquire a skill at the Grade when it is due get left out thereafter and stay in the same situation till Tenth where they face failure in the examinations and detention. This is in spite of the fact that the Department has instituted a system of remedial education for students who do not acquire the prescribed skills during the academic year. For reasons I will not want to go into at this point, this scheme seems to be a non-starter in most schools. The remediation that ought to occur in the next year does not take place either because the teacher in this class is busy covering the needs of the syllabus of that year, rather than go back to filling up the gaps arising from the previous one. The more I talked to them , the more I realized that the issue is pretty simple : the teacher considers that her/his primary responsibility is to complete the requirements of the syllabus, rather than teaching a skill or a subject.
The obvious question at this stage is – why not do both? The teachers felt that the time available to them is not adequate to do that, given that they have non-teaching work too in addition to the class room work. In this school, the number requiring remediation for the numerical skill under consideration worked out to not more than ten each in 4th/ 7th Grades. I asked the teacher responsible for Mathematics how long it will take her to make these kids acquire this, if that were her only job. Prompt came the reply: not more than a month – irrespective of the state of the student at start. I took up the subject of another skill at this point: reading in own language which is Kannada here. It appeared that the number of students needing attention and the time required for correction were more or less the same.
Not satisfied with the response from one school, I tried this approach out in five more schools. Invariably the message from every one of them was the same: you give us the skill based goals and 4/8/12 weeks, we will do it. Surely there was no way by which I can assure the teachers that they will be given such an undisturbed time slot; nor can I encourage them to stray away from the syllabus based teaching schedule.  A fresh idea struck me; how about allowing the school to recruit an extra teacher at our cost dedicated to this specific program. The school can decide how this new inductee should be used in the school.
Initially the school was given a time schedule of three months for acquisition of three basic skills: reading in Kannada, reading in English and Numerical skills up to division.  Surprisingly many of the first 50 schools that formed part of the pilot program declined the offer, saying they would rather do this on their own since as it was their primary responsibility. Sikshana however had a provision for engaging local talent as volunteer teachers, many of whom ultimately played a large part in the success of this initiative.
With the goal set and the time available on their hands, the teachers went on to show what they were capable of. We were focusing on the kids lacking these skills in the 4th and 7th Stds. It was not just numbers; they were being tracked by name. Since the skills to be acquired are the same, the kids in both Grades could be combined for common coaching, which makes the job relatively easy. Our mentors were tracking the progress on a weekly basis and soon we found that the number of ‘failing’ kids was dropping dramatically; half way down the allotted time slot, we recognized that we have a winner on hand- and the schools too. The progress was well on target- to reach 90% compliance in the class room in 90% of the schools. Encouraged by a great start, the program was progressively extended to the remaining schools in KP cluster first and then in the schools of the remaining clusters in Anekal, Hoskote. Chikkaballapura and Kalaghatgi.
I do not want to go into the rate of progress in each case with numbers at each stage; suffice to say that by Jan of this year- which was roughly a six month period for the KP cluster – 100 plus schools out of 127 have attained 90% compliance to the targeted skills with 45 of them showing 100% – in both 4th and 7th Stds! We expect the results to exceed our estimates by the end of the academic year. In order to ensure that these numbers carry credibility, we have voluntarily gone in for a second external audit; this has been systematically validating the numbers so far; we will of course stay the course till it is completed.
Reverting back to the main theme, these results can only be called extra-ordinary in the light of the State averages and the starting number. How is it that the same set of teachers have been churning out year after year kids without these skills so far is a subject that ought to be studied in depth. We cannot even say that it is on account of the intake of the extra teachers since many schools without this input have also achieved the same results!  I do have some ideas on what triggered this response from the system; but I would rather wait for a more comprehensive and objective assessment before I venture out with mine.
We have already made a pilot start with writing in Kannada in some schools to check our capability to demonstrate this too to the same level. We plan to make these four skills as a core program of Sikshana in all our 500 schools next year, at the end of which we will have a proven successful program in totality.
There is another way of looking at it: with these amazing results with not an insignificant number of students/ schools, is it worth a wait of one year to prove what looks to me a proven point?  I wish I had a platform of 1000 schools tomorrow.
E S Ramamurthy

Sikshana forges ahead

May 12, 2011

I had the pleasure of attending a function yesterday at the school in Bandigenehalli which marked yet another milestone for Sikshana – and what a memorable one! This school is one of the first in which every student in 4th and 7th Std has managed to acquire two of the basic skills targeted by us this year on a pilot basis across all our schools; these are ‘reading in own language’ and numerical computation. The enormity of the task and the achievement can be understood only in the light of the published State and National figures available for these skills under the ASER Report of ’09; these vary from as low as 11% in 4th Std for computations to 68% in 7th Std for reading in Kannada.

This is not just a stray case of success; our program for acquisition of the above basic skills covers this year as many as 275 schools in four clusters falling in three Districts of the southern part of Karnataka. Of these, the 127 schools in Kanakapura cluster have been exposed to this program for the longest spell of eight months, others having had it for much lesser periods. The analysis of data from this cluster makes impressive reading. Both the overall picture and the KP scenario are given below.

The compliance levels for these skills are seen to vary from 88 to 91%. If however four schools having serious local issues are excluded, the remaining 123 schools show 91, 92, 92 and 93 % respectively for the four skills. More interestingly, nearly 50 schools have reached total compliance at 100% within this short period! The schools are working against a self set goal of achieving 90% plus in all the skills by the end of the academic year; the target seems to be well within the reach of the cluster.

Pilot Program:



Total IV

Total VII

Lack K IV

Lack M IV

Lack K VII

Lack M VII














































State Av





*Figures provisional as they are still subject to second audit, mandatory under Sikshana

At this point, I should point out what a score of 90 means in the context of a Government school. For all practical purposes it is as good as 100 if you consider the following factors:

  • The school has to take in every kid who comes to them; there is no luxury of a choice as is the case with private schools
  • An incoming kid is to be placed in the age appropriate Grade irrespective of the history of prior schooling
  • Most schools have kids with serious deficiencies, including but not confined to learning/ behavioral disorders, nutritional/ hereditary issues and broken families with no visible means of livelihood.
  • Families are generally unwilling to part with their wards to be placed in special/ residential schools set up for differently abled kids by the State

We decided that the schools that achieve the remarkable goal of 100% under all the four heads will be given a plaque in recognition of their achievement, the award to be received by the Staff of the school from the President of the School Committee and the Elders of the Community. In pursuance of this, a Function was organized at Bandigenehalli yesterday in which the people of the village participated in full strength; the Education Department officials were also present. The occasion proved to be a great success in more way than one; it created awareness of the performance of the school among the people of the village, paving the way for more productive participation of the community in the affairs of the school. A very interesting sequel on the occasion: the representatives of the community demanded setting up of a high school in the premises for which there was adequate justification and the Officials responded with an immediate clearance, effective next academic year. It is not often that a community asks for a school in our environment! And more impressive was the affirmative response on the spot from the bureaucracy. Both of these were developments that bode very well for the future the concept of community ownership of the schools.

The current pilot program comes to an end by the end of the academic year in April. We hope to have some very interesting information to share with everyone in the public domain along with our comprehensive plan for the next year covering all the four essential skills under a time bound program.

E S Ramamurthy