Teachers Community of Learning Bangalore South Block 3 Vidyagama program
As a result of the lock-down owing to Covid-19, schools are exploring ways of supporting student learning. Given that the situation is not a short term challenge and is likely to pose difficulties intermittently, it is necessary to evolve appropriate and flexible strategies to design learning possibilities for students, especially for students who may not receive much support at home. The flexible strategies will involve a combination of online sessions with offline activities, project-based learning, thematic learning, etc. Having no interactions with students, or relying only on online education would not be adequate and research says that students, particularly from marginalized backgrounds run the risk of malnutrition, dropping out of education, early marriages, and child labor.
In Karnataka, the education department has suggested that schools initiate learning activities, which will not require all students to be in class at the same time. Titled 'Vidyagama' this program has elements of teachers creating learning opportunities for students through community-level interactions, providing activities and assignments that students can do by themselves, and with support from those at home.
The TCOL program has aimed to support schools and teachers to integrate ICT in their teaching and this situation requires careful attention to possibilities of supporting learning, and the 2020-21 program will focus on how Vidyagama could be designed and implemented by schools. This page discusses the possible approaches/steps which can be used as a reference, each school would need to develop its own customized approaches based on local contexts and priorities.
Principles of the program
- Decentralization - Locating the teacher at the center of the effort and supporting decentralized efforts by schools and communities, rather than a centralized one-size-fits-all program. This is essential for flexible, including 'out of box' local actions to changing situations. Local actions will also be quicker than centralized decision making. Teachers and schools need to be empowered to take timely decisions to respond to challenges, instead of waiting for instructions. This requires appropriate guidelines to be provided, requiring local actions.
- Comprehensive efforts - Exploring multiple options to provide holistic learning opportunities to students, beyond only 'digital education'
- Aims of education - Going beyond syllabi and textbook confines, to explore education in the context of an unprecedented pandemic, whose impact will stay for decades. This exploration is needed in line with the larger aims of education, to build concerned and capable citizens, who can work towards the attainment of our constitutional ideals.
- Adequately resourcing - schools and teachers to be able to respond to the challenges. The pandemic will require far greater investment in schools, especially schools working with students from marginalized communities, and the resourcing/funding of activities will directly influence the overall effectiveness of the efforts.
- Equity - There is a need to disproportionately invest in the education of children from marginalized groups. Many of these will have little resource support at home. There will also be reverse migration from urban to rural areas and schools will need to meet the learning needs of these 'new' students as well. While health grounds support lockdown, this affects marginalized groups the most, hence Vidyagama requires providing learning opportunities despite schools not working as usual.
Design of school-level intervention
Collection of context information for planning teaching-learning
While schools will have basic information about their students and parents, collected during the admission process, to enable online education, more information needs to be collected covering - address, map location, number of devices at home, Internet connectivity on each device, availability of device with the student (if the device is owned by a parent who takes it to work, then it would be accessible to the student only in the morning or the evening), electricity supply situation, siblings and the grades they are studying in (since some of the offline activities can take the support of parents and siblings), parent's educational status, etc. See this sheet for an information template. Each school needs to create a similar document to plan its online and offline teaching efforts.
While calling each parent /student individually would be the most friendly method, it may be difficult /time-consuming, especially for large schools. IVRS (Interactive Voice Recognition System) can provide the schools an easier way to collect most of this data without needing to call all parents repeatedly. The school can record a message with provides simple options to the receiver (parent) to provide answers to many of these questions by pressing the number pad in their phones (press 1 for 'have one device at home'). The responses would be automatically collected in a spreadsheet and can be used for micro-planning. See this document for an illustrative IVRS message to parents. This should be sent in the language that the parents speak and should be in the manner they speak (rather than formal textbookish versions of the language).
Design of curriculum appropriate to the context
The teaching processes that have been followed in classroom teaching, will not be possible to be replicated. Instead, new teaching-learning processes and materials can be innovated to engage students and provide relevant and meaningful learning opportunities. There should be no pressure to 'complete the syllabus' and 'conduct the exams', as that would have a detrimental impact on student interest and learning. Instead, the textbook topics can be adapted to provide opportunities for designing small collaborative projects. In the given situation, having the entire cohort of one class/grade and section will be unlikely, hence the projects/activities have to be designed for small learning groups (10-15 students) and these are likely to be mixed-age learning groups. Schools will need to network with local community volunteers (college students, high school graduates, other qualified, willing people), who can support the teachers' efforts. The program will need to combine digital content and online education with physical (face to face) learning and materials.
Creating appropriate lessons/content for online teaching (creating and teaching)
Online teaching is NOT the conversion of 'chalk-and-talk' into video recording of lectures, much more creativity is needed to make the learning an engaging activity. Students are unlikely to spend hours watching videos of teaching. Interactivity is even more necessary in online learning.
This means that lessons would need to be developed and digital versions created to be used in online teaching. The lessons can be developed as projects that students can co-design and implement in their homes/communities along with their family members.
Educating about the pandemic
The first focus of the program should be on building a greater and firmer understanding of the pandemic and educating parents and communities through the students. Simple audiovisual and print materials, some available and some developed can be shared with students through online as well as shared in community. This is also required to bring learning into connect with the biggest crisis (not merely a health crisis, but a social, cultural, economic and political crisis) and help the learners reflect on the nature of the world they should be building. Ignoring the pandemic and focusing solely on textbooks would not be useful or meaningful.
Subject-specific content and pedagogy models for teaching
The TPCK (Technological-Pedagogical-Content Knowledge) framework can be used to support the planning of lessons that are engaging and facilitate student learning.
Re-looking at the curriculum is an inevitable starting point; this is not the time to substitute the classroom lectures with video lectures. The schools and teachers must be allowed to interpret the textbook in meaningful ways combining lectures and hands-on activities. The approaches would need to have a subject-specialization, even as disciplinary boundaries will need to be transcended during this period. Hence these are discussed by subject - Mathematics, Kannada, English, and Science.
Familiarity and comfort with online learning platform (connecting and teaching)
Many teachers are sharing resources, worksheets, quizzes with students over mobile phone platforms. These allow asynchronous interactions, which are useful, and can be complemented by synchronous interactions through an online platform. The online platform can be used to teach as well as to clarify questions and doubts over content shared asynchronously.
Online learning platforms have some features to support online teaching including - video conferencing, sharing screen (which has a presentation or a video or even a web page), digital white/blackboard, online chatting, etc. Student management functions like muting participants, locking participants, sharing presentation rights, etc are also useful to learn.
BigBlueButton is a free and open-source online teaching platform. It can be used as a standalone platform to teach or can be integrated with the Moodle Learning Management System. The latter option is suitable for teacher training programs while the former is simpler and hence suitable for student teaching. BigBlueButton has the advantage that it does not require an app installation to use on the phone, a web address (URL) is sufficient. (It is essential to avoid using proprietary digital platforms that collect data about students and teachers, making them vulnerable to commercial exploitation and privacy losses, hence free and open-source platforms such as BBB should be preferred, they can be freely installed in a common public data infrastructure such as the state government's data center).
Familiarity with BigBlueButton will require two sessions of a few hours each, the second to refresh learning and solve any doubts or issues. See the BigBlueButtonWorkshop page for a workshop to learn BigBlueButton.
The steps for conducting online classes include
- Creating a virtual school and virtual classrooms in BBB
- Each teacher will log in to BBB and teach in the relevant classroom
- Students can enter this virtual classroom through a web address
Student sensitization on aware/careful use of the Internet/Web needs to be one element of this component. Students are vulnerable to cybercrime / cyberbullying and access to sites that can compromise their wellbeing and a shared understanding of the 'dos' and don'ts' of the cyber world will be required to be shared with students and parents.
Visits to community spaces for interactions with students
Vidyagama suggests teachers can, with the help of parents and community members, identify community spaces in habitations where many students may be staying, and organize interactions on a periodic/regular basis to support learning. Face to face interactions will be invaluable for supporting learning. Such visits are also especially useful for students who may not be part of digital and online learning possibilities.
School as a community space for Vidyagama
While community spaces will need to be identified, the school itself is the first choice for such a community space - as it would score high on student safety as well as hygiene. Limited school opening with adequate safeguards is an option to be explored, considering multile factors to ensure safety and learning. Staggering classes, regrouping classes into smaller cohorts, combining in-school and out-of-school activities, with support from community facilitators are some strategies to start out with.
Instead of subject-based instruction for large groups of students, smaller groups of students meeting for lesser hours in school needs to be an option to be seriously considered.
Project-based learning will allow the students to work individually, with people who they have access to as well as with the teachers. Teacher interaction can be in the form of videos as well as small group interactions through online forums. This can be continued in a modified manner when schools reopen in a staggered phased manner and in combination with digital methods. Teacher agency and autonomy are essential for this. Reinforcing foundational literacy and numeracy will be essential, especially in cases where students have migrated and hence facing discontinuities in language and manner of instruction.
School support system
Schools will need academic, financial, administrative support, as well as community support for implementing the program effectively.
Academic support system
The DIETs, BRCs and CRCs need to be facilitated to provide ongoing support to the schools and teachers. The pandemic has repeatedly proven the principle that centralized approaches will not work, as local solutions have to be imagined by schools/ teachers. Hence the support from the school system has to be guidelines and encouraging the autonomous design of responses of the schools. Heavy-handed fiats will be counterproductive.
Schools will need additional funding to provide for exigencies arising from the pandemic. This will include the following
- provision of basic hygiene facilities, including soap/detergent,
- drinking water, functioning toilet and washing facilities are critical
- developing and producing teaching-learning materials, including worksheets etc
- travel by teachers to communities to support local learning in small groups
- engaging volunteers for supporting (supplementing and complementing) local learning activities
- medicine kit, including thermal scanners/thermometers, analgesics etc.
While schools can and should try to raise some funds from local charities, community organizations, parent groups etc. there is likely to be a need for additional budgetary support to the SDMCs from the state government/ education department. Such an ad-hoc school grant will need to consider the school strength as well as its location.
Public digital infrastructure
The government must ensure adequate availability of digital infrastructure and see such infrastructure as an essential public utility, on the lines of public schools or health centers. The government must prioritize investing in public digital infrastructure, ensuring available and working digital labs in high and higher primary schools and Television and Radio sets in all schools, and make these accessible for students and teachers. Further, efforts must be made to converge the digital infrastructure at the community level, with the panchayat, local knowledge centers, schools as well as other community spaces. Rural and remote habitations must be given priority for developing digital infrastructure. Inequitable access to digital infrastructure needs to be addressed through public investments, on priority.