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The fact that Indian children are not learning to read or write very proficiently is fairly widely known. The ASER annual reports document this dismal picture year after year - with little improvement shown over the years. “Fixing” early literacy is not an easy task. The solutions don’t lie simplistically in finding the “right methods”, or teaching the “right skills”. Early literacy and language learning in India occur in complex landscapes characterised by rich linguistic diversity, and riddled with deep socioeconomic divides, poor teacher education, and a somewhat poorly functioning educational system. Debates related to issues such as medium of instruction and language planning and policy making abound. In this context, a key need is to facilitate conversations around important issues, as well as to contribute to knowledge creation and dissemination. In a country with poorly prepared language professionals it is also important to help prepare a cadre of professionals in this domain; as well as to help build visibility for the domain in policy-making circles.

Recognising this to be an area of significant concern, the Tata Trusts funded a three-year (2017-2019) domain building initiative at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS)-Hyderabad. While anchored largely at TISS-Hyderabad, satellite projects also exist at Ambedkar University, Delhi; and at Bangalore, Karnataka. ELI is largely a university-based initiative invested in teaching; knowledge creation and dissemination; and outreach and advocacy. Another core commitment of the ELI is to respond to “burning issues” on the ground. Efforts at creating new knowledge will balance, for example, action research projects with more traditional academic projects.

Objectives
ELI has been working towards accomplishing the following broad objectives:

Research: To conduct new research in early language and literacy in India; and to disseminate knowledge that is already available. ELI is currently conducting three projects at different locations. They are:
Action Research, Telangana -
http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/action-research/
Community Literacy and Schooling, Delhi -
http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/action-research/
Socio-Historical Studies, Bangalore, Kolkata and Goa -
http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/socio-historical-studies/

Teaching: To create a cadre of knowledgeable and well-prepared professionals in the area of early language and literacy. For details, visit
http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/teaching/.

Advocacy: To provide visibility and leadership to work in early language and literacy by engaging in national level dialogues with scholars, policy-makers and other professionals working in allied areas. ELI will also provide networking support for practitioners and scholars working in the domain through a variety of means, such as, a visible and dynamic web presence, offering short-term workshops and courses, collecting and disseminating relevant information, and so on. For details, visit
http://eli.tiss.edu/index.php/advocacy/.

ELI also runs a blog to make space for discussions it believes people learn best through dialogue. It is a space for informed conversations amongst people who are interested in the field of Early Language and Literacy. The blogs are thematically organised. The first theme was Multilingualism which was run for a period of three months. The current theme is Children’s Literature.
 
Rising competition along with the aim to reach high, has prepared students to leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting into the best college. According to IOSR Journal of Research & Method in Education, the stakeholders in the education sector are not only required to nurture the students academically, but also nurture them holistically, in order to ensure that the students reach their goal. Students need to have a thorough understanding of the concepts and a formulated strategy, which is required to achieve high marks in competitive examinations. This is where the coaching institutes play a vital role in a student’s life. Many students enroll in a coaching institute at a very early age in order to expand the boundaries of their learning and prepare a strong foundation for their future. The responsibility of coaching institutes thus increases as they are required to ensure that a complete all-round development of the students.

Proper guidance can be a stress buster

Competitive entrance exams may undergo pattern changes. The objective of such changes is to test the aptitude skills of the students. Students may feel a sense of distress or panic when this is set in motion. At such times, coaching institutes play a key role by providing guidance and support to the students. Institutes provide guidance through workshops, seminars and one on one sessions to help students fare better in exams. Coaching institutes today are also inculcating certain practices from the Indian culture such as yoga sessions, seminars on spirituality to help the students build a strong mindset and concentrate better.

Skill development is the need of the hour

Coaching institutes are not only aiming at providing academic excellence to the students but are also attempting to build the emotional, intellectual and social aptitude of the students. Institutes are trying to instill in young minds, the right attitude towards success, not just in exams, but in life too. Through debates, group discussions and increased focus on listening, reading, writing and speaking skills, coaching institutes are building confidence among the students and helping them overcome the challenges.

Competing against one’s foes can be a confidence booster

Coaching classes also create the right competitive environment required by the students to enhance their learning. Competition against one’s foes not only helps the students in achieving higher grades but also develops a positive competitive spirit among them. Competing with fellow aspirants at these institutes becomes a great confidence booster for the students.

Self-study is often said to lead a student towards the success but preparing without proper guidance and interaction with fellow mates often proves to be a huge drawback. Constant interaction with like-minded people and discussion of relevant topics and exam trends helps the students gain insights. Moreover, there has to be innovation in teaching methods being adopted by the coaching institutes. This will help students to become better individuals in a competitive world and be future ready.

The author is Professor Uday Nath Mishra, chief academic officer, BasicFirst.
 
We hear a lot about design thinking across board-rooms and classrooms. But, what does design thinking have to do with learning and teaching? Well, ‘Design’ has come far from the studios of select few mavericks focused on creating ‘cool products’ to being Design Thinking: the human-centered improve-ment of experience that includes products and services.

Ok, but why is it important to include Design Thinking (DT) in a classroom? For one, the 5-steps of the typical DT cycle: empathize, dene, ideate, prototype and test provide a good framework for solving problems and make the world better a better place: the end-goal of any learning. Apart from improving the process of learning itself, DT also widens the scope of learning beyond literacies to include development of skills such as creative thinking, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. None would debate the need for these skills to success in the 21st century world both for an individualin his life and for us, as a nation aspiring for its rightful place.

Yet, adoption of DT is not yet as wide-spread as it should have been owing to challenges of costs, capabilities, contexts and not the least, of mind-sets. That leaves us, begging the question: how can we demystify and democratize adoption of DT in classrooms.

At a policy-systems level, all who matter are talking and emphasizing ‘tinkering’, innovation’ and ‘design’ as part of school and college learning and that is a good start. At an individual institutional level, some of the progressive schools with resources have initiated this journey by partnering with experts. But the key to mass adoption and making it integral to the learning process lies in co-opting the advances and proliferation of the evolving digital platforms and technologies. It is best achieved as a 2-step process, given the risk averse nature of many learning institutes to any disruption in existing systems and schedules.

The first step is to make a small b e g i n n i n g w i t h ‘ d e s i g n t h i n k i n g activities’ as part of the co-curricular programs with few of the ‘open minded’ staff taking ownership for facilitating this in a specific space, a la design studio. Once students start tinkering with the resources m a d e a v a i l a b l e , e n g a g e w i t h t h e structured yet liberating process of design thinking, the enthusiasm becomes infectious. That’s when you take the second step of unshackling ‘design thinking’ and ‘innovation’ from the limits of a single-specific room /staff with specific project manipulatives and make it an institution wide, every learning room phenomena. This leap can best be aided by leveraging the digital platforms for the different phases of design thinking, some of which are discussed below.

Simulated Environments give students the chance to be ‘in the moment’ experientially without being there physically helping build empathy. Imagine experiencing the horrors of wars virtuallyin a history classroom. Augmented Reality(AR) and Virtual Reality(VR) are close t o b rining t ruly immersive experiences to classrooms as Facebook ( O c u l u s ) , M i c r o s o f t ( H o l o L e n s ) , HTC(Vive) to Google(Cardboard) drive down costs and develop more experiences for learning.

Defining and Ideating are best done working in groups with tools to capture and communicate what everyone visualizes. Unlike post-it’s and white-boards that limit you to a room, tools like Google Keep, Mural and Trello will mainstream digital visualization and collaboration not just within different classes or departments of a school but across schools and colleges.

While prototyping is the most critical and fun part for a learner, it is least scalable due to constraints of time, material availability, expertise and costs. I posit that the intersection of VR/AR with digital design tools like Tinkercad and affordable 3D Printers make rapid digital prototyping, complete, comprehensive and adoptable across situations and by everyone.

Finally, testing lets you improve with feedback, and this reection is important for learning to progress. Some digital platforms like the simple Google shared drives to advanced Digital Portfolio Systems like Seesaw make testing and feedback collection easy and scalable.

I have barely scratched the surface on how digital platforms can be used by learners and teachers for wider adoption of DT. How policy-makers can use it for making systemic and strategic changes is a topic for some other day.

Venkatesh Datla is a Co-founder at Creya Learning (www.creyalearning.com), the pioneer of integrative STEM Learning and Design Thinking for 21st Century Skills. He is deeply invested into the advocacy of the ‘thinking through tinkering’ movement and believes building empathy in students is an essential precursor for them to apply learning and make the world a better place.
 
A classroom is a microcosm of the universe, and a classroom is an excellent space to inculcate practices that can help students throughout their adult lives. As correctly pointed out by Henry Ford, “Coming together is the beginning, keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Students need to be made comfortable working in groups.

It is true that learning can be meaningful only when the process is attuned to the needs, goals and strengths of a learner. In fact, the focus of the present-day education system has shifted from a teacher-centric approach, where the teacher is the sole holder and diffuser of knowledge, to a more student-centric approach with each student being at the helm of their learning process. However, that in no way tries to promote an isolation of learners from their peers and their teachers. Students ought to understand early in their lives that individual goals fit in well within a larger set up, and can be furthered and enhanced through collaboration and engagement. Learners can critically understand their thoughts in close relation to the world of others to become practical problem solvers of tomorrow.

Thus, adopting a collaborative learning approach could help teachers inculcate life skills and critical thinking skills in learners.

Collaborative Learning

Collaborative learning is an approach that involves two or more individuals coming together to understand a common learning concept and complete a common task. They bank upon each other’s resources, expertise and skills to fulfil the task. There is joint ownership of responsibilities and failures, if any. They work independently on different  parameters and evaluate each other’s work to improve the quality of output.

In a classroom ecosystem, a learner with a doubt could first approach their peers before going to teachers. Such an exercise is not to keep teachers away from students’ learning process, but to nudge learners to resort to their own collective wisdom as a community. This would encourage a student to understand and value their neighbour’s resourcefulness and give proper credit to them. Teachers could give challenging tasks to students in the classroom and ask students to work as a group. Students could see their tasks and thoughts getting challenged, and thus get an opportunity to think through the loopholes.

Let’s see how teachers could design an effective curriculum to facilitate collective learning.

How to collaborate in a classroom?

Phenomenon-based learning is a holistic approach that changes the focus of learning from individual subjects to phenomena, topics and events like energy, media and technology. Learning theories could lead to knowledge that is superficial. However, when life practices are within a pedagogical framework, learning could fulfil the purpose of raising responsible citizens.

A teacher could assign a group of learners with an inter-disciplinary topic like the source of drinking and washing water in their area, and ask them to present on it. This would enable students to work independently and collectively. Discussion and collaboration within the team would help them develop their communication skills. Moreover, the benefits of phenomenon-based learning is not limited to collective learning, and is complemented by constructivist approach and enquiry-based learning.

Further, hands-on activities can help students to learn in groups. Sharing equipment and other components could help them develop a sense of sharing resources in real life too. School excursions could help collaborative learning ventures as students’ interaction with peers would not be limited to academics outside the classroom.

Benefits of Collective Learning

Celebration of Diversity: A small group of students could be culturally and socially very diverse and thus, collaborative learning projects could open up the world to learners as they begin to gain a new perspective on life from their peers. Students also get to reflect upon their lives and values against those of their classmates and learn to acknowledge differences without being critical.

Interpersonal Development: In a group enterprise, it is essential that students learn to work with all types of people and relate to their peers so that the project at hand benefits from their structured interaction.

Confidence, Communication: Collaborative learning projects at an early age can help students boost their confidence and self-esteem, besides improving their sense of ownership at work. The task of presenting their ideas, defending them, and collaborating with others to expand their horizons also requires good communication skills, which also get a boost in these activities.

Establishing a culture of collaborative learning is not difficult. Neither is the process a resource-intensive one nor is assessing collaborative learning work  difficult. A teacher needs willingness and an open mind to carry it out. Moreover, the availability of technology only makes collaboration easier. Students can connect with their peers on social media or through a learning management system. Among the many benefits of collective learning, the most important one is that it is able to fulfil the real purpose of education – nurturing responsible citizens who can collaborate with their fellow denizens to solve complex social, economic and political problems.

The author is Beas Dev Ralhan,CEO & co-founder, Next Education India Pvt. Ltd.