The husband-wife team of Padmanabha and Rama Rao, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship awardees for this year, are in Nepal attending the global assembly of Open Learning Exchange, a US-based social-benefit consortium working towards universal basic education.
The Raos are advisors to the board, one of the many encomia they have received for their brainchild: the multi-grade, multi-level (MGML) teaching-learning system that’s designed especially to work around the disadvantages of our school system — poor infrastructure, few teachers, irrelevant curriculum. In addition, they’ve come up with something called a ‘learning ladder’ ‘ladder of learning’ — a classroom tool using color-coded ‘study cards’ and ‘work cards’.
MGML also modifies the existing curricula to make it relevant to the local context, using the local dialect — even bringing mothers and grandmothers into the classroom to incorporate their stories, folklore into the lessons. The result, attendance is a high 95 per cent and dropouts 25 per cent lower.
RIVER, short for Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources, where the Raos are directors, also has other community learning initiatives like the Metric Mela, where children put up stalls and communicate concepts like kilogram, centimetre and inch, using things people identify with.
“At one such mela,” recalls Rao, “that was held in backward Mehboobnagar district, one Lambadi (a local tribe) lady came to me, very excited. ‘I weight a half bag of rice,’ she said. One bag was 100 kgs, so she weighed 50 kgs. It was so funny.”
RIVER was also given the Global Development Network Award for the ‘Most Innovative Development Project’ in 2004. But for Rao, the best testimony of success is its adoption by governments in 12 states in India and internationally, in Ethiopia, Germany and now Nepal, where RIVER has been running a ‘model’ school near Barahbhise in Sindhupalchuk district on the China border, to demonstrate the efficacy of MGML.