Not long ago, providing basic quality education facilities and maintaining children's attendance was a daily struggle for the management of Thiring primary school in Potka block of East Sighbhum in the central Indian state of Jharkhand.
However, all that has changed and for the better, thanks to the introduction of a child friendly 'Multi Grade Multi Level (MGML) teaching process in the school in 2008.
The Multi Grade Multi Level (MGML) teaching process aims to optimise the abilities and mental aptitude of primary school children to bring out the best in them. The teaching process focuses on improving the quality of classroom interaction to ensure regular attendance of teachers and children in the schools and help reduce the high dropout rate in area.
"There were only 35 students enrolled in the primary section (Standard I to V) in the year 2001. After the introduction of MGML in 2008 the enrolment has increased to 105 with zero dropouts to date," informs Bayar Singh Sardar, the school's headmaster.
Group-, peer-and self-learning through joyful means are the key mantras of this process. The children here sit in groups, completing different tasks, assigned by the teacher based on the progress of learning.
Children are not segregated into neat rows of boys and girls, or by ability level or background, as is the norm in general classrooms. The teacher plays the role of a facilitator moving from one group to another.
The teaching and learning materials are provided to children in the classes for their group activities and self learning.
"In the classroom the children are clubbed in to five groups - teacher assisted, partially teacher-assisted, peer-assisted, partially peer-assisted and self learning, based on each child's competency level. Each child gets the required attention of the teacher and peers in the learning process," explains Bayar Singh Sardar.
"The MGML system does not believe in pin drop silence in the classroom. As children work in groups, they are encouraged to talk to each other and learn through games and group activities," adds Sardar.
Learning in the classroom takes place systematically in accordance with age wise competencies in an interactive manner. Children learn at their individual pace and move to different levels of competencies.
"This Informal, joyful and child-friendly method of teaching has ensured regular attendance of children and there have been no dropouts," says the assistant teacher, Sunil Kumar Yadav.
However the introduction of the MGML process in the schools initially faced resistance from the parents. They found it difficult to accept that teaching without text books and home work would actually improve the learning skills of children.
During the parent-teacher meeting, the parents expressed their apprehensions about the new pedagogy. They found it hard to accept that children could come to school without any books.
"They believed such a process would lead to more dropouts," remarked Sankar Prasad Singh, president of the village education committee.
"However today the parents think differently. They have seen their children actually begun to read and write in a short span of time. The child-friendly environment in these schools and the boldness with which the children interact has encouraged parents to ensure that their children attend classes regularly," adds Singh.
Interaction with the children reflects the joy and confidence that MGML has brought about. "We love to come to school as we get a chance to learn even when we play and sing in the classroom. We can now sing a poem and talk about the four seasons in front of our community," say students, Ramkrishna Sardar and Sanjit Sardar in unison.
The MGML process was initiated in Jharkhand as a pilot programme in 235 schools in the districts of Ranchi, Hazaribagh, Gumla and East Singbhum by UNICEF in 2008. Seeing the success of the programme, the Government of Jharkhand, has now decided to expand the programme in eight more districts.
Today, in the primary schools where MGML is being implemented the quality of education has improved and school dropouts are mostly a thing of the past. This example serves as an inspiration to help meet India's mandate for child-friendly, child-centered education under the recently notified Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RtE) Act 2009 and transform the lives of children.