In India, bridging the gap between home learning and school learning
The challenge is to avoid complacency and ensure that we continue to leverage these insights and foster school-home connections even after schools restart. Parental efforts need to complement school-based learning with home learning
The launch of NIPUN Bharat in early July by the ministry of education sets India at the forefront of global education reform. The international development community has been increasingly aligned to the goal of attaining foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) skills for all children by class 3. But India is the first country to create a high-profile, focused mission to achieve universal foundation learning by 2026-27. The initiatives outlined in the mission document will be executed through state-specific FLN missions.
However, NIPUN can be strengthened further if it builds more actively on the huge upheaval in the world at large, and in education specifically, over the last few years. Two momentous shifts have occurred.
The first is the smartphone and data revolution across India. More than 60% of children studying in government schools (the traditional marker of the underprivileged) have access to a smartphone, a statistic that has nearly doubled in just two years. The second shift occurred after Covid-19 swept India. Schools have been shut since March 2020 (and are now slowly opening), and parents and families have become central stakeholders in ensuring that learning continues at home.
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These two factors have allowed private and government school systems to connect with parents, especially for 3 to 9-year-old children in the FLN age group who find it hard to access learning. WhatsApp, TV, radio, apps, and IVRS, SMSes, calls and home visits are the strategies that have been used. The last 17 months have been a massive experiment to see how schools can help children learn systematically at home. The results have been mixed, but there are learnings.
The biggest insight is in the form of a simple framework of how to create caregiver and community engagement around learning – AIM (awareness, information, motivation).
On awareness, parents know the importance of education. What is not always known is the critical role they can play in the education of their children, without having to be too educated themselves. A policy including school-home connections will be critical.
On information, the right content needs to be provided to facilitate learning at home. It needs to be engaging, play-based, and contextual, involve educated as well as uneducated parents and cater to both smartphone users and non-smartphone users.
On motivation, parents tend to get invested when there is an assured salary on the anvil. Higher-income parents invest time and effort when their children are younger. There is a behaviour difference here, and it is the system’s responsibility to motivate and nudge low-income parents to be involved while recognising their constraints. Parents need to be rewarded for efforts in nation-building through education, and certificates and recognition should be extended to families.
The challenge is to avoid complacency and ensure that we continue to leverage these insights and foster school-home connections even after schools restart. Parental efforts need to complement school-based learning with home learning.
As a society, we have rightly invested huge amounts of money and energy in improving variables outside of the home — school infrastructure, enrolment, meals, teacher recruitment, textbooks — and we are seeing the positive impact, albeit gradually. India’s literacy rate has increased to 75% in 2018 from 70% in 2011, and India is now confident of taking part in the Programme for International Student Assessment for the first time since 2009. But it is now clear that our children will be much richer with further investment at home.
NIPUN Bharat, in its design, is strong. It focuses on the right interventions around children by designing learning lakshyas (objectives), curricular materials and assessments, and around teachers through training. However, involving parents and communities is the critical third cog, and has the potential to make learning personal and social. This may also take education to courtyards, homes and public places for everyone to participate in. There is an opportunity to create a public and political discourse around education, and bring it into the mainstream.
Azeez Gupta and Utsav Kheria are Harvard and IIM-A alums, and co-founders of Rocket Learning, an organisation focusing on school and life readiness for all young children
The views expressed are personal