India has now achieved universalisation of education and has high enrollment ratios in schools today. But most schools in India rarely go beyond the prescribed syllabus and only prepare children for ‘exams’.
Parents need to ask themselves if their child is actually learning something meaningful, or only developing the ability to retain information found in textbooks. This problem is especially prevalent in schools serving low-income communities.
It is during the preschool years of a child that he or she develops an affinity towards learning. This could either be positive or negative—depending on the exposure that a child receives during the early childhood years between 0-6 years of age.
Studies conducted by the Center for Developing Child at Harvard University show that the flexibility of a human brain to learn is highest during the early childhood years.
The exposure that a child receives during this period defines the foundation on which all of the future is built!
Unfortunately, this fundamental aspect is precisely what is missing in the teaching and learning processes of most schools and more so in the ones that serve the socially disadvantaged sections of our society, despite being well equipped with infrastructure and supporting staff.
Blackboard teaching, rote learning and strict disciplinary actions work against igniting the motivation to learn in children, especially during preschool years. More often than not, children end up losing interest in studying altogether even before they enter 1st grade.
Studies show that what bolsters achievement in children is creating an environment that fosters creativity, collaboration, problem-solving and most importantly a love for learning in a child.
This environment can be created right from infancy. Latest neuroscientific research also clearly points to the importance of helping a child feel emotionally secure and learning through fun and playful ways during the child’s early years.
Tejasvita Trust, a non-profit organisation in Bengaluru has been striving to nurture high achievers in low-income communities by conducting high-quality educational programmes since 2013.
Founded by three dedicated individuals, TVG Krishnamurthy, Gayathri Tirthapura, and Gautam Balijepalli, the organisation’s first foray has been the preschool program.
Partnering with affordable private schools, and catering mostly to children coming from BPL (Below Poverty Line) families in the city, the organisation implements a well-tested curriculum which focuses on creating an invigorating atmosphere to evoke an intrinsic drive to learn in kids.
“Our foundational tenets rest on the belief that every child regardless of their socio-economic status deserves an early childhood environment that gives them high-quality mental stimulation. The apparent lack of quality educational programmes was what propelled us on this path,” said Gayathri to The Better India.
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Equipped with a Masters’ degree in Education from Harvard University, Gayathri is the subject matter expert at Tejasvita and has been instrumental in developing the preschool programme.
“Our very first programme is what we have been conceptualising, piloting and experimenting with, for over four years now. What we have today is a highly stimulating, portable and scalable early childhood programme focused on the four most important skills of the 21st century—Communication, Collaboration, Creative thinking and Critical thinking,” she elaborates.
Built into their programme is a mechanism which also closely tracks the progress of the child throughout the academic year without subjecting him or her to any explicit testing.
Through a child-friendly environment with play-based materials, choice, opportunities for free movement and through positive discipline, the organisation employs research-based practices to create an atmosphere which helps them become independent learners and manoeuvre the curriculum as per their curiosities and interests.
“Our conversational medium in the classroom is English, and we incorporate plenty of storytelling, open-ended art, music and movement, hands-on explorative and thinking based activities and other processes that are a lot of fun for children that makes them look forward to school,” Gayathri explains.
So how does the organisation unfold its learning curriculum?
“The teachers in our programme are mothers from privileged families and are passionate about making a difference in the lives of children. They are selected using an innovative hiring model, and we train them to conduct our preschool program. We are also particular about the importance of maintaining the regularity of teachers in the classroom,” says Gautam.
Currently working with 120 children in four classrooms in two schools, the programme developers make sure that each child gets adequate attention from the teacher. To achieve this, they maintain a teacher-student ratio of approximately 1:10.
“The teacher-child relationship is crucial if the learning impact has to be achieved with young children. In fact, research has shown that preschool teachers are often the first significant non-family adults with whom the child forms a relationship,” says Gayathri.
The initiative is entirely self-funded by the trustees and is offered free of cost to the children & the partner school. Spread over 3 weekdays, the teachers spend 6 hours per week with kids throughout the academic year.
“What we have observed in our classrooms through the years is pure joy, fearless exploration, inquisitiveness, improved attention spans and perseverance, productive social interactions, an inclination to speak in English, and much more! Extremely shy and introverted children have also started to open up through the course of the year and set themselves on the path towards learning,” says Gayathri with apparent pride.
The affordable private schools, which were instituted for the upliftment of children from low-income communities are close partners in this process.
They provide the physical infrastructure, meals, regular classes and work to improve retention of the children from the low-income communities in the schools through various community outreach programs, while Tejasvita can focus on developing and implementing its innovative curriculum.
The schools have carved out six hours a week in their timetable for Tejasvita teachers to conduct their preschool program.
The schools, regard the programme as highly beneficial for children in areas of improving their emotional wellbeing, building confidence and English speaking skills.
To formally analyse the progress and impact that their model had made, the organisation consolidated qualitative data for the first time through the academic year of 2016-17 and then quantified it.
“What we saw was that majority of the children made significant progress in many parameters of social-emotional development and English comprehension. We are in the process of improving our assessments system to gather more quantifiable data in Spoken English and other skill areas like critical thinking and creativity” Gautam adds.
While this preschool program is taking off, Tejasvita also plans to develop programs for higher age groups in the future with a focus on nurturing talent in low-income communities.
The organisation believes that for a country of more than one billion people, while large-scale improvements in education system are necessary, it is equally important to ensure that there is no loss of high achievers, who are the flag-bearers for their communities.
If their talents are nurtured well, they can not only contribute to the upliftment of the society as a direct result of their achievements but can also have a substantial aspirational impact on the entire community that they originate from.
The preschool programme that the organisation is running today is a springboard to nurture this talent in any child.
To make their dream a reality, Tejasvita Trust has teamed up with Milaap, a crowdfunding platform, and intends to expand its preschool programme to reach out to more children from the underprivileged sections across the city and instil the penchant for learning through quality education.
If you wish to help them realise this goal, you can make contributions here.