Universal Elementary Education – An Experiment in Karnataka

Parents of the 32 students studying in standard seven in a school at a non-descript village in the Karnataka State of Southern India staged protests last June. The reason? They wanted their children, especially girls, to continue their education beyond the seventh standard, without travelling to neighboring villages; and the local school in the Tigalarapalya village where they were studying so far did not have classes beyond seventh. So they forced the authorities to add higher classes to the school.Yet in 2000 and 2001, the same parents had resisted when the government officials, volunteers and non-government organizations pleaded with them to send their children to school. They preferred to send them to work in the silk-weaving factories which abound in their villages, so they could clear the loans they had taken from the factory owners. The rural district of Magadi on the outskirts of Bangalore city has many such villages, where the children work in hazarduous factories. Magadi Makkala Dhwani – a group of four non-government organizations, supported by UNICEF, had then approached both parents and factory owners and educated them on the rights of children and sensitized them to the hazards of working in factories.The most heartening feature about the protests is that these were not headed by NGOs. It was a protest by the parents and students,which showed the concerted efforts by Magadi Makkala Dhwani had paid off in creating awareness about the importance of education.Another interesting incident occurred last August. Around 26 child labourers were admitted to special residential schools after they were rescued by deputy Labour Commissioner and a team of inspectors and representatives of NGOs working on the pilot project introduced by the UNICEF and Norwegian Agency for Development. The three-year NORAD-UNICEF pilot project was implemented through Karnataka Government in 2002 as a test case in the districts of Davangere and Gulbarga. Since the last two-and-half years, the NORAD-UNICEF office succeeded in rehabilitating about two thousand child labourers working in chronic work situations in the two districts. Several self help groups and youth organizations took part in social mobilisation and mass awareness programmes like enacting street plays on the evils of employing under-aged children and the importance of sending them to school.The ball that was set rolling in the 90s in the wake of the National Policy on Education through numerous programmes such as World bank-assisted District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), has gained momentum in the last five years through Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the integrated national programme for Universal Elementary Education, which aims to provide quality education for children between the ages of 6 and 14 years by 2010. The drive, launched in 2001, aims to reduce the number of children who are out of school, narrow gender and social gaps and improve the quality of education.Education is the only hope for India to change its current status of a “developing country” into a “developed country”. And she cannot make this change happen unless she ensures that the 59 million children out of the 200 million children in the age group of 6-14 who are currently out of school enrol in proper schools and learn.What is keeping these 59 million children outside the school? Problems of access, poor quality in school processes, lack of participation by the community in the school affairs and poverty are among the key barriers to universal education. In Karnataka alone, over 300,000 out-of-school children have been mainstreamed during the past three years. But what is causing concern is the national average drop out rate for children in 1-8th standard, which stands at 57% and an alarming dropout rate of 60% for girl children for the same standards.Once children reach school, a variety of factors determine whether they will learn and acquire the skills to pursue formal education or drop out. In many cases, a child from a poor/rural family is unable to comprehend and cope up with the pace of other formal school children. Teachers are not able to identify or diagnose the competencies that a child lacks and provide him/her with supplementary teaching. It is not uncommon to come across children who have been to school but remain functionally illiterate. Disillusioned youngsters, who may have completed primary schooling and are unemployed, act as a disincentive for education of other children in the community. Younger children and their families see the writing on the wall – primary education does not always improve the situation of the poor unless what they learn is perceived as being relevant to their life situation.The enrolment drives for out-of-school children, child labour projects and innumerable remedial education and bridge courses have emerged in the last 10 years, started by district and local government authorities and assisted by NGOs, corporate bodies, local business and the community. These bridge or condensed courses have helped children to re-enter the formal stream, prevented dropouts and improved the learning achievements of children in school.There have been several initiatives taken by private institutions, or government in partnership with the private institutions, that have borne good results.The Nali-Kali(literally, dance-learn) strategy of teaching developed by teachers in Mysore has adopted creative learning practices to help retain children in school and bring in those not attending school. This method creates the right ambience for the child to learn in a child-friendly fun-filled way through educational toys, songs, games, story telling, all made by the teachers themselves. This method eliminates the formal system of roll calls, examinations, promotions and ranking.The initiative has helped improve enrolment, particularly of girls, and has been expanded to cover more areas within Mysore and 10 more districts in the state.The Akshara Foundation, an initiative with the Infosys backing; has worked in the slums of Bangalore to touch the lives of over 60,000 children in and around the city of Bangalore. The young children do not have to follow their mother to her workplace as she goes out to earn her livelihood. Mother of Satisa, who studies in one such pre-school, says happily, “my son does not loiter on the road when I am out on construction. He has learnt to read and write!”To take care of children who have to work to earn a livelihood Akshara and CWC (Concerned for Working Children) have partnered with the Department for Public Instruction to start Transit School Program in 8 pilot locations in the city. Transit schools are open from 8 am to 8 pm for the convenience of the children. Working children come to the centers (mostly in government schools) at convenient times during the day.Azim Premji Foundation focuses on “quality of education” and what happens inside a school, taking note of the numerous initiatives taken by the government. Its CEO Mr. Dileep Ranjekar says that their programs demonstrate “proof of concept” that can be replicated at a large scale in the government system. The Accelerated Learning Program and the Child Friendly School are examples of such programmes.Large numbers of children have been mainstreamed through specially devised bridge courses.The foundation has developed CD based, child centric and interactive curricular content in local languages that is being used by thousands of schools across five Indian states. The CDs are free for all government school and non-government schools that cater to children from socio-economically weaker sections. Other schools can have it at a very nominal charge.Mr. Dileep Ranjekar says, “We have tried to use IT to enhance the curricular learning of the children as well as to create excitement in the schools. The attendance of the children is significantly up on the days they are scheduled to work on the computers.”There are some more remedial steps that government/NGOs can take:
Mobilise and organize working children into a self-managed association/organization. Educate them about their rights – right to education, freedom from exploitation, hazardous and non-hazardous work, nutrition and emotional and physical well being.
Take a close look at what is happening inside the school. How are children- girls, children from disadvantaged groups, children in difficult circumstances treated?
Set up a help-line line to reach out to working children in distress, confront and work with the government, and employers to ensure the rights of children.
Encourage older children to talk about their future – training, employment and self-employment opportunities and link education with future prospects.

Lack of Education Contributes to Crime

As more and more low-income families move into neighborhoods that once catered to the middle or upper class, one must be on the lookout for his own personal safety and report any criminal activity going on in their surroundings. Crime is everywhere in these neighborhoods where kids find too much time on their hands after school hours or after the school year lets out.What also contributes to the crime rate in such places? Is it just the lack of money for low income families? Sometimes, crime can be attributed to the lack of education on the part of the perpetrator or their families.It is a statistical fact that the crime rate is inversely proportional to the education level of the culprit. Kids who grow up in families that do not stress the importance of getting an education are more likely to be living out on the streets, doing drugs, joining gangs, or ending up in prison.Sometimes parents who raise such kids were raised in similar conditions when they were youngsters. Nothing has changed. An education should be foremost on parents’ minds when rearing their kids. In fact, an education is the key out of poverty. As the old saying goes, “The way out of the gutter is with a book and not a basketball.”Kids who do not have a good education in school are more likely to have difficulty with finding jobs, getting into college, or staying out of trouble with the law. Many times they have family issues that are attributed to the loss of a parent at a young age due to a death or an incarceration.Kids from single-parent homes run that risk of growing up as an “at-risk” child. This is due to the fact that the parent must work to provide food and shelter for the child, and the absence of the other parent fails to provide leadership and guidance for a growing mind. A parent who is incarcerated will definitely not be around to guide the child to getting good grades in school.What kind of message does an incarcerated parent send to a child? Is it okay to be dumb and stupid and end up in prison like their daddy? Like father, like son. Right? Is it okay to skip school and join a gang like their daddy once did?The truth of the matter is that kids who drop out of school will face hardship in their lives as they grow older. Lack of education on their part means lack of money to support a family. Lack of money translates into robbing a bank or convenience store.We hear in the news every day a robbery that occurs in our city or elsewhere. Or perhaps a shooting on the part of the perpetrator that caused an innocent life come to an abrupt halt.What are kids doing nowadays? How can we prevent our own kids from becoming troubled kids? For one, a parent must be a good role model and stress the importance of a good education. That means the parents must take an active role in their child’s education by monitoring how much television the child is allowed to watch and taking charge of knowing the kinds of friends that his child associates with. Furthermore, this means maintaining communication with his teachers at school and looking over his report card regularly.A child with poor academic performance may indicate something wrong at school. Perhaps he does not like school due to external influences; i.e. bullying, difficult teachers, taunting by other students, or peer pressure.It is better to catch the child’s problem as early as possible before it comes to the point that the child is truant from school, or worse, acts out his frustration that is reflected in another Virginia Tech-like massacre.A child should like his studies and should show interest in his schoolwork. He should be taught that good grades will help him get a good education so that he can get a good paying job and be a productive member of society after he graduates.Teach your child that involvement in gangs, violence, drugs, and/or extortion will not get him anywhere but prison. Once a person ends up doing life in prison, there IS no second chance. There is no freedom for him. There is no TV, no video games, no music, nothing! Not even a chance to get an education behind bars. If there is school in prison, the education is very limited.If you are raising a child, question your child as to what is going on in school if he/she displays academic difficulty. Spend some quality time with him/her. Help them with their homework if possible. Remember, you are not just his/her friend, you are their parents. You are the first role model that a child looks toward from infancy. So be a good one and teach him/her what is right by staying in school.There is a story in Austin, Texas a few years ago. It involved a troubled 17-year-old kid, Manuel Cortez, a high school dropout, who went out with his friends in a stolen car one sunny afternoon, and shot another student, Christopher Briseno, whom he did not even know because Briseno allegedly was teasing the sister of Manuel’s friend. Manuel Cortez is now serving life in prison because he made a stupid decision. Now families of the victim and the perpetrator are suffering two losses from society. All for what? Because Mr. Cortez chose to drop out of school and associate with gangs and/or violence? He chose to give up the possibility of an education so that he can run around gang banging? Or did he not have the proper support and guidance from his parents?

Playing Baby Computer Games – The New Parent-Child Tradition?

Imagine cuddling up with your small child to look at a picture book together that is interactive, musical, responsive and talks to you?This is the experience that people are having who are engaged in that relatively new pastime – playing computer games with babies.JumpStart’s Knowledge Adventure calls it “lapware”, Kiddies Games’ logo is “Hop on the lap and tap”, and Sesame Street’s “Baby and Me” opens with an animation of a baby monster hopping onto the lap of a Daddy monster to play the computer. Playing computer games with your baby is being promoted as a fun activity that a child and their caregiver can share together. And rightly so, because whatever the activity, physical, loving closeness is an important ingredient that infants need for healthy intellectual, emotional and physical development.Reading a bedtime story to a small eager child is a tradition in many homes. As the children get older, this may be replaced by watching TV together. Our parents’ families listened to the radio together. Playing on the computer with a small child may become a new type of family tradition. Home computers and internet are making their way into more and more homes. Some parents use the computer in their work and are delighted to share the computer for a fun activity with their kids. Other parents want to make sure their children become computer literate. Well-designed, interactive, educational computer games engage small children as much as the television and are more educational than TV because they incite the child to interact and think, rather than passively watch and listen. These are the reasons for the increasing popularity of toddler computer software. Although a relatively small industry, software for infants has been cited as being a very fast growing industry.What type of computer software is available for babies, toddlers and preschoolers? There are free games on websites and there are download and CDROM software that you can buy. Most software for this age group is games, but computer story books also exist. Wonderful websites that offer free games of which many are suitable for preschoolers (preschoolers are able to do directed clicking with the mouse) are:[http://www.sesamestreet.org/sesamestreet]http://www.noggin.comhttp://www.cbc.ca/kidscbchttp://www.abc.net.au/children/gameshttp://www.meddybemps.comGreat free sites for babies (whose skills tend to be more limited to banging the keyboard) are:http://www.kiddiesgames.comhttp://www.toddletoons.comCDROM or download software that you buy is usually better than free internet games. The games are usually superior (more graphics, more music, more involved games for older kids) and the software takes over the entire screen, which is more appropriate for very young children who click anywhere and everywhere on the screen. Some of the well-known producers are:Reader Rabbit software from http://www.learningcompany.comJumpStart software from http://www.knowledgeadventure.comFisher-Price software from http://www.knowledgeadventure.comSesame Street software from http://www.encoresoftware.com or http://www.amazon.com[http://www.babywow.com]Computer game softwares for this age group make conscientious efforts to be suitably educational. To judge their effectiveness for your child, try them out with your child. If your child finds that it’s fun, then it’s probably educational. For a baby, fun usually means that the game responds in some way to random keyboard presses and mouse clicks, and that the game continues in a positive way even when no input is forthcoming from the baby. A preschooler will need more of a challenge or more educational content, but the game should be designed to be always fun, reactive in a positive way and self-resolving when the child does not get the correct answer. At this age, it is more important that computer games contribute positively to self-esteem, rather than conscientiously correcting incorrect answers about educational concepts that the child will master when they’re older anyway. The KiddiesGames.com software is meticulous about adhering to these rules.What types of skills are learned by playing toddler computer games? Obviously, computer software is not suitable for practicing gross motor or even fine motor skills. However, there are many types of educational concepts that computer games can help a child master, including shapes, sounds, cause and effect, identifying and naming things (such as objects and colors), increasing vocabulary, language concepts, the forms of letters and numbers, counting, pattern recognition, detail observation and word construction. At KiddiesGames, we strive to offer games for small children that are out of the ordinary, such as foreign language exposure and practicing the positions on the telephone for dialing emergency. The reactiveness and interactiveness of computer software is, of course, superior to that of books, and can be superior to that of toys, especially in the area of language. Infant computer games are also being cited as excellent resources for children with special education needs, because such games are simple, happy, brightly-colored, patient, controlled by the child and allow the child to make things happen.An official recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics at http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics%3B107/2/423 is to “Discourage television viewing for children younger than 2 years, and encourage more interactive activities that will promote proper brain development, such as talking, playing, singing, and reading together.” This has been taken as advice to avoid exposing those young children to the computer. However, well-designed infant software actually encourages those great activities of “talking, playing, singing, and reading together”. By carrying out the play activities proposed by the computer game, the caregiver is actually prompted with a framework or script for carrying out those “talking, playing, singing, and reading” activities with the child. Experts are now saying that while computer games for infants should not replace toys and blocks and books and should not be used as an electronic babysitter, that they are yet another valid toy resource. For example, a summer 2004 newsletter from the Hawaii State Health Department at [http://www.hawaii.gov/health/family-child-health/eis/summer2004] encourages playing with lapware. The emphasis is not on acquiring measurable skills or getting correct answers, but is on open-ended exploration on the part of the child – which is another way of saying “having fun”. Children are programmed to learn and practice what they learned by playing and having fun.Playing computer games with your small child is not yet a family tradition. However, it is an enjoyable, sharing activity that is becoming more and more popular.