English to be made compulsory in all Government Schools in Karnataka

Via Times of India
Government schools in Karnataka will have to compulsorily teach English as one of the languages from Class 1. However, only some government schools seem to be complying with the rule.
Primary and secondary education minister Kimmane Ratnakar said on Tuesday: “English from class I is among one of the assurances in the Congress manifesto. We must implement it from the beginning of every academic year. This year, we must start the project at the earliest.”

The decision has been taken to prevent students from moving to private schools, he said, adding that there will be no examination for English from classes 1 to 5.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Vidyavahini project under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the minister said that there will soon be around 6,000 schools with community-based interventions like the school-adoption programme.

Read the entire article here.

Music Appreciation Class At Government Tamil School – Austin town, Bangalore

Kalyan Siva conducted a music appreciation class at Government Tamil School – Austin Town, Bangalore. He shares with us his 6 day long musical experience.

 Govt. Tamil School in Austin Town 

As part of a pilot for a new class in Government Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) schools, students of grade III and IV of the Govt. Tamil School in Austin Town attended a class on the Music Appreciation from 8th July 2013 – 17th July 2013. This report aims to detail findings and feedback from the experience, and to recommend the class to other schools due to the positive response from students and teachers alike.
“Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks and invents.” –Ludwig van Beethoven

Why Music? Do we need another class?
There is a word that defines children very well. ‘Precocious’. They learn things very fast, and build on their knowledge as they blossom into young talented men and women. As a child, I had the benison of being introduced to music, and it has been my constant companion ever since.

Various studies in India and abroad have tried to predict the effect of music on students, and it has been a contentious topic in educational circles. Of late, studies are favoring and calling for the inclusion of music  into  the  curriculum  of  students.  According to  them, music improves concentration levels of students and this has been supported by a corresponding increase in marks obtained by the children.

As a volunteer with Akshara, my initial assignment was to go through the RTI act and the curriculum of the SSA schools in the state. Along with this, I was given a data sheet, compiled by Akshara, which detailed information about the schools. On going through this list, it struck me as a surprise that most schools didn’t have a playground. Children need recreation to balance out their curricular activities. Citing this, I developed the idea of having a music class for students. If the students were able to improve their analytical ability because of it, as many papers on the subject state, it would be great. If not, it would still give them a lifelong companion and develop in them a passion for the fine arts. This, for me, was motivation enough.

The intentional use of music in the classroom will set the scene and learning atmosphere to enhance our teaching and learning activities. Plus, using music for learning makes the process much more fun and interesting! Music, one of the joys of life, can be one of the joys of learning as well. Below are a few areas where teaching music can be highly effective.

Music  can  be  used  to  help  us  remember  learning  experiences  and  information.  In  Active Learning  Experiences  music  creates  a  soundtrack  for  a  learning  activity.  The  soundtrack increases interest and activates the information mentally, physically, or emotionally. Music can also create a highly focused learning state in which vocabulary and reading material is absorbed at a great rate.

Preparing for a learning experience can make the difference between lessons well-learned and just passing time. Certain music will create a positive learning atmosphere and help students to feel welcome to participate in the learning experience. In this way it also has great affect upon students’ attitudes and motivation to learn. The rhythms and tempo of musical sound can assist us in setting and maintaining our attention and focus by perking us up when we are weary and helping us find peace and calm when we are over-energized in some way.

Music is the doorway to the inner realms and the use of music during creative and reflective times facilitates personal expression in writing, art, movement, and a multitude of projects. Creation of musical compositions offers a pathway to expressing personal feelings and beliefs in the language of musical sound.

All of the above has been well corroborated by John Hopkins University and Stanford University School of Medicine. Renowned Neurobiologist says that music exists all over the world, and has conducted and researched various studies into the impact of music on children. The support for this movement is endless.

It cannot be emphasized enough that, apart from all the learning benefits that music potentially brings, it will always be a companion to those who learn and relish it. Introducing young ones to such a wonderful and accessible art form is return enough.

Music Appreciation Class at GTLPS – Austin Town
The Government Tamil Lower Primary School (GTLPS) in Austin Town was the venue of my classes. With a large courtyard and playground, and clean premises, the school exuded an aura of learning.

I was allotted time with the children of the Third and Fourth grade from 14h00 – 15h00 every day. So as to give the children a holistic view of music, the music classes were organized as follows:
    Day 1: Introduction to Music the building blocks of music
    Day 2: The base of everything: Classical Music
    Day 3: Variegated music: Different forms of Regional Music (Folk)
    Day 4: Salute our Nation: Desh-Bhakti songs
    Day 5: The light side – Filmy
    Day 5+: Desh-Bhakti + Filmy

Due to a request from the management of the school, citing their desire to make the children learn more Desh-Bhakti songs, select songs of that genre were practiced from day 2. Each session ended with the national anthem.

Each day brought on new excitement from the children and new delight to their instructor. As a class, they were their naughty and fun loving selves, but soon bought into the idea of learning music, and I could perceive their enjoyment. The language of communication was Tamil, but I was also asked to occasionally speak in English so as to help them get a grasp on that as well.

Day 1 proved to be the most challenging. Getting the children’s attention was no easy task, but I managed to do so by singing a famous film song. After getting their attention, I explained to the children the origin and the importance of music in our world today. This was followed by a session where I taught them about the elements of music: S-R-G-M-P-D-N (The Saptaswara). The children had warmed up to the idea of the class, and learnt intently. To my happiness, many had had an exposure to this earlier.

Day  2  took  the  children deeper  into  the  world of  classical music,  with  different  variations  of  the Saptaswara, and the introduction of the concept of Raga and Taala.   They were taught how classical music is the base of all we know in music and its relevance in our culture even today.

Day 3 saw an introduction into folk music for the children of GTLPS Austin Town. With songs like ‘Aache Manaya’, the children understood how different regions had different styles. They were allowed to express themselves by coming up and singing any song of their choice. With only a few volunteers initially, the parade grew to a point where each child wanted to sing multiple songs! Seeing their enthusiasm, I made it a point to give them time at the end of each class to sing whatever they wanted. That is, after all, what this class was all about.

Day 4 was officially Desh-Bhakti day. In a very long, but enjoyable session, the children were introduced to the ever-popular ‘Ham Honge Kamiyaab’ and ‘Yeh Tiranga Pyaara Hai’. Watching the sing ‘Ham Honge…’ with gusto was a special moment for me. Their rendition of ‘Vande Mataram’ was also fine tuned.

Day 5 was filmy day, and ‘Yuhi Chala Chal’ from the movie ‘Swades’ was their task for the day. They clapped to the beat and sang to the tune wonderfully well. Later, all of them wanted to sing their own favorite tamil songs, and the passion with which each of them did so was truly amazing.

From Day 6 onwards, my task was to perfect their Desh-Bhakti songs for Independence Day, and they followed to the best of their abilities.

Children of Class 3 and 4 of GTLPS, Austin Town

Throughout the course of the workshop, the attendance in the class remained fairly constant. Even though nothing can be said about the effect of this class on the attendance of the students, I was able to perceive a happiness during and after the class in the children. They looked forward to giving their vocal chords a go, and they seemed interested to learn throughout the course of the class.

Through this experience, the importance of music in the lives of children was reaffirmed, and I would urge those who can to introduce this concept in all schools. It would almost be unfair to deprive them of the opportunity to learn it. They don’t have to become Shankar Mahadevans and Shreya Ghoshals. A little excitement and happiness in their lives through music will go a long way.

Lessons from the Field : Hoskote and North Karnataka

It was the morning of September 5, celebrated in the country as Teacher’s Day in memory of the well respected former President of India, Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. A day dedicated to the teacher and all that she symbolizes.

The drive from our office in Bangalore to the small village of Marasandahalli in Hoskote Taluk took all of forty five minutes. Marasandahalli is a little hamlet with a population of 650 people. It has a Lower Primary School (LPS) with a strength of 35 children. The school building looks solid.

We were visiting to test and validate the theory that schools will work and children will learn if all stakeholders participate. And this was a learning institution where we got the best proof of the concept. It has two teachers absolutely devoted to the school and its children. One of them was present that day, the other was indisposed and could not make it. Every working day they travel 35 kilometres each way from their homes to this school. They walk the last 3-4 kilometres through village roads because the bus stops only on the main road. It does not daunt them; neither does their day disappear in traveling to and fro. These teachers are there for the children all the time. 
The parents and members of the School Development and Monitoring Committee (SDMC) are equally cooperative. They ensure that the teachers are not inconvenienced in any way and that they get a ride from the main road to the school on tractors or motorcycles most of the time. In fact, the parents had a clear statement to make to us, “We have requested the teachers to retire in our village when they do retire.” What more can one ask for?

And the results speak for themselves. As children graduate from the fifth grade, which is the highest grade taught in the school, they appear for competitive tests that secure them admission to the Morarji Desai Schools and KGBV Schools and almost all of them make it there.
  After spending nearly an hour talking to parents, SDMC members, children and the teacher we walked away from the school with Lesson # 1: Teachers who carry the children, parents and SDMCs along with them make the greatest difference but these kind of teachers are rare. 
The next day saw us in Mundargi Block of Gadag District in North Karnataka. This is a place where human development indices are low. Our strategy in visiting a few villages here was simple – we would follow a routine of first talking to parents and SDMC members, usually a meeting that would take place in the village square. We would then follow it up with a visit to the school, meet the teachers and then talk to the children. Akshara has been supporting these schools with a Math and English component and intends to be here for all of three years to ensure that learning levels are lifted and that children grasp essential competencies.

The first village we visited was Dambala. The villagers and the SDMC met us in the village square and we had the first good conversation of the day. We began by asking the oldest member in the congregation how old he thought the school was. “About 60 years,” came the answer. 
Our next question was, “What about engineers and doctors?” They were considered to be great jobs as well. Finally we said, in the last 60 years there have been many children who graduated from their village school. Do they remember anyone who made it to these “good jobs?” That set them thinking. Slowly they started opening up and said that initially they did not have enough teachers, but one day 24 of them went to the Block Education Officer’s office and demanded that their school be assigned teaching staff. It paid dividends. They were allotted two teachers.

The SDMC is very active in this village. The SDMC President himself is at the school every day and makes sure that the teachers are there and that they are all teaching.

We then walked to the school – a Higher Primary School (HPS) with 450 children; went to Std. V and started talking to the children about Math. We gave them simple sums in the presence of the teachers, SDMC members and parents and the children did better than we thought they would. The parents were very excited – this was the first time in living memory that they had actually gone to classrooms and seen for themselves how their children studied. It has given them confidence and they told us they would continue this practice periodically.

So Lesson # 2: Schools work better if teachers, SDMCs and parents work together.
That same afternoon we decided to visit a school by giving them only an hour’s notice. When schools expect us we always hear what we would like to hear and I for one have always been suspicious that we do not really know the truth all the time.

Our first glimpse of the school told me we were in for some rude shocks. The school yard was filthy and there was stagnant water. While the teachers were polite to us it was clear that they did not have a positive story to tell us. They started with complaints – how parents do not understand the value of education, how they were under-resourced and so on. To us the message was clear – it was an under-performing school. And when we started asking questions we learned that the SDMC was not functional, which means there was literally no one to keep an eye on the way the school was managed. This was the only school that asked us to write our comments in their school visitor’s book. No other school we went to had asked us to do so.

The following day we visited a similar school in Kushtagi Block of Koppal District and saw pretty much the same symptoms.

It became clear to us that Lesson # 3 was: There must be a robust, functioning SDMC to make the school work.

During these visits we noticed some interesting patterns: 
(a) Enrolment was high but the attendance of children was typically 70-75%, which meant that either on an average school day more than 25% of the children are absent or the enrolment number is wrong. (b) The ratio of male to female children in the schools that were poorly managed was highly disproportionate – schools that were well managed had near parity in the gender ratio.

While conditions are certainly far from desirable it has to be said to the credit of the government and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) that there was adequate infrastructure – nowhere did we see dilapidated schools. It was also clear that when a demand for better schooling was articulated by the community, the system found a way to get what the schools needed.

So, to my mind it then becomes a question of deciding if the glass is half-full or half-empty. If the former, then teachers and SDMCs and parents do manage to find ways to leverage existing investments and improve the schools but if the attitude is that the glass is half-empty and we cannot move till it is full, then the schools and the children lose out. The challenge for all of us would then be – how do we manage to improve the quality of demand, start from what we have and build on it? This is something that Akshara will work hard to achieve and we need the support of everyone in society to make this happen.
Ashok Kamath,
Akshara Foundation