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Activity based learning- A radical change in Primary Education

© UNICEF/India/2006
The key feature of the ABL method is that it uses child-friendly educational aids to foster self-learning and allows a child to study according to his or her aptitude and skill.

By Sumithra Thangavelu

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, 20 April 2006: Seven-year-old Veeramani, a student of the Corporation Middle school at Nungambakkam in Chennai city, walks up to his teacher and hands out his English notebook for correction. His lesson for the day is words beginning with the letter J and he reads aloud. ``J-A-C-K-A-L, Jackal, J-U-G, Jug, J-U-N-G-L-E, Jungle…’’ Seven months ago, this shy boy could not read or write, and made no effort to learn.
The UNICEF-supported ABL venture, first undertaken by the Chennai Corporation in 13 schools on a trial basis in 2003, has been adopted by all the 270 primary schools in the district, transforming the way thousands of children are taught everyday.

Veeramani’s remarkable progress and participation in class is credit to the Activity Based Learning (ABL) method that hopes to change the face of primary education in the state of Tamil Nadu. Through innovative teaching methods and by actively involving the children in the learning process, this initiative has caught the imagination of both teachers and students alike. 
The UNICEF-supported ABL venture, first undertaken by the Chennai Corporation in 13 schools on a trial basis in 2003, has been adopted by all the 270 primary schools in the district, transforming the way thousands of children are taught everyday.

Jaishankar, a sprightly six-year-old enjoys Maths. Before leaving school, he runs up to his teacher to ask for some homework. His face lights up when the teacher obliges with a few sums on addition. Muthuselvi, the Maths teacher is all praise for the ``bright boy’’ who she says is a fast learner.

The key feature of the ABL method is that it uses child-friendly educational aids to foster self-learning and allows a child to study according to his or her aptitude and skill. Sangeetha, a 10-year-old, would normally be in grade four but she enrolled late in school. The system allows her to start from the basics. Now Sangeetha is learning lessons meant for grade one and picking up fast. ``I am confident I will learn soon,’’ she says.

Under the system, the curriculum is divided into small units, each a group of Self Learning Materials (SLM) comprising attractively designed study cards for English, Tamil, Maths, Science and Social Science. When a child finishes a group of cards, he completes one `milestone’.

Activities in each milestone include games, rhymes, drawing, and songs to teach a letter or a word, form a sentence, do maths and science, or understand a concept. The child takes up an Exam Card only after completing all the milestones in a subject. If a child is absent one day, he continues from where he left unlike in the old system where the child had to learn on his own what he missed out on.

© UNICEF/India/2006
According to observers the ABL method has created a visible improvement in children’s learning and psychology. Children learn to make independent decisions at a young age, from choosing their activity card for the day, to marking their own attendance.

The classroom system is still multi-grade– where grades one, two and three sit together in one classroom. In some ABL schools, classroom spaces are made lively with charts and drawings. ``It’s nice to see children learn with interest, without fear,’’ says Muthuselvi.

Educationists are optimistic that the ABL system will provide quality education to children in government schools while the uneducated children from poor backgrounds can be initiated in the system as well. ``Earlier, we used to pass every student even if they did not know how to read or write. In ABL, every child who passes the first and second standard will definitely know how to read and write. It’s a great achievement,’’ says the school headmistress, Ms. Parameshwari.
First designed and tested by the Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh in the 90s, the Activity Based Learning system has been successfully implemented in several Indian states, including Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

Kamal, 8, was found wandering at a railway station and now lives at an orphanage here. After eight months in the school, he has learnt to read and write in Tamil and English. His teacher is confident Kamal will continue to be a fast learner.

Integrated in the curriculum are activities to create awareness about the environment, sanitation, health and nutrition. These are brought across through innovative methods like Bommalattam (a puppetry show) in Tamil and through song and rhymes. As Ramasamy and Kuppusamy – two `puppet’ characters in the story – discuss the importance of drinking clean water, and dangers of heavy pollution in the city, the children keenly watch the shadows move on the white screen and listen closely. ``Drinking dirty water makes you sick,’’ says Pavithra, an eight-year-old, after the presentation.

First designed and tested by the Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh in the 90s, the Activity Based Learning system has been successfully implemented in several Indian states, including Karnataka, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, UNICEF supported the Chennai Corporation to introduce the ABL methods in the Government schools.
According to observers the ABL method has created a visible improvement in children’s learning and psychology. Children learn to make independent decisions at a young age, from choosing their activity card for the day, to marking their own attendance. ``The best part is that the children living on the streets, those who get only a meal a day, who are without parents or who are forced to work are all given quality education and able to read and write like the more privileged children,’’ says Mercy Joy Joshua, Supervisor of Schools, involved in assessing the progress of the ABL system.

Under the Government of India’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme – which envisages universal elementary education for children in the 6-14 age group by 2010 – ten schools in each block across Tamil Nadu will soon be included in the system, bringing the total number of schools using Activity Based Learning to 4,000.
``This year we will focus on sensitization drives, workshops, teacher training and problem solving. By 2010 every Government primary school in Tamil Nadu will be effectively implementing it.’’ says Mr. M P Vijayakumar, Corporation Commissioner who is the moving force behind the ABL initiative in the Chennai Corporation schools.

 

 
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