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Promoting Activity-based Learning in Tamil Nadu: Teachers as Catalysts of Change

Activity based learning transforming the way children are taught
© UNICEF/India/2006
Activity based learning transforming the way children are taught

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, September 1: Each day, Amudha, a teacher at the Corporation Primary School in Chennai’s Thiruvanmiyur area, looks forward to school. ``It’s encouraging to see children asking questions, voice their opinions and enjoy their lessons, something they never did just a couple of years ago. They treat me as their friend and I like it.’’, she says with delight.

Amudha’s optimism isn’t misplaced. When the Corporation of Chennai adopted Activity Based Learning (ABL) on a trial basis in 13 government schools in the city in 2003, it was in effect transforming the way children till then had been taught.

A transforming trip

Amudha was among the first 26 teachers who were selected for training at Rishi Valley School in Andhra Pradesh. They learnt the fundamentals of activity based learning from the UNICEF supported project there. [UNICEF supports Chennai Corporation in their schools programme and RISHI Valley Education Resource Centre (RIVER) has been identified and advocated by UNICEF  as a resource agency to promote child-centred and activity-based learning]

Back home in Chennai, they got to work together.  Shanthi, her colleague, remembers the many hours the team spent analyzing the best way to present words and numbers and add colour to lessons with rhymes, song, drama and charts. ``We wanted to help children gain a real education,’’ she says. They created activity-cards, shattering conservative convictions that creating curricula was the exclusive preserve of the highly-learned.

Activity based learning - adding colour to lessons with rhymes, song, drama and charts
© UNICEF/India/2006
Activity based learning - adding colour to lessons with rhymes, song, drama and charts

The effort paid off. ``Children today are able to understand what they learn. The system allows children to learn at their own pace and hence slow learning does not stop a child from gaining an education.  I feel proud to be part of this system,’’ says Meera, an ABL teacher at the Corporation Middle School in the city’s Purasaiwalkam area.

Earlier, even if a child didn’t do well in class, he or she was promoted to the next grade. That’s why, shockingly, even fifth-graders struggled to read a simple sentence in Tamil, their mother tongue. With ABL, the teachers had an opportunity to change that.

Today, ABL classrooms encourage children to ask many questions and think creatively. Amudha, Shanthi, Sathianathan and Meera say they will give all it takes to help poor children get the education they deserve, to make learning child-friendly and to build confidence in the young minds. 

They are encouraged to see their children motivated to learn well. ``As teachers, we are happy to have a chance to give these children quality education. Even at home I’m thinking of new activities like puzzles and picture stories to present in class. I hope the system will be adopted successfully across Tamil Nadu,’’ says Shanthi.

As the children excitedly took to this new teaching-learning method, the teachers met every Saturday to discuss ways to improve card content, correct symmetry in material presentation and exchange ideas to induce participative learning. In February 2004 the revised cards were out and soon, all 270 government schools in the city were using them.

Many of the children in government-run schools come from marginalized families or are very poor. ``While making the activity cards, I would constantly think about how much these children go through emotionally. I wanted to make their learning as joyful as possible,’’ says Sathianathan, who teaches at the Corporation Primary School in Pulianthope.

Starting this June, the State Government has taken the ABL learning initiative to 4,000 Government-run schools in the state. The way children are learning is changing across the state thanks to the efforts of hundreds of teachers like Shanti and Amudha.

– Sumithra Thangavelu & Thomas George

 

 

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