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Learning at one’s own pace

© UNICEF/India/2006
Fun way to learn

By Vasuki Belavadi

Tumkur: They are all kids of different ages. They attend school but the teacher doesn’t impose restrictions. There’s a blackboard but it’s all along the lower wall. They learn alphabets, social studies and math but the teacher hardly ‘teaches’ them. Of the six hours they are in school, they spend at least two hours roaming about nearby.

So what kind of a school is this? One asks in exasperation. We are at a government upper primary school, Tumkur district, Karnataka. The Nali-Kali classroom!

Nali Kali- Play and Learn

“Nali Kali literally means ‘PLAY AND LEARN’. In India, Multi-grade classrooms are a reality and this method aims at supporting exactly that. It has some in built advantages of addressing multilevel learning stages of different students of the same age that exists within a class.,” says Mrs. Sukanya Subramanian, Assistant Project Officer – Education for Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka at Hyderabad Field Office of UNICEF.

The difference is distinct. While in all other classrooms students ‘listen’ to the teacher and sit in neat rows of boys and girls, kids in the Nali-Kali (NK) class are all over the place. There’s constant chattering while the other classrooms observe pin-drop silence.

There are over 7000 schools in Karnataka offering the Nali-Kali classes, the first one to be established in 1995.

“The difference is clearly noticeable. When students are grouped and learning happens in a non-formal mode, they’re likely to remember it longer,” says Roopashri, teacher at the Horagere government school.

The concept that took off on the Rishi Valley mode of teaching learning, believes in reduced learning loads and total mastery at the minimum level of learning. Therefore, when Dharamesha and his classmates wish to learn alphabets, they do so from cards placed on racks in the classroom. They sit and write out the curves until they’ve mastered the alphabet. They then combine various alphabets to form words. And all through this process, all they get is a nudge here and a suggestion there from the teacher. The teacher doesn’t  have a table and chair but sits among the students.

“I like coming to school because our teacher is so good! She doesn’t scold us! She plays games, sings songs and allows us to scribble all over the wall,” beams Sharat a third ‘level’ student.

Maths, normally not a favourite by students is one of the most liked subject in the Nali-Kali classroom. And how does Swati learn that 59 is less than 73? She has a bunch of cards with numbers written on them. She places one next to another and keeps changing positions until she realizes 59 is less than 73 or that 73 is more than 59.

Discussion leads to decision
© UNICEF/India/2006
Discussion leads to decision

The innumerable charts on the walls and cards hanging from the ceiling are full of illustrations of animals, birds, vegetables, fruits, vehicles, household objects, maps, and pictures from various festivals, important leaders of the freedom struggle. Teachers make it a point to update the cards whenever the Prime Minister or the President changes. That’s how Maneppa knows that KR Narayanan was the President before APJ Abdul Kalam! Workbooks supplied by UNICEF supplement their learning.

Just before lunch, Ramyashri, Chaitra and Thippesha of the first ‘level’, run out of the class room. Asked what they’re doing outside when their other classmates are still in the classroom, they show the cards they’re holding. The card has illustrations of a water tank, a tap, a bucket and a mug. The kids are supposed to explore for themselves where these objects are and write out their uses.
Reflecting on the whole process Sukanya feels, “Nalli kalli helps children progress at their own pace; eliminates unhealthy competition and the fear of exams; fosters group work with ample space for individual work as well. In fact it completely does away with inhibitions that marked the children from government schools earlier.”

So, the kids learn at their own pace. How does one know they’ve learnt something or not? The ‘self-evaluation’ chart enables teachers and students know where they stand. Kids ‘mark’ their ‘progress’ on the chart only when they’re confident about their learning. And the best part is, they don’t even have a single examination! “Since the self-evaluation follows the ‘ladder’ model, students ‘climb’ various steps before they are competent to attend conventional classes,” says Basavaraju, senior teacher. He introduced the concept in his school after attending SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan – Education for all campaign by GOI) workshops supported by UNICEF.

Post lunch is drawing time! The innumerable charts and cards and their explorations find expression in their drawings. “I love this class because I can draw whatever I want. There’re so many crayons and pencils!” giggles an excited Chitra of the second level.

A random quiz with the students goes to prove that this non-intrusive teaching model is effective. This leaves one with little doubt that Nali-Kali will make better individuals of the kids.

 

 

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