Upper Primary School in Gouth Mahudi

In a sunny schoolyard in the Upper Primary School in Gouth Mahudi (Aspur block, Dungarpur district) ten-year-olds play on a huge map of India painted on the floor.

UNICEF India
A girl in classroom.
UNICEF India
24 June 2019

In a sunny schoolyard in the Upper Primary School in Gouth Mahudi (Aspur block, Dungarpur district) ten-year-olds play on a huge map of India painted on the floor. Nearby, younger students work on their numeracy skills, but without textbooks and pencils. Instead, they’re pouring water from cups of different sizes. This school is not unusual. Not far away, the Upper Primary School in Parda Solanki village in the same district has classrooms geared for multi-grade, multi-level teaching, their walls brightly painted with learning materials. Small groups of children read colourful English textbooks together. When one of them encounters a difficult word, peers – rather than the teacher -- help her understand what it means.

Girls looking at a mobile phone in classroom.
UNICEF India
Girls looking at a mobile phone in classroom.

All over Rajasthan, government primary schools have switched to a new child-centred pedagogy developed in collaboration with UNICEF which focuses on group learning, innovative non-textbook learning materials and a system of continuous assessment. These systemic changes, effected through Rajasthan’s State Initiative for Quality Education (SIQE) and supported by UNICEF, have led to the state’s steady rise among all states to the top of the education charts in National Achievement Survey 2017. Till 2015, government schools in the state were bogged down by high dropout rates, low attendance and poor learning outcomes. At this point, UNICEF stepped in and not only developed the revolutionary new pedagogy, but also created supporting infrastructure and built the capacity of the District Institute of Education and Training (DIET). From a successful pilot of 200 schools, UNICEF was able to support the Government in an ambitious project to scale the new pedagogy to all 64,606 government primary schools across Rajasthan.

A teacher teaching in her class to children.
UNICEF India
A teacher teaching in her class to children.

Students, teachers and parents say that this has transformed the classroom. “We help each other to learn now,” says Bhavika Meena, Class 7 student of Gouth Mahudi’s Upper Primary School. “And if we still don’t understand, we ask the teacher!” Her teacher Anita Parmar says that regular trainings from the DIET have improved her communications skills as well as teaching methodology. Since the lessons are activity-based, she finds that students no longer need to cram mindlessly like they did earlier for passing examinations. Her observation is borne out by Anup Singh Sisodia, chief block education officer in Aspur. “The new pedagogy is enabling students to engage in self-directed learning, making them less afraid of exams and ensuring that their fundamental concepts in Mathematics and English are strengthened by the time they graduate to Class 6,” he says. Going forward, he believes that this is bound to further improve learning outcomes in the state. The pedagogy has been extended up to Class 8 in nine blocks. “This should be done across the state for even better learning outcomes,” he says.

Children playing in playground.
UNICEF India
Children playing in playground.

Teachers – crucially seen as enablers in the classroom, participate in monthly workshops conducted by the DIET in association with UNICEF. “They share their experiences of the new pedagogy and together we try and solve any problems they face,” says Dharmesh Jain, senior lecturer DIET. “Earlier, we teachers would often go to the classroom without a plan,” Devanand Upadhyay, primary school teacher and key resource person/master trainer at the Parda Solanki school confesses.

Map of India painted by children.
UNICEF India
Map of India painted by children.

“Now we plan lessons 15 days in advance and consistently ensure no student falls behind when the class moves on to a new topic.” Teachers have noted that some parents are shifting their children out from private schools to government schools. Anganwadi worker Yashoda Devi of Gouth Mahudi is one such parent. She sought admission for her children Bhavika and Virendra in government school when other parents praised its teachers, creative classroom practices and the scope for greater parental involvement. “Private school didn’t engage my children like this,” she says. “Now, both children enjoy going to school, they are taking greater interest in their studies and their scholastic performance has improved!”

Children served lunch in school.
UNICEF India
Children served lunch in school.

Teachers and students alike find that the new pedagogy fosters deeper communication between them. This, along with better learning outcomes, has perhaps encouraged students in this remote corner of the Thar Desert, mostly first-generation learners, to find the confidence to dream big. Yashoda Devi’s son Virendra (now in class eight) wants to become a police officer. Her daughter Bhavika dreams of a career in medicine. “The education they are receiving here gives me hope,” she says. “Perhaps their future will be rosier than mine…”