Edtech Solutions Can Equip Students To Self-pace Learning: Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja, Central Square Foundation

CEO and managing director of Central Square Foundation (CSF), Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja in conversation with BW Education, opens up on Foundational Literacy & Numeracy skills, challenges faced by schools in developing them and CSF's efforts in improving the level

Shaveta Sharma-Kukreja is the CEO and managing director at Central Square Foundation (CSF). She has been part of the founding team at CSF since 2012. Kukreja leads the foundation's work on Foundational Literacy & Numeracy (FLN), Early Childhood Education (ECE) and Edtech and oversees the organisation’s institution building. Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:

What strategies do you apply to develop FLN skills in pre-primary and primary school students for holistic child development?

Since 2012, CSF has been partnering with the government and ecosystem stakeholders to improve the learning outcomes of children from low-income communities. CSF’s goal is to tip the system towards attaining targeted FLN outcomes at the student level. To achieve this, we follow a comprehensive four-pronged approach:

Goal setting and communication: Setting and aligning system-wide FLN goals and metrics, while engaging with political leadership, parents and the community and leaders from the education ecosystem to build salience around FLN.

Structured pedagogy approach: Advocating for adoption of a pedagogically sound approach to ensure alignment of teaching and learning resources with FLN Learning Outcomes Framework.

System capacity building: Developing capacity of teachers for effective classroom teaching and of the middle management in coaching, data management and planning to ensure effective FLN delivery.

FLN governance and data: Providing strategic support on key governance issues and developing monitoring system and data analysis solutions for FLN reporting, tracking and data-based decision-making.

Shed some light on the NIPUN Bharat Mission as an initiative to improve FLN levels.

In July 2021, the Ministry of Education launched a nationwide mission, NIPUN Bharat (National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy). This central mission is indeed one of the most robust initiatives taken by any country towards FLN reform. So far, there has been encouraging progress in the design and implementation of NIPUN programmes across different states. While the NIPUN Bharat Mission has reached the classrooms in the form of revised teaching-learning materials and learning assessment data, we are hopeful to see a change in student learning outcomes over the coming months with continued implementation, coupled with a focus on practice and behaviour change.

Underline the reasons behind the struggle with basic reading and comprehension skills despite high enrolment rates in primary grades.

There are a number of factors that can be attributed to children’s poor reading and comprehension skills. But largely they are across two levels - Classroom and Managerial.

At the classroom level, breakdowns that are visible include inadequate instructional time and ineffective teaching. Focussing on these issues alone may not move the needle on outcomes because they are a manifestation of a deeper problem. Our classroom teaching practices are not enough to enable the acquisition of FLN skills. The Grade 1 curriculum requires children to possess certain pre-literacy and numeracy skills for them to be able to follow what is taught in the classroom. However, students are often not ready for Grade 1 when they enter school. This is sometimes made worse by significant instructional time being lost due to administrative burdens on teachers.

As for the management of schools, FLN is not always a goal; student learning outcomes across grades are not prioritised. There is limited support to deliver and monitor it. Even where learning outcomes are defined, most stakeholders in the system do not share a common understanding of what children are expected to learn by Grade 3.

Suggest best practices that states can adopt to improve educational outcomes.

Some common elements of the reform framework that CSF adopts in its states to improve educational outcomes include:

Establishment of a clear learning outcomes framework: Influencing the state to identify and develop a clear set of student learning outcomes to serve as a measure of FLN levels at various FLN grades.

Creation of a comprehensive monitoring system: Influencing the state to develop an FLN Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Framework, create tech-based data collection and establish dashboards with district and block-level foundational learning delivery scorecards.

Integration of a structured pedagogy approach and assessment-Informed instruction: Encouraging the state to reform all materials used in FLN classrooms and commit to ensuring that all teachers are accountable for effective utilisation.

Enhancement of teachers' FLN teaching competency through effective teacher professional development (TPD): encouraging the state to reform face-to-face training and use digital content and school supervision to improve teachers' FLN teaching competency.

Provision of mentoring support to all FLN teachers: encouraging states to establish a cadre of mentors who offer at-school structured support to teachers, enhancing material usage and using assessments to track children's progress.

Establishment of regular and effective cascaded review of FLN delivery using scorecards: influencing the state to review FLN delivery through FLN scorecards and learning trends, and supporting the creation of effective district and block implementation plans.

What is the role of edtechs in enhancing foundational learning outcomes for children aged 3-10 years across the country?

High-quality and pedagogically sound edtech interventions have the potential to shape the learning outcomes of children. Edtech’s significance was asserted during the 18-month-long COVID-19-induced school closures wherein remote learning solutions played a crucial role in continuing learning at home. Studies have shown how device consumption at a household level in rural India has increased by 31.1 per cent (*ASER Reports) over the last four years.

CSF has been supporting edtech solutions focussed on achieving foundational literacy and numeracy at homes since 2019. For example, CSF has been partnering with ‘Chimple’ since 2019 - a game-based, personalized app to build foundational literacy and numeracy - to contextualise the product in Hindi and other vernacular languages for the Indian market. In 2022-23, CSF supported Chimple in the implementation and evaluation of its teacher-directed at-home learning model. The study aimed to assess the impact of a teacher-directed edtech app that facilitates formative learning on students’ learning outcomes.

In 2022, the Back To School Outcomes Fund Edtech Accelerator was set up by a consortium of leading non-profit and philanthropic organisations in the education sector, with CSF being the design and implementation partner. The accelerator will enable contextually relevant remorse learning solutions by nurturing and strengthening 8 edtech solutions for FLN. This will aid in democratising access to high-quality digital learning solutions for all. Edtech solutions can equip students to self-pace their learning as per their current learning levels, reinforce key concepts taught in the classroom and help parents to support and engage meaningfully with their child’s learning journey.

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