Pratham's Summer True Education Programme: Massive replication needed

F or the second year in a row, Pratham conducted its Summer True Education Program (STEP) from April 20 to May 19 with outstanding results. About 250 children  from four government high schools in Mysore and five in surrounding rural areas of T Narasipura benefited from the programme.  

When I went to interact with some of them, they were asking me why is Pratham ending the programme so quickly.  They wanted Pratham to extend the programme to other children and also during the normal school hours. About 40 per cent of the children did not miss even one class. This clearly shows that the children were enjoying coming to STEP rather than watching TV or doing other things. 

Usually the summer camps  are designed to keep the children occupied with playing games. Therefore one may ask what is so startling about the children asking the summer school to continue. 

In reality Pratham’s STEP is any thing but fun and game the way usual summer camps are organised for the rich and middle class. 

Challenge brighter students

Neither are they remedial teaching activities or tuition classes conducted for those students who have fallen behind the studies. STEP is designed to challenge the brighter students from the government schools so that they can pursue professional courses like those who attend private schools. 

Every day during the Summer True Education Program, classes are conducted for four hours dealing with topics like maths puzzles, fun maths, essay writings, talent sessions, science experiment, true education, knowledge bridge, story telling, e-toys, spoken English and question asking skills. The main objective of STEP is to encourage children to ask questions in the class rooms without any inhibition and to promote critical thinking.
 Encouragement

Every child was encouraged to read books, an activity which is missing today both in the government and private schools. Our experience has showed that given the opportunity and encouragement, children love to read books. Just about every one has read more than three to four books with some reading more than 20 books in a short period of 30 days. 

After reading books they also had to write their impression of what they read. Essay writing, which again is not encouraged in the schools was appreciated by the children.

True education sessions covered topics like corruption, saving resources, India’s contribution to the world etc. In short all the activities were designed to make children think critically and ask questions.  

Initiative

It was because of the initiative of Kumarswamy, the head master of Maharaja PU College, Pratham succeeded in having STEP in four centres this year. Last year we had it only in one place. HMs of all the four schools cooperated fully with Pratham. 

However it was a disappointment that neither teachers nor education department officials showed interest to find out what was going on. It is our hope that some of them will come forward to participate in STEP in the future so that they can implement similar activities during regular school days to help their students.  

STEP was equally well received in rural areas. Despite the problems of finding resource people there, thanks to the interest shown by School Development and Monitoring Committees, STEP was successful in attracting rural children. 

Rural parents

This clearly shows that parents are also very keen in rural areas to educate their children provided we can come up with innovative ways of reforming education. If they are challenged the way urban children, they can be equally high achievers in schools and be able to get admission into professional colleges. 

We all know that children attending government schools are decreasing and government schools are closing down. Now with the proper implementation of RTE, it is more than likely that the number of government schools will go down even more. 

In this background, the government schools have to start competing with the private schools. 

It is not that all the private schools are good. But the government schools are unable to attract students despite their teachers having better qualifications and regular training. Because of this they have to try harder with innovative teaching strategies.   STEP is definitely one such program to help them. In fact already there is a greater demand for admission into all the four schools where STEP program was conducted this year. Is it a mere coincidence or the result of STEP?  Pratham is also planning a new initiative to conduct Learning Camps using the lessons learnt from conducting STEP to help the government school students. 

A program like STEP is needed even in the case of private schools. Just because their examination results are relatively better than the government schools, it does not imply their students are getting true education. As mentioned earlier, it is all rote learning. At least in the case of the government schools, they need to act fast to prevent closure to face the competition. 

But there is no such driving force in private schools to improve education. For them high pass percentage and scoring high marks are considered as signs of excellence. Unless we get rid of the public examination system and switch over to introducing continuous and comprehensive evaluation system, it is impossible to reform the education system.  Bhamy V. Shenoy, Advisor to Pratham, Mysore   

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