Two days ago, one of the top dailies in India – The Times of India (TOI) – reported on its City page (Mumbai) of a new proposal by the Maharashtra state government to “introduce competency tests for aided primary schools from the next academic year…[administered] by external agencies for students from Class I to VIII.”

 

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Back here at the InOpen office, we got to thinking about the merits and demerits of adding such a test to the Right To Education Act’s existing “Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation” (CCE) framework. By design, the CCE is meant to significantly reduce the stress of a single high-stakes Xth grade exam, as was the case with the Indian education boards. The framework stipulates several additional modes of assessing learning, such as year round formative assessments, assignments and projects, which when tracked sincerely produce a more holistic picture of a student’s achievements. Education Officer Dipika Mishra (DM) and Education Development Manager Pem Zimik (PZ) weighed in on the matter with their initial reactions.

FOR

IMG-20150314-WA0001Several principals have stated their concern about this proposal. Where do you stand?
DM: I agree with the proposal. Specifically, it is the aspect of “external testing” that appeals to me. Internal assessments tend to have the potential to pose integrity issues.

Doesn’t that bring us back to the existence of a single high-stakes exam model?
DM: It certainly could become that, but we need to ensure that the test in fact checks for competency and thinking skills. It should definitely not determine pass/ fail!

How is competency different from knowledge (of facts, figures, terms)?
DM: Well, by competency, I refer to the ability to apply what you know in new scenarios.

Imagine you have been endowed the authority to take this forward. What would you focus on?
DM: I think this test would be a good opportunity to assess students’ ability and requirements. At the end of the day, a well designed test is one that takes into account the different student needs. Needs could take the form of, say, i) greater inclination towards specific subjects, ii) different learning styles, iii) different test taking styles. Another underlying assumption we should revisit is the idea of a grade levels. One group of kids labeled Grade V currently may internalise grade V knowledge in one year (and therefore will fit the societal assumption), whereas another group may require greater (or fewer!) number of instruction hours for the same topics. Therefore, whereas an end of year test is important as a periodical check, it cannot just be blindly standardized without catering to these important differences.

 

AGAINST

PemWhat is your main take away from this proposal?
PZ: I completely echo the concerns issued by the many principals. The introduction of a new test is unnecessary in the current scheme. The CCE is a move in the right direction (away from the high-stakes model), and we should focus on fine-tuning the implementation of this existing mechanism. We need explore ways in which assessments within the CCE framework can be designed such that they achieve the same objective as that of this proposed test.

You’re implying that such a test is then a step back from the original intent of the CCE?
PZ: Yes, absolutely. I think such a test is effectively a regression of the CCE to the old model. The CCE is meant to be “continuous” and “comprehensive” gauging of what a kid has learned. Compared to the old model, it is superior in terms of scope and actual ability of capturing a more well rounded “conclusion” about a child’s achievements. Take for example how it outlines a list of criteria/ learning outcomes for each subject that – and this is what is new – must uniquely be tracked with grades allotted for each, vis-à-vis a the single test model in which individual learning outcomes are often lost in being clubbed together as in, say, an “English Test” or “Science Test”.

What is your counter-proposal?
PZ: Divert resources into meaningful CCE training programs, instead of bearing the costs of administering a state-wide test! One of the issues with the status quo is that many educators feel they don’t actually know what they’re supposed to be doing, and that the induction provided (if it was) was inadequate. The bottomline is that many still see it as an add-on duty that simply adds work to their already burgeoning to-do lists. More focus needs to be put into these initial training programs that will help teachers (and school management) transition into this new method. We need to prepare them to engage in higher quality implementation of CCE, and not just another paperwork heavy task.

As to concerns with potential integrity issues that may assail internal systems of assessments?
PZ: That’s a valid point. Still, I like to believe in teachers, believe in the best in them. My sense is that instances of breach merely represent the proverbial few bad apples, and do not reflect true macro tendencies. We need to put our faith in teachers, give them the training – meaningful, well designed training programs, and go from there!

 

Editor’s Note: To be sure, we all observed that the news article, in and of itself, was a fairly introductory description of the proposal. As such, it lacks details of the proposal and the manner/method of testing, which no doubt will stream in over time. We recommend keeping your eyes peeled for more news on this prior to settling in on a final opinion – we’ll be doing the same!

 

The news article in question appeared in the Times of India, Mumbai Edition on 12 March 2015: TNN, “Schools say new tests not needed to evaluate kids, Want tool available under RTE Act to be used in correct way,” Times of India, P.8

 

 [#FromTheField: Stories of transformation through the eyes of an InOpener]

 

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BRRrrrrrrrrrrring!

The bell rang loudly through the school corridors. The students of Class V A streamed out of their classroom, visibly excited and energetic. Their next period was Computer Science. This meant they could take a break from sitting, and waltz across the school to head to their IT lab! House rules dictated that students should form an orderly line just outside the lab and enter in a file once their computer science teacher Mr. Sakaar had given the green light. Once inside, boys and girls alike sat, eagerly awaiting Mr. Sakaar’s announcement about the day’s activities .

NishantComputer Masti teamster Nishant had visited this high-resource urban school multiple times before.  One of the items on his agenda was to undertake a classroom observation, for which he chose an unobtrusive part of the room to be seated. Much like the kids, he was excited to know what was about to happen, too.

Mr. Sakaar had decided to take his fifth graders on a mental trip back to the concepts of Brainstorming and Mind-maps covered in the last class. Opting for a quick Q&A session to kickstart exploration, he asked the class, “All right then, what is a Mind Map?” His eyes fell on a boy sitting in one of the first rows, Nirbhay, and called on him. “What do you think?”

Nirbhay became visibly tense. Nishant could tell that the boy was so filled with a sudden fear that he was unable to say anything at all! Unsure and feeling under-confident, Nirbhay began to attempt an answer, only to hear himself stammering.Level2Lesson5Theory_Image-05

The entire class started laughing out loud, pointing and giggling at what appeared to be a folly. Nirbhay squirmed in his seat.

Without skipping a beat, Mr. Sakaar said,

“Hey, that’s all right. No one gets it right at the first time!”

His immediate reassurance, combined with the positivity of his body language and tone, had a transformative impact on the boy. Nirbhay’s worried face broke into a huge sunrise smile.Level2 Lesson2Activity_Images-03.

Nirbhay’s classmates appeared to have grasped what had just happened.  Many of them took their cue from Mr. Sakaar, and began to encourage Nirbhay in a friendly manner.

A minute later, he stood up confidently to explain what he thought a mind-map was and the function it served.

“You’re on the right track!” exclaimed Mr. Sakaar.

This was a high moment for each student in the class. Nirbhay’s classmates had also been uncomfortable by his inaction at first, resorting to laughter as a reaction.  Just as Nirbhaya was uplifted by Mr. Sakaar’s camaraderie and faith, so too were his classmates able to organically pick up an alternate way to react to someone in a difficult position.

Mr. Sakaar had, in the subtlest of ways, reinforced the values of kindness, patience and empathy in the classroom. The best lesson learned that day took place unexpectedly right at the beginning, and it proved to be an amazing act of gentleness and firmness in an educator.

To Nishant, this was just the kind of holistic teaching, transcending subject matter and technical skills, that is  the stuff of inspiration! Let’s all #LeadByExample. :)

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Student competitions are a great way to get learners spirited and striving to test their own abilities. Winning that prize is not too shabby either. ;-)

Our super academic team members Surbhi and Dipika headed to Nashik this week to conduct a Computer Masti Competition at the Panchvati Education Society (PES) schools. The group comprises both English and Gujarati medium schools, all of which implement our Computer Science program.

Students from Grades V – VIII were invited to the ring, with teachers getting involved in conducting in-house assessments to select fifteen students per grade (from across the two language types).

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Students worked in pairs to tackle competition prompts that were basically combinations of a theme and application activities:

  • Themes: Football, Other general sports, Swachh Bharat (Clean India)
  • Applications: Scratch (create a game or a quiz), TuxPaint (create a digital story/slideshow)

Countdown was set at one hour – and the pairs were off like a shot! Excited fingers seized the keyboards and mouses, and got cracking.

 

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The result of the competition was a great flurry of planning, collaboration, trial and error, and time bound submissions – every child simply had to put to work thinking skills and life skills! The final projects were graded based on a student-project rubric developed by the team for our Computer Masti Winter Camp student creations.

First and second prize winners were selected. The former won cool Headsets (with mics!), and the latter received sweet USB drives.

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ALL participants were awarded with bright yellow – official! – certificates, just for being such sporting competitors. :D

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Boy, what a day it’s been. Nice work, team!

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It took 20 years from the introduction of the Internet to reach 100 million users. The second 100 million will likely be reached within three years, and the third in less than a year. In fact, the next four years will see nearly 350 million additional Internet users…

…The Internet economy is also an employment generation engine. The ‘Internet’ sector already employs ~4-5 lakh people and is expected to create nearly 15-20 lakh jobs by 2018.

– India@Digital.Bharat, November 2014
(A Boston Consulting Group Report)

The numbers show that we yet abound at the 300 million mark. This is just a quarter of India’s population; we have a long way to go. Which is why the expected exponential rise is extremely exciting! The more widely spread web connectivity (infrastructure + access), the more likely its democratizing effects will actually “trickle down” to the masses.

 

What do we mean by democratizing?

A phenomenon wherein information becomes available and accessible to all individuals, in which Choice in participating is no longer limited by geography, socio-economic conditions, or educational background and exposure.

 

That last piece there is what we at InOpen want to help accelerate!

Through our Computer Masti academic program, we have been bringing innovative computer science curriculum, content and hands-on teacher coaching at schools from a wide cross-section: private, government, NGO-run, urban, rural, high income, low income, and all permutations therein!

Here’s what’s new…

 …last week we began a new intervention specifically targeting Adult Digital Literacy training needs in  four “blocks” (=sub-districts) within the Raigad District of Maharashtra. Planned three-day training events were flagged off by our amazing Marathi Team. They will continue over the course of the next weeks to cover a total of 150+ schools and 300+ teachers!

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Digital Literacy: I got this!

The training sessions will be more than just a digital literacy primer. Yes, teachers were introduced to the bare basics of terminology, tactile user experience, and evengraduated to using basic productivity tool. To generate a gauge for individual confidence, the team will employ work-in-pairs mini-project on Day 3. That’s not all! In classic fashion, attendees will walk away from our sessions with exposure to and awareness of additional life skills: brainstorming, mind-mapping, step-wise gathering of information, and interspersed with discussion and activities about safety, health and ethics matters related to the digital world.

That’s right, don’t forget: Stretch, rotate, take a break!

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The Team and Teachers

 

All schools under this new project are also beneficiaries of the Swades Foundation. InOpen is an official implementation partner of the Foundation. The first (and ongoing) project with Swades began with a pilot implementation of Computer Masti at 21 schools in a single block, later expanded to cover all four blocks in which the foundation has a presence.

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Before we get to technology in education, let’s examine the root of this term. “Techne” relates to skill or art. A technological advancement is thus a furthering of our ability to harness matter and forces with greater skill or artistic prowess. To be sure, we even speak of technique in the art world. Technology per se, however, has come to refer almost entirely to the development of practical tools in the digital space, applied sciences and engineering, and is, by definition and observation, in a perpetual state of change.

IMG_4994This leaves us with two areas of knowledge that must be acquired in order to leverage technology in learning. The first area concerns itself with what we call digital literacy, i.e. an introduction to the verbal, physical and functional attributes of available technology whether in the form of hardware or software.

The second relates to the development of digital fluency, which is the ability to independently repurpose the use of a piece of available technology in order to meet one’s shifting needs. The latter is integral in creating life-long learners, and is indisputably a worthwhile product of education.

One of the ways to facilitate a learner’s journey toward fluency is to instill in her an understanding of the underlying principles and concepts at hand. For example, with office application tools, encourage platform independence by exploring the rationale for the interface, the icons and menus, and widen creative assumptions by exploring their less obvious uses such as planning and organizing. Whereas with programming, why not first establish a grasp of step-wise thinking and the concept of giving directions? A healthy foundation of conceptual clarity is a prerequisite to digital fluency, and today’s educational content must rise to challenge. Take for instance, the academic curriculum Computer Masti, which was made for use at the school level and was specifically developed to achieve this transcendence from literacy to fluency. Educators are beginning to recognize this need, and are looking to such academic programs for implementation.

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Earlier, fluency was described as the ability to respond to shifting needs with agility. It follows then that another prerequisite skill in this case is the ability to recognize needs in the first place, and then to quickly ascertain whichfrom a list of known tech capabilities can produce the required outcome. This would require a mind that is familiar with different contexts and can think in interconnected ways. What better way to encounter variety than to be exposed to technology against the backdrop of the different disciplines taught at the school level? Animations for science class, mind-maps and flowcharts to visualize a historical event, Web research for a language project, to cite a few permutations. Instructional method that underscores the interconnectedness of disciplines is a closer facsimile of how information is received and how technology is used in real life. Enter the age of technology assisted teaching and learning!

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Teaching with technology not only opens a learner’s mind to the ways in which tech can be used, but also enhances the way the core subject content is received and internalized. Multimedia tools bring diversity in stimulation through audio, video and interactive components, disrupting the potential monotony of verbal-aural stimuli. Educators must of course ward against Ed Tech becoming just another addition to an automated assembly line of a lesson plan. Whereas content and creative pedagogy form the foundation of effective learning, technology can play a    significant part in making lessons more alluring to digital natives, thus increasing the chances of student alertness and participation. In addition, technological solutions to class planning and management are helping to expedite the transformation of the teacher’s function, from a “sage” to a “guide” to a “facilitator.”

Computer Masti Teacher Training Session
Technology in the form of information and communication tools has seen to it that knowledge has been vastly democratized, available to all, and theoretically accessible by all. The inadequacy of the proverbial four walls of a classroom has been touted for decades. We know that the age-old manner of one-way information transfer is an exercise that engenders rote learning. Over time, knowledge and life lessons began increasingly to be garnered from a variety of sources, in a myriad different ways, unbound by the borders of brick and mortar. This has also meant that other important stakeholders in education, not the least of whom are students and parents, have begun to play – and are now expected to play – more involved roles in the making of the learning experience.

Decidedly, we now live in a reality in which being a purveyor of knowledge is no longer a monopoly held by adult humans. Such a paradigm asks that we guide learners towards embracing their new role by devising creative ways to equip them with knowledge of available technological tools. Be sure to do the two-step at your school: teach tech, and teach with tech!

 [#FromTheField: Stories of transformation through the eyes of an InOpen’er]

Remember that time you were seven years old?

You were probably in the second grade. Very likely, Young Girlat least one (if not both!) of your front upper incisors had fallen off leaving you with an adorable toothless grin. Information on science, language, math and art were pouring in to your highly receptive brain. You had for the first time begun to get a hang of stringing several written sentences together. You were happiest when exploring, by yourself or with friends. It was the age of introduction to New Tools to articulate your own understanding of whatever New Knowledge had been presented: grammar, sentence structure, vocabulary, arts&crafts…

…and now to all those tools add computer science capabilities for students in today’s forward thinking schools! This is a story #FromTheField that occurred at one such school implementing the Computer Masti academic program.

Education Development Manager (EDM) Pem arrived at the school in the morning to conduct the visit she had planned. Making a visit to this particular school involved far less travel because it was located within city bounds. Her pre-planned agenda communicated to the school included visiting with the Principal, observation sessions in the classroom, followed by feedback and hand-holding meetings with the computer science teachers. Pem was excited to see how far the school had come along in its journey that had begun at the start of this academic year!

Pem sat in on a Grade II classroom, which featured a giddy mix of toothless grins on girls and boys. Prior to leading the band to the computer lab, the class teacher Ms. Graahi first drew a picture on the blackboard. It was the “classic” piece, churned out for decades on end: clouds, mountains, a peeping sunrise/sunset, a river running transverse, white space spotted with trees and houses. The prompt: Reproduce such a scene on the computer.

The kids opened Tux Paint. This is a free and open source tool for drawing, painting and digital storytelling that is incorporated into the Computer Masti learning experience. At this juncture, Pem began to see a trend unfold in the learning space.

Healthy Habits 1To many students, this “scenery” was a perfect abstraction! They had never once laid eyes on such a vista in real life, not when they had never left inner Mumbai. They were having a hard time being “creative” on a blank Tux Paint canvas when the assigned exercise was so specific. To compound this fact, several kids were as yet unable to handle the input devices effectively, let alone reproduce a picture. Drawn on a blackboard. In another classroom.

During the course of an observation session, the Computer Masti representative maintains a low profile, playing the part of a wallflower. Pem mulled over what she saw was an amazing missed opportunity to allow art and technology to broaden the minds of students and increase their confidence in technical application skills. She made a mental note to make this the key idea to leave with Ms. Graahi.

Much to Pem’s expectation, the open-minded Ms. Graahi took to her suggestion beautifully. There was a disconnect between the method of using uniform classroom exercises versus the twin learning outcomes of computer basics and creative exploration. “Art should be given a free hand!” exclaims Pem. In fact, in order for the learner to recognize the learning experience is an accumulation of interconnected knowledge of real life, instruction in any discipline should allow learners to tap in to what they already know and build from there. Also, as for the differing levels of prowess at the mouse and keyboard, it becomes important to devise a diverse set of class exercises with the aim of discouraging as few learners as possible.

The feedback discussion proved extremely productive, and Ms. Graahi is well on her way to creating meaningful learn-by-doing experiences for her second graders, toothless and otherwise. :D

Folks, Rashmi Bansal is at it again! In her latest work, ARISE, AWAKE, Bansal once again spins together a collection  of awesome tales of entrepreneurship. Co-founder and CEO Rupesh Shah is all set to make his debut appearance in a book – nice!

We’ve got a new newsletter out for a book launch event this weekend. Click on the screenshot below.

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Come along this Sunday, and say hello to Rashmi Bansal and Rupesh!

[You may have already received the newsletter through our subscription mailer list. If you are not on our list yet, go ahead and subscribe! Scroll to the bottom where you can "update subscription preferences". We are rather averse to spam ourselves, so trust us when we say we only send out updates of relevance and importance. We mean it. :) ]

Cheers and have a stellar weekend!

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InOpen Technologies is on a quest to change the way Computer Science is undertaken at schools. Over the past five years, the Computer Masti Learning Solution has touched the lives of 600,000 students and 4000+ teachers. It has been experienced in over 350+ schools from across India.

Case studies are useful for those interested in discovering innovative practices in the education field. A case study allows us to document the ways in which the program has affected change. Our idea is to feature an eclectic group of schools that showcase each one’s unique environment, challenges and success.

Our Method

InOpen’s Computer Masti Case Studies will draw largely from qualitative and anecdotal evidence at this juncture. They will also explore quasi-quantitative indicators when applicable.

We look to leaders and representatives at our schools to help us share their story. For each school, the participant pool may vary, subject to availability. For a meaningful look at the entire story arc, stakeholders with different perspectives are approached, including Trustees, Principals, Heads, HODs, Teachers, Students, or Parents. Those who participate are invited to be perfectly candid and open in order that the case study reflect authenticity.

The Case Study will ultimately be shared with the community at large, and specifically with the #EdChat community.

We will be sure to post updates here every time new case studies are featured at our website!

 [#FromTheField: Stories of transformation through the eyes of an InOpen’er]

This was to be the third visit to this school in low income area of suburban Mumbai. The school was its first year of operations and enrollment was low, and had also adopted Computer Masti program at the start. As she planned the visit, Education Officer Dipika tried to keep her expectations reasonable, being sensitive to the fact that massive changes in the education sector are unlikely to occur in a duration as short as three months…

Manyata is a Grade I student who has had a difficult time keeping up with students her age. There were days when no matter how many times a point was explained, Manyata was unable to grasp the instruction or the assignments. Her class teacher, Ms. Vishwas would spend extra minutes to guide Manyata. However, this soon took a toll on the teacher who had to also cater to the needs of five other learners during the day! Manyata was often misunderstood; even irresponsibly labeled “dumb” by a system that failed to reach her through verbal and conventional instruction methods.

This school visit was different. Dipika was greeted with a laughing smile on Ms. Vishwas’ face! Her Grade I students had recently covered the third lesson their Computer Masti books. Till date they had covered all kinds of thought exercises followed by lab exercises. And it was after this combo that she witnessed a real transformation – Manyata had taken to the conceptual lessons tied in with Tux Typing lab time with such enthusiasm, she was now clear ahead of the entire class! Apart from having fun with the class exercises, she also found herself in a position previously least expected of her: being confident in leaning over to help her neighbours with typing tricks.

Pen,jyoti showing her  thumbMs. Vishwas was thrilled for her. Manyata responded beautifully to avenues for visual and tactile learning, and she had also found a way to focus her energy on something she liked – and was good at!  She had finally found a way to connect with a student and give her opportunities that furthered, not fettered, her learning experience.

Success!