Scaling and Sustainable Impact

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We all try to do good things and ensure that every child gets the quality education they deserve but we often question ourselves “Are we doing enough?” Organisations think about scaling up almost instinctively. The ones that succeed use some strategic thinking about what scale is meaningful for them, and how they should go about achieving scale. In the social sector, thinking about scale is often insufficient, considering the wide array of factors that influence the process.

To learn more about this, we invited our Global Advisor Mr Sakil Malik to have an interactive session with the LLF team and discuss some important questions like-What scaling up means, especially in the public education ecosystem where it is commonly understood as working with governments and addressing myths and misconceptions about the measurement of impact and sustainability in the public education sector.

What does scaling mean and what are some factors that impact the scaling-up process, especially in the public education system?

Scale-up actually is a very simple term, which basically means you start doing something small and you want to expand it to the entire community. So very simply speaking, I want to start working in one school, two schools, five schools, ten schools, then I want to expand it to the entire state, I want to then take it to the entire country. But amazingly enough, the last twenty-thirty years of history doesn’t show us any efficient instances of scaling up. Now, going from 100 schools to 900 schools, will you call it a bigger pilot or is this really the “scale-up”, that’s the big question! In the development sector, especially in the international education arena, we are witnessing a huge number of pilots and with pilots, we are experimenting, and then from the experiment, if you actually identify a  permanent solution, which is sustainable, that can be called a ‘scale up’ model. I’ll give you an example, you are doing a reading, writing, and critical thinking program for primary school children. I start in 10 schools or 100 schools in my community, then I want to move it to the state or national level, and eventually, the public system owns it and actually implements the program as part of their National or State implementation strategy. This program will hence become part of the national curriculum and will become part of the teacher training program of the government. Now, this is only the technical side, but what happens with the real thing, which is “money”? Who is paying for all of this?

Right now, in the LLF structure, this is what is so interesting and honourable for me to be associated with, which is that it is a homegrown program and it’s a homegrown financing program which we call domestic resource mobilisation or public financial management.  If you are not familiar with the concept of domestic resource mobilisation and public financial management, think of it like this – we are getting all the donor money from outside for doing a lot of stuff right? Many times most of the end-users are waiting for money from donors and the donors will pay for projects and projects will continue from A to Z and then we finish the project and the donor may or may not want to continue. In that case, you don’t have the sustainability of your program. If there is no money from the donor, then the project stops. But ultimately, did the government own anything from the programs or projects that actually became part of the government system or the public service system which may be sustainable beyond the project cycle?

One part is the technical piece, as I mentioned, that the government  took some part of curriculum reform, some part of teacher training, some part of materials that the project developed for children. But then who is paying for this after the project ends?

The government is actually taking this as a priority and saying that we will include this in our budget and continue the project with  our own funds and the government resources. That is one kind of domestic resource mobilisation.

The scale-up process is also hugely impacted by the political issues. With elections, the political climate changes very frequently and balancing between what the Central government, State government and the local political parties wants, isa huge challenge. Another issue is sustainability. I have seen and heard a lot of success stories at LLF, that some of the activities  are moving beyond the cycle. And what do I mean by the cycle, is the political cycle. Elections happening, changing government, new state Ministers getting appointed. But then your program did not stop. This is amazing progress in the scale-up process. I don’t think we talk enough about this in a scale-up discussion, which is that when you have your own cycle of success it is not impacted by the political and regime changes.

So we talked about the policy level issue, we talked about the financial issues, the third piece is Community’s engagement and acceptance. Are the children, the schools or the government in Orissa, Bihar or Haryana, wherever you are working, being impacted because you are there (LLF intervention) and you are facilitating all of this, or they are actually initiating these activities?

Maybe in the beginning we were the facilitators, policy advocates or the catalysts because we wanted to bring the issue to the limelight but then did we start taking a back seat and put the community in the driver’s seat? If the state government officials or the community leaders are actually taking lead in the activity or not is what matters. Is it on paper only or is it really happening? So this is also part of the scale-up discussion.

So scale up doesn’t mean an increase in numbers. I think there is a misconception about scale-up, which is that if we go to more schools, we scaled up. This is not what it means. Scaling up is very closely connected with sustainability. I managed to scale my program but then can I maintain the scale?

Maintenance is a very big issue because a lot of organisations can bring millions of dollars and they can rapidly grow but once the program ends and they leave does the program sustain or does everything go back to the old ways? Will you call that scaling up, was there ever a true impact?

So what will then impact mean and how can one measure true impact?

Now, the impact measurement is a very serious discussion. So if it is a real impact that you want to see in children’s development or success of the children in their communities, it might not be possible through the project life cycles, especially with the external funding life cycles. So if somebody says that we have measured the impact, it’s hard for me to believe, because it’s not possible to do impact measurement in three or five years. Let me give you a real example of impact, my parents put a lot of effort into educating me, and then I actually worked hard in my own life, now I am successful. Well, that’s the impact. Now you want to go back and measure this from my childhood, you actually can start doing empirical data collection and see how things progress because of the initial investment in my early life. The context, the support of the community, the schools, the pedagogy, everything had a certain impact on my success in life. So it actually takes a longer cycle timeline to measure true impact.

If you want to see the impact on the child you are working with today, you need to have empirical data for almost 20-25 years. That doesn’t match with our project life cycle thinking, because in 3 years or 7 years you have another project. So this is why I believe that impact measurement is only possible in the process.

I always say that how people measure impact is really important. It’s a question of ethics because it is a question of what we measure. Mostly we measure impact based on the collection of process and performance data. That’s fine because what you want to talk about is that we were working in ten schools, a hundred schools, we worked with 10,000 children, now we work with 100,000 children. That actually impacts in a way that is data related, but the impact in the real sense will be measured by answering questions like-that did it really change anything or we sometimes say we efficacy, efficacy happens or not, that actually is a long term empirical data issue. How does this connect the measurement issue and the scaling up issue? This actually goes together because another kind of intellectual lingo that I want to use is something called Fidelity of implementation. This is also very important as we research our data because day to day we are implementing our programs and we want to see what is happening in our implementation. Now think about the scenario when you are starting a project and you are planning it for the future, we actually don’t know the future. So a lot of things you are planning and proposing now, when you propose you bring your best out, right? What you propose is not what always happens in the project life cycle, and that actually is the Fidelity of implementation, what I originally planned and what changed when I was implementing. So, what you proposed originally and the things coming at you while you are implementing the project, external issues, calamities, political reasons, covid everything will have an impact on your implementation. The difference between the original plan and what actually happens is the Fidelity of implementation. So this also impacts the project and the learning of children.

So according to the Pilot and Scale up definition you have given, once you experiment you figure out your strategies, you implement it to a larger number of schools, in a bigger space and that’s how you scale up. What I wanted to understand is that given it’s a social experiment in a way where there are factors which are not controllable, every time you take it to a bigger pace there are newer issues coming up, so there is some amount of experiment involved no matter what. So does that change the definitions or just the strategy becomes a pilot and the rest of the program remains a scale up?

This is a very intellectual and very deep question. This is good because you are thinking in the correct structure, there has to be certain fundamental attributes of what you are trying to do so it’s universally acceptable. What are you trying to universally accept as a parameter or framework is that you want children to learn. That is not changing. This is given and then the next question would come, What are you wanting for them to learn? They can read and write in their Mother Tongue now but then they are supposed to comprehend which is the next level. Then they will be learning critical thinking and problem-solving skills. If this much we are able to achieve it’s amazing because that is your fundamental need now. Your geography might change, your context might change, the numbers may go up or down. Those are all fine and you will bring different solutions to fix those issues. But your core mission does not change. The question is, if it is being taken up only by you or is it taken up by the entire community which accepted it and the government system or the public system accepted the idea. Now think about this from the health sector point of view. I always give the health sector example because they are much ahead of the education sector. Let’s look at just the COVID situation. We will continue to update and upgrade our Covid vaccine because the virus is changing its own patterns and structures but then the core mission remains the same. We want all of us to be safe and protect ourselves against the virus. Hence, vaccines are important, but those are not changing the fundamental core issue of fighting the disease.

The first example that you had given in the domestic resource mobilisation involves a strong component of sustainability. The second one, where we are talking about mobilising the resources available domestically through various forms, does not involve a sustainability component. So, when we look at domestic resource mobilisation, should sustainability be an important part from the inception or we can choose as and when required?

No, absolutely. Sustainability is always part of our discussion because sometimes we can also get into philosophical debates about what is sustainable? The point is, is it sustainable for the parameters or framework that you are trying to implement. Sustainable in the sense that I’m doing something for the child, so is the child getting what the child is supposed to get and are they thriving? I’ll give you a simple example. I did my project in the summer, it’s a school dropout prevention program. This was with the most vulnerable community there. My job was to bring the children back to school because 78% of children were not coming to school, they are dropping out because of a million reasons. The issue was what is sustainable, not only to bring them back to school but to maintain the sustenance of the children till the fifth grade. So the question is are they completing school? Are they learning what they are supposed to learn? Did they make it to secondary school? So the question would remain about sustainability. You asked about resource mobilisation and sometimes people might say, this is free, nothing is free, there is an economic value on every single thing. So the point is, is it from the outside external resources or is it coming from within the community where the community is supporting this work and slowly it moves into the community’s hand that the district education officer is now so motivated that he thinks that all my teachers need to be really high skilled teachers, and this becomes part of my normal life. I’m not doing this because LLF trained me.

So those are different parameters of sustainability and scale of resource mobilisation. And finally, the budget piece, which is crucial. Now, most of the people in the public education sector don’t talk about the budget side but this is something we all need to become more educated about which is how the education sector is budgeting and how the education sector’s financial support works. When I talk about the government taking something as part of their budget, that has two parts: the bureaucracy and the budget if the activities are in their budget, you know they have taken it into the heart because teacher development or supply of materials to the children or the extracurricular activities you are doing in the school, it should become part of the government’s budget cycle. So this is also resource mobilisation and domestic resource mobilisation is connected with the public financial management which is the budgeting of the government. And does that budget look like anything LLF is doing there? Is it part of their budget cycle? Are you advocating for those changes in their budget cycle? So not only including our activities but this is a very important part of our job as well, to do the policy lobbying and influencing that they actually understand the importance and put this in their budget.


We need to really decolonize the development paradigm. If we need 4 reform programs in any given country to fix the education sector with millions of dollars spent but still 70% of children can’t read and write in their mother tongue, something surely isn’t right! What we need to think about is real demand driven programs that are owned by the community, our role will surely change in this structure. We remain the facilitators, catalysts and/or partners in true sense. But this role is to help build local capacity and system strengthening for their own sustainable future. And yes, if the mission is accomplished, we need to move on! It may seem a zero sum game, but it’s not, because within the changing world new demands are created and we will remain involved in international and local development in different ways!

About the author:

Mr. Sakil Malik is the Co-Founder of the Global Centre for Innovation and Learning, USA and Senior Business Development Advisor at Childhood Education International. He has 25 years of experience working in international development and project management, focused on education and education in conflict-affected areas. Most recently, he served as Senior Global Practice Leader for Education at DAI prior to World Learning’s Vice President for Global Development. Sakil served as Director for the Reading within Reach Project, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and led the Global Reading Network Community of Practice, where he worked to improve the literacy of primary school children around the world. He has also served as a Project Director for Creative Associates, managing literacy and education programs in Cambodia, India, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Timor-Leste, in addition to Arabic literacy programs throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

एफ.एल.एन और बहुभाषी कक्षा शिक्षण

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आजकल यह एक ट्रेंड सा चल पड़ा है कि जैसे ही राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर किसी संवैधानिक प्रावधान या किसी दस्तावेज में किसी नए शब्द का उल्लेख होता है, तो हम उसी के इर्द- गिर्द ही देखना शुरू कर देते हैं| हम यह भूल जाते हैं कि यह जो नया शब्द आया है, वह हमारे किसी न किसी पिछली अवधारणा से जुड़ा होगा, जिसके आधार पर हम उस नए शब्द या प्लान को अधिक बेहतर ढंग से क्रियान्वित कर सकते हैं|
जी हाँ, आप बिल्कुल सही समझ रहे हैं| मैं बात कर रहा हूँ भारत की नई राष्ट्रीय शिक्षा नीति-2020 में उल्लिखित FLN मिशन की| इसमें क्या है? इसमें मुख्य रूप से बुनियादी भाषा साक्षरता और बुनियादी गणितीय संक्रियाओं पर बच्चे को दक्ष करने की बात कही गई है| पर हम इसमें यह नहीं सोच पाते कि बुनियादी भाषा साक्षरता और बुनियादी गणितीय संक्रियाओं की अवधारणा को बच्चों में मजबूत करने के लिए हमें किसी न किसी रूप में भाषा की ही आवश्यकता होगी| पर वह भाषा कौन सी होगी, यह जानना बहुत आवश्यक हो जाता है | हम FLN के इस लक्ष्य को प्राप्त करने के लिए सीधे पाठ्यपुस्तक की भाषा (शिक्षण के माध्यम की भाषा) को इससे जोड़कर देखना शुरु कर देते हैं |

मेरे हिसाब से यह ठीक नहीं है,क्योंकि इसी भारत की नई राष्ट्रीय शिक्षा नीति-2020 में यह भी उल्लिखित है कि बच्चा अपनी मातृभाषा में ही सबसे बेहतर ढंग से सीखता है| बिना बच्चे की समझ की भाषा के हम किसी भी बच्चे में बुनियादी भाषा साक्षरता और गणितीय संक्रियाओं का ज्ञान नहीं करा सकते| आपको तो यह भी पता ही है कि हर कक्षा बहुभाषी है और हर कक्षा ही क्यों हर आदमी जब बहुभाषी है तो फिर पाठ्यपुस्तक की भाषा हमारे इस लक्ष्य को प्राप्त करने में कैसे उपयोगी होगी?
यह एक बड़ी चिंता की बात है कि हम FLN और बहुभाषी शिक्षण को अलग-अलग ढंग से तथा अलग-अलग रूप में देख रहे हैं  जब हम इन्हें अलग- अलग सोचकर इसके आधार पर कोई योजना बनाते हैं तो नीचे स्तर पर यह बात बहुत मजबूती से चली जाती है कि ये दोनों बहुत अलग-अलग हैं| जबकि हमको इसे इस रुप में देखना होगा कि यह FLN एक लक्ष्य है जिसे बहुभाषी शिक्षण के अप्रोच या माध्यम से ही प्राप्त किया जा सकता है| जब तक हम इन्हें समग्र रूप में नहीं समझेंगे ,तब तक FLN के लक्ष्य को प्राप्त करना केवल एक सपना ही होगा|

Languages in Indian Schools

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Articles 29 and 30 of the Indian constitution safeguards the rights of linguistic, cultural, and religious minorities. Thus, Cultural and Educational Rights mandates that citizens have the right to preserve their culture and language, and majority linguistic groups cannot impose their language on them. This has to be taken into account when education policies are formulated at different times. However, the school as a standardized monolingual model set up by colonial rules has not yet been able to articulate this spirit of the constitution and education policies, and there is a massive gap between the minds of the policy formulators and the teachers. Teachers are limited to a syllabus, and the largely textbook transaction is focused on preparing children for exams. This is done by offering them a load of information that has to be mastered through rote memory, and mostly in a language that the children may not be familiar with. The national goal of helping children move out of their small tribal groups and making them into national and global beings, while still retaining a strong connection with their local culture, remains an imagined ideal. The process of disseminating the national goal rarely reaches teacher training institutions, and ‘critical thinking’ remains outside a teacher’s comprehension.

As long as the school is monolingual, and the children are multilingual, there will be no way that the school and its system will be able to accommodate different languages and cultures in its teaching and its curriculum. Another barrier is that even if the state has the political will to implement a multilingual approach, they do not know how to proceed since this is largely untested and there are very limited frames of references in the Indian context. Education policies provide states the freedom to prepare their own curriculum in their state-specific language, and design content to represent their identity in the textbooks. To this end,  state textbook writers pick up some cultural symbols from their states like a great man, some temples,  random ecological species, heritage of cultural significance, as tokenism to state identity. Briefly, this is the macro curriculum. What it does not include is the sub-cultural systems, which represent the majority of the population of that state. The language and culture of a state, thus defined in their textbooks, can in no way reflect all the languages and customs of that place unless textbook writing is decentralized all the way down to districts and distinct sub-district linguistic areas. For a truly representative and integrated curriculum, there needs to be clarity of the national goal of education. A national curriculum means it must represent a village curriculum at the school. How does this take place?

The scope for inclusion of state specificity in a curriculum is possible at best in social sciences, and literature and language. The states of India do have a standard mathematics framework adopted universally. In the case of science, the local nomenclature of biology or natural science finds no mention in the textbooks. Students grapple with technical botanical words as if these objects are not in their environment. For instance, many students will stumble over a mouthful of bassia longifolia or basia latifolia, a botanical name in their science textbook, which is more popularly known as mahua to the tribal and rural students. But they will learn it without being able to connect it to what they are already familiar with. While mango in the Saora language is called ‘uda’, it is known as ‘amba’ in Odia, but in a botany textbook, it is named Mangifera Indica! The Teachers’ so-called expertise is based on and limited to textbooks since their accountability is derived from their students’ achievement in the examination, which is standardized and based on textbook terminologies.

An important precondition for meaningful learning is the child’s language. When a child observes her nature and social environment, she is using her home language to make sense of it, whatever that language may be! She has not made any distinction in her mind between her mother tongue, first language, home language, or local language. She thinks, analyzes, interprets, and also uses creative speech with deep meaning and with an ability to communicate and receive the discourse of the language she is most familiar with. It means she can decode and go down to the deep sense of her language, ie, the hidden meaning. But when the same child goes to a class and her teacher rejects her language and her words for objects, she is familiar with, she starts withdrawing from the class. For example, her teacher will show her a picture of a mango, a fish, and an elephant, and insist that they call them not as ‘udaa’, ‘aaya’, ‘raa’ respectively, but with new words she has never heard. Consider this from a child’s point of view- her teacher has rejected her experience, her language, her belief, in front of the whole class. This experience in which the child suffers in silence can have a severe psychological effect on her. She is left thinking, what must the rest of the children be thinking about me, about my language? Simultaneously, this incident may have caused other children in the classroom to close their lips with a fear of being humiliated by the teacher. This suffering in silence and in turn staying silent cannot be good for a child’s development. This is a general scenario of rural and Indian classroom where every day, millions of children are denied the chance to speak in their language. Even in some English medium schools for high society, children are stopped from speaking in their language and if at all they use it, they are either punished or their parents are summoned and asked to restrain their children from speaking the home language. Semi-literate parents also start practicing English at their home in an attempt to socialize their child into this power-laden language. This restriction from all sides inflicted upon the child is undoubtedly against their natural development, and is bad for their cognitive growth and self-identity. Such rejection and hate cannot help build a nation, which prides itself on having its own knowledge system.

The Kothari Commission uses two terms. One is ‘National Integration’ which allowed for scheduled languages to be used in school and colleges, and the second is ‘Social Integration’ which was for the rest of the society to support nonscheduled languages in their social domain. In what way can language, culture, identity, and knowledge be legitimized so that an Indian Knowledge system is established in schools? Can national integration be achieved through legitimizing some scheduled languages, while depriving recognition to a majority of non- scheduled languages? To our knowledge, multilinguality and the many languages in India has connected different ethnic and religious groups, rather than dividing them. A Hindi poet using Urdu and Persian in her modern poetry or short stories has never been a contentious issue. Similarly, without the nonscheduled languages, no national language can develop.

NEP 2020’s aspiration for promoting multilingualism in schools is a welcome step, but the advocacy of the three language formula to promote this repeats Kothari Commission’s dichotomy between national integration and social integration, rather than resolve it. In essence, it means that states can decide the medium of instruction in schools by choosing the home language/ mother-tongue/ local language and regional language, wherever possible. But which language is appropriate where and how will the state decide which language to choose, when they do not have the expertise or even school wise linguistic data? How will children coming with knowledge of more than two languages use their language in the classroom? The state has a huge challenge to develop foundational literacy with a focus on comprehension and meaning-making through the child’s language. However, many states are keen to use English from class-I itself to provide global opportunities to their children. The fallacy that by learning English, their children will excel in the worldwide market is ingrained in most literate and semi-literate people When children are not achieving competency in a regional language after studying it for ten years, as evidence from the achievement results in Hindi in Secondary school level indicate, how can the same students excel in academic English and compete for the global market? If this is the condition of those students whose mother tongue is not different from the medium of instruction in schools, then what about the tribal and other students whose home language is foreign from the state medium of instruction?

Therefore the flexible approach suggested by the NEP 2020 may seem like a breakthrough. However, over the last 60 years, the issue of using a child’s mother tongue has been part of almost all national policies on education, which most states have not included in their planning or implemented in their state curriculum. There could be two reasons for this lack of connection between policy documents and what happens in the states. One could be that the system is not interested in plunging into the intricacies of languages in education and is more interested in maintaining the status quo. Two, it could be to do with the process through which such a  programme is to be made possible. The Indian states have a lot of independence in deciding the language of education and none so far paid it adequate attention or have successfully managed to come up with a model that can be replicated or used as a model by other states. Mere preparation of bridge language courses and bilingual dictionaries is not multilingual education. It needs theoretical pedagogical underpinnings which are patiently tried and tested in classrooms, and investment of time and human energy to see how the imagined multilinguality works out in the schools. If we take the school as the actual representation of the social knowledge along with the new understanding of the school curriculum, then there can be a connection between the local knowledge and broader Indian knowledge.

Multilinguality can be like a buffet where a variety of food and dishes is on offer. At a buffet, we are interested in trying everything, and we will not think about eating one kind of food or dish exclusively. Let’s put it another way. The word ‘multi’ exists in all walks of life. Its importance and need are denied or restricted. However, in schools by imposing uniformity in terms of a singular language, this necessary human natural order is violated, and by this human experience is deprived of resources that can help them navigate and resolve the wider realities of life. The use of many languages in society has enriched human knowledge and fostered integration. Using many languages in oral and written forms enhances the human brain in understanding self and positioning the other with the self. Denial of multilinguality means denial of a rich human potentiality of a child and restricts him from knowing this wide, varied world, right from their childhood.

There are of course practical problems in implementing multilingual approach. A state does grapple with the multiple languages of children within its border. How many languages will they prepare their material in? The language transition plan is also a major constraint for the curriculum designers who perceive language education from a conventional framework. Using multilinguality in the classroom is a departure from the standard monolingual ideology and delves into a democratic multilingual ideology, which not everyone is familiar with. However, these problems should not be the reason for not trying to implement it. For each case, various models and methods could be developed, keeping the learning outcome as the final goal. For instance, the tribal languages in schools need special intervention. In rural areas and urban areas, the typology of the school is already different. In a diverse system, if children’s freedom of learning in their languages is the primary objective, the process of achieving it in different schools could be different. The children will achieve the same desired goal with equal competence, working and learning within their socio-cultural context, and this is perhaps the objective of NEP, 2020.

A good case study of how children’s mother tongue can be successfully adopted in school education is the state of Odisha. It has adopted 21 tribal languages in 1500 schools by appointing special language teachers and providing culturally responsive textbooks in tribal languages.  Two decades of state political will and efforts by the government have led to translating the community demand for using their mother tongue in primary schools into multilingual education in tribal schools. While the NEP  provides a space for mother tongue in school education, it is essential to look into the multilingual education programmes of other states as well. To accommodate an unwritten language in school,  may take a long time but the result is both inclusive and positive. The mindset of educators to immediately achieve high learning outcomes without providing appropriate time and learning input is a problem in the system. Teachers in village schools are unable to understand the critical aspects of the national goals. Whether it is Total Quality Education, or Comprehensive and Continuous Education, or Learning Outcome movement, the wave of guidelines ends in mere information gathering, and the objective is limited to satisfy higher authorities with a show of evidence of each schools’ performance. The primary purpose is something else that almost always turns into data collection. When a programme is not grounded well in the field, then information gathering becomes a state-driven ritual where the teachers become information providers. At no level is the gathered information used as a means to understand ground realities or use it to act critically in resolving school-specific issues. For teachers, it means if you have looked at the data, explored the issues, and understood why somethings are not working, then you are the best person to resolve it through a native approach. Resolving language issues in the classroom is possible when teachers use multiple methods from their classroom situations and not through a prescriptive approach that is not grounded in their reality. Perhaps, the system needs to prepare such teachers, rather than those who act as the agents of state apparatus without their own agency, following the guidelines as employees, and perform their routine work.

It takes decades to validate an unwritten language or for a home language to get into the classroom language. Languages also follow a  hierarchy and are closely linked to caste status, and in some cases, issues of untouchability. It is the system’s responsibility to schedule a language in the classroom and to provide equal status to all languages in the school. The Santali language as a speech community revitalized their language in the VIIIth schedule after a long struggle of 30 years, and now their language is the marker of achieving knowledge and power. There was a time when the current state languages were also grappling with language identity before stronger languages such as Arabic, Persian, or English. A broad vision and farsightedness are required for the system to realize its dream of transforming the schools with the Indian knowledge system expressed in many Indian languages of the children.

The author, Mahendra Kumar Mishra is the Advisor for Multilingual Education at Language and Learning Foundation, New Delhi. Previously, he served as the State Coordinator for Multilingual Education in School and Mass Education Department, Odisha. Email:


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The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a severe learning crisis amongst young children. Many children in rural areas of India are the hardest to reach due to unreliable digital infrastructure and non-systematic access to technology. With the crisis predicted to continue into the next few months in India, schools will remain closed thus presenting an immediate need to re-imagine education. While student-teacher interaction, classroom processes and, peer learning support were the foundations to ensure quality learning in classrooms, education programs now must ensure that children are learning in the absence of these factors. The importance of developing foundational literacy skills in young children has never been more significant.

Language and Learning Foundation (LLF) is focused on improving language learning outcomes in Early Grades over the past five years. Being a pioneer in the field of Early Language and Literacy, the organization is directly impacting 90,000 children across the states of India namely Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Through the crisis, LLF has developed a multi-faceted approach where teachers are still supporting children, where teacher educators are constantly supporting the system, where all children still have access to materials, and assessments are being conducted through home visits. Thus, creating a possibility for every child to learn as if they were still in school.

The ‘Har Ghar School’ initiative over the past few months has garnered the popular support of the community, the teachers, and the Government education officials. For instance, in Chhattisgarh, in addition to engaging parents on WhatsApp, the LLF team has delivered specially designed workbooks in early literacy to the homes of children, In Rajasthan, the program involves revision with games to support the multi-lingual environment, a volunteer engagement program, and a book-circulation program, while in Haryana, almost 12,000 children are constantly supported through daily homework on WhatsApp, phone calls to parents and frequent home visits to reach struggling learners. To ensure successful implementation, a system of monitoring to include a child-wise tracking of activities is designed to provide insights on the status of learning of every child and decide a plan of action. In addition to this, assessments are planned through the program (Baseline, endline and informal assessments during home visits) to understand the learning levels of children. Deep-dive studies will help us explore immediate questions about the support provided to children during the program.  This holistic approach was developed to reach every child through the pandemic. Thus, context-specific strategies through available channels in the community are the way forward to ensure learning during the pandemic.

When will the schools re-open? When are teachers getting back to school? How long will parents cater to be the primary caregiver in their child’s education? As these questions remain unanswered, it is crucial that children have strong foundational skills and high abilities of language and literacy in the home and school languages, LLF is on the mission to scale its approach over the next few months to reach 25,000 children. How can you ensure these programs continue to support children? This is a call for action to contribute to this initiative by visiting Milaap: Language and Learning Foundation.

“Children in our village feel nervous in expressing themselves, but we have seen extensive use of mother tongue in schools in past one year has increased their confidence; and that’s why we stand with your work.’’ – Bapu Lal Rot, Volunteer, Dungarpur

Shruti Sheshadri  – The author currently works at LLF as a part of the Monitoring and Evaluation Team

English Medium in AP is an Ill-Conceived Move

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Learning good English does not require children to study through the medium of English from the early years.

The Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to switch the medium of instruction in all government schools from Telugu and Urdu to English is founded on fallacious assumptions and arguments. This ill-conceived move has the potential to condemn the next generation of children in AP to become semi-linguals, who will not have strong skills of oral communication, reading with comprehension and writing independently in any language. The arguments being put forward by the Chief Minister of AP in support of this ‘Tughlaqi’ decision are the following. One, the move will ‘strengthen’ government schools which are losing children to private schools at an alarming rate. Two, good English skills are required for the job market and introducing English as the medium of instruction will ensure that children will learn English well. Three, why should elites be able to send their children to English medium schools while the poor must make do with studying through the state language?

Will the introduction of English medium help in improving the quality of government schools? When a completely unfamiliar language is used at school, classroom teaching is reduced to choral repetition, memorization and copywriting from the textbook or the blackboard. There is little scope for meaning-making and understanding of concepts.

This is the scenario at present in most affordable private English-medium schools. The move to introduce English as the medium of instruction from Class 1 will ensure that thinking, reasoning, creativity and effective communication are completely excluded from primary classrooms. We know that active engagement and children’s talk is the foundation of all learning. And this is not possible when they study through a completely unfamiliar language. It could be argued that the situation in regional language medium schools is no better. Very true. But at least, there is scope to bring about changes in the teaching-learning process in the future. With English as a medium, children are condemned to be passive participants in the classroom.

India aspires to join PISA where reading comprehension is the main focus. Several surveys including ASER have shown that almost half the children in rural India do not learn to read well even by the end of Class 5. This is a serious learning crisis. There’s little chance that children can develop strong reading comprehension skills if they struggle even with understanding the language being used for teaching.

Will children learn much better English if it is used as the medium of instruction from preschool or Class 1? The argument that young children can learn many languages quickly in a classroom setting is incorrect. It is true that young children can acquire languages if they are exposed to them in their natural environment in meaningful contexts. But young children are not equipped to ‘learn’ unfamiliar languages that are taught formally as subjects in school. Research evidence clearly shows that older children are better placed to learn additional languages through teaching and learning. In fact, the didactic and teacher-led methods of reading from the textbooks and choral repetition are the least likely to result in developing a good understanding of a new language. It is much better to introduce English initially in the oral form with children getting opportunities to listen to meaningful words, simple conversations and stories before it is introduced as a formal subject. To learn English well, it is important that children are gradually exposed to it in an anxiety-free environment with the use of their familiar language as a support. They could be ready for learning through English after five to six years of teaching-learning of English using appropriate methods.

Studying through the medium of a language that children do not understand is subjecting them to a double disadvantage—having to try and learn the unfamiliar language and to simultaneously attempt to understand new information and concepts thrown at them in this unfamiliar language from the first day at school. It is like throwing children who come to learn swimming directly into the deep end of the pool with no support. This is especially difficult in the case of English because most children in government schools are unlikely to get any exposure to English outside school.

Why should government school children be deprived of learning through English when children in private schools have that privilege? This is a difficult argument to address from an equity perspective. I argue that the use of English as a medium of instruction should be disallowed through policy and legal enactment in preschool and early primary classes for all schools in the country.

Children should learn to speak and read and write in English well along with gaining proficiency in their more familiar languages. Children could learn English from the early years in school through oral language development and then learn English as a subject before it is introduced as the medium of instruction. Let’s work to improve the quality of teaching of English (and other languages) in all of our schools which is dismal at present. We can take this up as a country-wide mission that prepares millions of primary school teachers to learn and teach English appropriately. But, let’s not condemn young children to years of incomprehension and passivity at school struggling with memorization and copywriting because they don’t understand the language used as the medium of instruction.

Dhir Jhingran is a former IAS officer and Founder of Language and Learning Foundation.

सिद्धान्तों से कक्षाओं तक – प्रारंभिक भाषा शिक्षण कोर्स

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आभा रानी जी ने अपने व्यावसायिक जीवन की शुरुआत एक टीचर एजुकेटर के तौर पर की। टीचर एजुकेटर बनने का फैसला हैरानी का था क्योंकि अधिकांशतः लोग स्कूल निरीक्षण का काम चुनते हैं। उन्हें शुरू से पढ़ने-पढ़ाने में दिलचस्पी थी। साथ ही, उनकी माँ भी इसी क्षेत्र से जुड़ी रहीं तो माँ के नक्शे-कदम पर चलते हुए उन्होंने इस नियुक्ति को बड़ी उत्सुकता से स्वीकारा।

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सशक्त नीव के रास्ते पर

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“एक सशक्त नीव पर ही एक बुलंद इमारत तैयार की जाती है| यदि प्रारंभिक कक्षाओं में बच्चों के भाषाई कौशल और समझ को विकसित कर दिया जाए तो वे अन्य विषयों को भी आसानी से समझने के लिए तैयार हो जाते हैं|…

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