4-step bridging program shows promise for addressing foundational learning in post-pandemic India

In India, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt disproportionately by children in the early primary grades who largely depend on their parents and siblings to access any form of home-based learning and are the last in priority to return to school. Almost two years of crucial foundational learning were lost for children in grades one through three, half who struggled to learn to read at age 10, even before the pandemic.

Why is basic learning essential?

Basic reading and math skills are the building blocks for accessing higher-order skills at later stages of learning. Unfortunately, those who lack these skills in the early years of schooling rarely catch up. later. Children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) were already falling behind in their founding years before the pandemic. Most of them stay put for the remaining school years, resulting in school dropouts and the inability to achieve life outcomes such as adult incomes, productivity and better health. The pandemic has only compounded this problem and created a generational crisis.

Opportunities and Challenges in Fundamental Learning in India

In a much needed move, India’s Ministry of Education (MoE) has launched the Mission NIPUN Bharat in July 2021, making basic learning a high priority. The mission calls for basic literacy and numeracy for all third graders by 2027. However, this assumes a solid foundation of structured preschool education for all children entering first grade, which is far from the current reality of the Indian education system. Additionally, learning loss due to COVID-19 related school closures has sent children years behind their expected levels of learning, requiring targeted interventions to catch up with them on what they are learning and how. Although well intentioned, there is an urgent need to revise the objectives of the mission to make them more realistic in the current context.

How might we address the issue of pandemic-induced learning loss in foundational classes?

As children return to school after nearly two years of school closures, it is evident that they cannot continue to learn the same curriculum which historically has failed to meet their learning needs. Based on our experience working with one of India’s largest states, we at the Language and Learning Foundation (LLF) offer a four-step transition program to help children overcome learning loss. ‘learning. This approach only focuses on spreading the learning over several years and years to give them time to catch up and learn at their own pace.

Step 1: Prioritize what is learned

A third-grade child entering school for the first time should know the content of first and second grade. Year 1 can focus on learning content from Years 1 and 2 to build the foundation. The following year, the remaining content from Years Two and Three can be learned, followed by Year Four learning so that by the end of Year Four, children have mastered some grade level skills; Figure 1 illustrates how a potential transition program might work.

Figure 1. Outline of a 2-year transition program for the FLN

Note: Teaching in Years 2 and 3 will follow an accelerated approach to help children learn key skills at an accelerated pace.
Source: Language and Learning Foundation.

Step 2: break it down

The whole program should be broken down into one-week plans to build flexibility in teaching and learning to accommodate potential repeat school closures. This allows teachers to assess where children are and pick up teaching where they left off when schools have closed. A modular approach to teaching also helps teachers plan their time effectively throughout the year.

Step 3: Focus on key skills

When developing a bridging program, the focus should be on essential skills. For example, at LLF, we follow the balanced approach to teaching literacy which emphasizes the four core skills of oral language development, decoding (i.e. connect a letter to its sound), reading and expressive writing in each lesson. A skills-based approach to literacy learning ensures that children are able to acquire all aspects of the language and apply it to different contexts.

A substantial social-emotional learning (SEL) component should also be incorporated into the program to help children cope with negative psychosocial impact of the pandemic. Activities for SEL such as “circle time” with students should be part of regular teaching time, especially in the first months after schools reopen. Research suggests that SEL can increase school performancewhose positive impacts last long after program implementation.

Step 4: Track learning levels regularly

Regular classroom assessment should be included as an essential part of the curriculum to help teachers modify their teaching according to the needs of their students. Additionally, assessing children’s learning upon their return from a school break can help teachers identify where children are and pick up where they left off before schools closed.

Along with the design, the implementation of a two-year bridge program must be carefully planned to ensure that the objective is achieved. We believe the implementation plan should focus on:

  • Teacher development through on-the-job training and coaching.
  • Equipment teachers with structured tools such as instructional guides.
  • To supply learning aids such as workbooks for students.
  • Regularly monitoring the program and integrating feedback in the design.
  • Involve parents to support home learning and student behavior management.

A carefully designed and thoughtfully executed bridging program can help turn learning loss into learning gain.

For years, our children have caught up with what they are supposed to achieve at a certain age and at a certain grade level. As we emerge from this pandemic, we cannot expect our children to run before they can walk. It is important to step back, learn from our mistakes and design a system that helps our children thrive rather than survive. We believe that this slow-paced two-year bridging program could pave the way for education systems, both in India and other corners of the world.

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