March 21, 1996
Strategy for Improving Education at the Pre-School and Primary Level
Challenges of Primary Education in India
Early childhood education in India is subject to two extreme but
contrary deficiencies. On the one hand, millions of young children in lower income groups,
especially rural and girl children, comprising nearly 40% of first grade entrants never
complete primary school. Even among those who do, poorly qualified teachers, very high
student-teacher ratios, inadequate teaching materials and out-moded teaching methods
result in a low quality of education that often imparts little or no real learning. It is
not uncommon for students completing six years of primary schooling in village public
schools to lack even rudimentary reading and writing skills.
At the other end of the social and educational spectrum, children
attending urban schools, especially middle and upper class children in private schools,
are subjected to extreme competitive pressures from a very early age to acquire basic
language skills and memorize vast amounts of information in order to qualify for admission
into the best schools. Parents and teachers exert intense pressure on young children to
acquire academic skills at an age when children should be given freedom and encouraged to
learn as a natural outcome of their innate curiosity, playfulness and eagerness to
experiment. Rising concern over compulsory learning at an early age is prompting many
educators to advocate dramatic steps to counter the obsession with premature and forced
In Search of a Third Way
Between these two extreme positions, lie a wide array of mostly
mediocre practices. Rarely do we find the educational system fostering the natural process
of spontaneous, self-motivated self-education in which children learn just as they play
and as a form of play out of their innate curiosity and urge to acquire knowledge of the
environment. Internationally, there have been many efforts to find a third way
that suffers neither from the sad neglect all too common in low quality public education
or the compulsive pressures exerted even on very young children by competitive,
career-conscious school systems.
A highly successful alternative approach has been evolved in the USA by
the Institute for the Development of Human Potential, founded by the eminent educationist
Dr. Glenn Doman. Domans work is founded upon the conviction that learning is a
natural instinctive urge in young children that is very often curbed or destroyed either
by neglect and lack of exposure or by compulsory teaching. During more than three decades
of work with both normal and brain damaged children, Doman has shown that exposing young
children to interesting sources of information for very brief periods each day actually
stimulates the development of the brain cells during early years and fosters a spontaneous
curiosity and natural love of learning in children. Domans methods have been
practiced for more than 20 years at the Institutes school in Philadelphia and more
recently in similar institutions established in South America, Western Europe and Japan.
The same methods have been applied successfully by more than one million parents around
Another alternative approach has been evolved and practiced for the
past 45 years at the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education in Pondicherry. Here
too the emphasis has been on fostering a conducive atmosphere for the childrens
curiosity to emerge and express itself so that they acquire a natural inclination toward
learning and self-development.
The Anugriha Charitable Trust was established in 1993 by Mr. and Mrs.
R. Raghavan as a public charitable trust with the intention of evolving and demonstrating
alternative educational methods in India. The Trust is registered under section 11 &
12 of the Indian Income Tax Act and exempted under section 80G. Mr. Raghavan is a
chartered accountant and computer consultant who established and operated a consulting
firm in Bombay before leaving the city to establish a rural school in Tamil Nadu. Aruna
Raghavan is an M.Phil in English, a former sub-editor of a reputed English magazine and
former teacher at the Kodaikanal International School, Gandhi Vidyashram and a high school
in Bombay. The Raghavans have spent the last decade exploring and experimenting with new
methods of early childhood education. In 1991 they established the Primrose Institute in
Bombay where they conducted courses for parents on how to utilize alternative educational
methods to foster a love of learning in their own. In 1992 the Raghavans left Bombay and
invested their entire savings to establish a primary school at Arasavanangkadu, a village
of 1500 people situated ten kilometers from Kumbakonam in Tamil Nadu. The school commenced
operations in mid 1994 admitting 15 children aged 3 - 3½ to the first class. All of the
children were drawn from low income, scheduled caste families in which they are the first
generation to receive any education.
Approach and Methods
The system of education provided at the Arasavanangkadu School is based
on the following approach:
- The most important aspect of the approach is attitude of the teacher, which should be
that learning is a form of play which fosters the blossoming of the childs natural
development. Learning should and can be made interesting, enjoyable, fun.
- A large portion of the teaching materials are produced at the school by the teachers,
who customize their teaching aids to suit the interests and knowledge levels of the
- First attention is given to the health and nutrition of the children to ensure that they
have the physical energy and natural attention span needed for learning. Nutritional and
medical supplements are provided to under nourished children from low income families.
Free exercising and play are encouraged to build strength and stamina.
- Children learn spontaneously when their interest and curiosity are awakened.
Teaching is confined to brief periods according to the natural attention span
of each child, which is normally 15-30 minutes daily during the first two years. It is
never extended beyond the childs span of interest.
- The student-teacher ratio is kept very low to enable the teacher to work with small
groups of 4-5 children at a time while the others are absorbed in learning games or
recreational play. The most effective ratio is five students per teacher during
pre-school, LKG and HKG and twenty students per teacher during standards 1 to 5. However,
since the teaching methods are intense, each student actually need attend only 2½ to 3
hours of class per day, enabling each teacher to effectively handle double the number of
- The act of teaching consists primarily of presenting sensory images, objects and
information to the child in a pleasant and interesting manner and permitting the child to
observe and inquire about the subject, without compelling the child to memorize. Coloured
flash cards with large images are utilized as convenient, low cost teaching aids.
- Rapid acquisition of basic reading and verbal skills in multiple languages occurs
naturally by exposing the child to whole words as objects repetitively for very brief
periods. In this manner at a young age even children of illiterate parents learn several
languages as effortlessly as they normally learn to speak their native tongue.
- Story telling is used to make learning fun and to communicate basic values of goodness,
beauty, harmony, responsibility and right conduct.
- Information on people and other living things, places, history, geography, and other
cultures are presented to the child in the form of stories, pictorial information and
explanations combined together to present facts in a living, integrated context rather
than as a series of separate divorced subjects.
- Rapid acquisition of basic math skills is achieved through the use of number line method
which enables the child to physically experiment and act out different combinations of
addition and subtraction.
First Year Results
Most of the children come to the school so underdeveloped and under-nourished that
almost exclusive emphasis is placed during the first 3-6 months on providing nutritional
supplements and free exercise to develop motor skills.
As the children gained health and strength, their attention span and curiosity have
increase to the point where they happily explore new learning areas for periods from 15 to
30 minutes per day.
Despite the very brief time exposure, very average children are able to read simple
Tamil and English stories by the end of 15 months.
During the same period, they also learn to recognize all the states of India, the
geography of the country, the continents, peoples of the world and a wide range of plant
and animal species.
In addition to teaching the children, the school also engaged two unemployed women from
the village with teaching credentials and successfully trained in these methods. The
trainees have learned and now regularly apply these methods for teaching our children and
they also actively participate in the design of lessons and production of the teaching
Although there was initial skepticism and suspicion from the village community,
including the families of the first year children, parents have become proud of their
children and the village as a whole has come to embrace the school. Requests for admission
are coming from villages in a ten mile radius.
These results can be compared with the learning of children from
comparable backgrounds attending the local public school, most of whom are unable to read
and understand even Tamil sentences at the end of six years of primary education.
Replication of Results
Over the past two decades, similar methods have been tested and proven
effective in homes and schools in many different countries and social environments around
the world. The effort at Shishayatan demonstrates that these same methods can be
successfully applied even in the most challenging context working with disadvantaged
children of uneducated, illiterate poor parents, many of whom question the value of any
education whatsoever based on the experience of children attending public schools in the
The Trust plans to expand the school each year to take in new students
at pre-school level and progressively add classes up to and through the eighth standard.
This will require a gradual expansion of the teaching staff and addition of new classrooms
The school has demonstrated that it is possible to teach this
educational method to suitably qualified young adults from the rural community and that
once taught they display very positive attitudes and good teaching skill in working with
The aim of this proposal is to outline effective strategies by which
the education system practiced at Shishayatan can be tested and extended to all parts of
This aim can be achieved provided that following conditions are met:
- The pioneering work of the Arasavanangkadu School has to be extended up to the fifth
standard over the next five years to demonstrate that even disadvantaged children from
rural families can acquire educational levels normally that normally require ten years or
more of study, even in urban schools, and that this can be accomplished by encouraging the
natural curiosity of the child rather than through the pressure and forced learning
patterns common in highly competitive urban schools. This will require expansion of the
existing school to accept larger numbers of students and add additional classes, so that
total student enrollment at Shishayatan reaches 150-200 students by the end of five years.
- A training institute should be established to train teachers and trainers in the methods
employed at the school, so that those trained can serve as a nucleus for establishing new
schools and as a means of inducting these teaching methods into existing schools the
- It is essential to build public awareness and acceptance of this approach to early child
education, so that existing schools will be willing to experiment with the new methods and
so that new schools will be favorable received by the community. This can be achieved
through a combination of media educational programmes and demonstration projects carried
out in established schools around the country.
- Financial resources will need to be raised to support expansion of the Arasavanangkadu
School and for establishment of the training institute.
- The special teaching and course material employed by these methods must be reproduced on
a sufficiently large and economical scale to support widespread dissemination.
- Existing schools should be identified that are willing to incorporate these teaching
methods as part of their normal educational programme and new pre- and primary schools
should be established based entirely on these methods.
Alternative Strategies for Widespread Dissemination
Three alternative strategies for widespread dissemination of the new
teaching methods are outlined below:
Option A: Government Training Institute with training in USA
The Government of India should send five experienced instructors from each state for one
year training at the Institute for the Development of Human Potential in the USA.
A Government teachers training institute should be established in each state or an
existing training institute should be converted to these methods by the trained
instructors. Each state institute should be able to train 50 to 100 teachers per year in
the new methods.
Each of the trained teachers should be allotted to one government school and provided
with a class size and all teaching materials required to utilize the methods effectively.
In five years, 250 to 500 classes can be established in each state through this
The Government would also arrange for the design and production of teaching materials to
be utilized at the training institute and in the schools where the trained teachers are
The demonstrated benefits of utilizing the new methods in this extensive demonstration
programme should be sufficient to convince the Government to convert more and more schools
to the new methods.
Option B: Government Training Institute with Training in India
This option involves the same steps as Option A, except that instead of sending a large
number of teachers to the USA for the initial training sessions, the Government seeks to
bring one experienced trainer to India from the Institute for the Development of Human
Potential to conduct a one year training programme here. Since effective training can only
be done in a real school setting, this would require identifying at least one school which
would consent to adopting these educational methods for several classes of children.
Option C: Non-Government Training Institute at Arasavanangkadu
This option does not require the full consent and support of Government for
establishment of the training institute or adoption of the teaching methods by government
schools. Instead, a private training institute is established at Arasavanangkadu in
connection with Shishayatan or at a new location in Pondicherry. The institute would train
10 to 20 new instructors per year. The institute should also have the equipment and
facilities needed to produce appropriate teaching materials for use during the training
programmes and for sale to other schools.
Trainees would be deputed by leading schools such as those operated by Bharatiya Vidya
Bhavan, Ramakrishna Mission, and the Kodai International School as well as schools
operated by industrial houses and other self-financing primary institutions for a six
month training course.
After training, the teachers would be provided by their sponsoring institutions with the
class conditions and teaching materials required to effectively utilize the new
Trainees could also be recruited from the ranks of qualified teachers with the capacity
and motivation to establish their own schools, perhaps with assistance from private
corporations or local communities seeking high quality education for their children. After
completion of the course these trainees would be assisted to find employment in
self-financing private schools or to establish their own satellite schools in small towns
and rural communities focusing initially on pre-school, LKG and UKG.
By this approach, approximately 100 teachers could be trained during the first five
years and sent out to practice the new methods. During this time, Shishayatan would have
been expanded to demonstrate the effectiveness of these methods for students up to the 5th
standard. Based on the success of these demonstrations, the new methods could then be
propagated rapidly on a larger scale.
Financial Requirements for Option C
In order to implement Option C for expansion of the Shishayatan school
and establishment of the training center at Arasavanangkadu, additional financial
resources are needed under the following categories:
For the School
Construction of an additional two class rooms per year for each of the next three years
Purchase, production and replacement of books and teaching materials for the new
For the Training Centre
Construction and furnishing of a 12 room dormitory for trainees and instructors with a
kitchen, dining room, classroom, computer work room and office.
Acquisition of a computer and colour printer for design and production of teaching
Purchase of materials for production of teaching materials by the new trainees, which
they can take with them when they complete the course.
Purchase of books for the trainees to take with them when they leave and utilize for
Food and living allowance for trainees, assuming that these expenses are not covered by
The total budgetary requirement for the first three years is estimated
at Rs 28 lakhs.
Sources of Financial Assistance
Leading schools can depute trainees to learn the new methods and pay a fee of Rs 25,000
for each person trained, to cover their maintenance costs during the training program, a
training stipend, and the cost of teaching materials required for them to bring back when
they complete the course.
10 to 15 industrial houses can be approached to contribute funds for the programme. In
exchange, several trainees can be deputed to employ the new methods at new or existing
schools operated by these companies.
Financial assistance may be obtained from Indian and international institutions such as
the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
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