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Raising pupils’ achievements in India by bringing teachers back into the classroom

Freda Wolfenden

Freda Wolfenden

Academic Director, TESS-India, The Open University

Published on June 1, 2017

…I used to speak in front of the class for 95% of the time, now I make a Learning Plan and I make sure to include questions and getting the students to ask questions…

…The transformation I see: before, when the clock hit 2pm children would leave to go for private tuition – now, they stay in school and attend the whole school day.

…Before, teachers lectured, students listened mutely, not expressing themselves or their views. Now, when I visit schools I see a great change. I see more play, more group discussion, more activity, the teacher’s focus is on the child.

These quotes – from recent field visits to schools and local teachers’ centres in the state of Bihar, northern India – are hugely motivating for all of us working on TESS-India.

The four year TESS-India journey has been punctuated with u-turns, dead-ends and roundabouts we thought we would never exit, but we are now beginning to feel we might have reached that magic ‘tipping point’ (to mix metaphors), recognised in the recent Guardian University Award to the Open University for TESS-India.

TESS-India was conceptualised as a response to the enduring and seemingly intractable problem of low pupil achievement in classrooms across India. Working in partnership with the Government of India and education ministries in seven states, the TESS-India ambition is sustainable improvements in quality teaching and learning in schools and teacher education institutions.

The sheer scale of the challenge – over 3 million school teachers – demanded fresh approaches to achieve meaningful noticeable change.  We needed a design which would work in the hands of many across very diverse contexts to meet multiple needs. Familiar approaches and modes for engaging teachers had not proved effective or were too slow or costly to implement.

Our holistic needs-driven solution was inspired by our own OU mission – ‘open to people, places, methods and ideas’. The  project design, development and implementation draws on  emerging thinking on  ‘openness’,  Open Educational Resources (OER),  innovation and education technology from colleagues across the university and applies them to this complex problem.  Harnessing and adapting these ideas has made it possible to work at a speed and scale in a way that wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago.

At the core of TESS-India are a set of OER which guide teachers to learn in their own classrooms as part of their daily activities with pupils. This limits the disruption to pupils’ learning.  Traditionally, much teacher professional learning has taken place in workshops, lectures and seminars outside the school, leaving the children without their teacher. Equally importantly, the resources are not a set course where everyone is offered the same curriculum; teachers can negotiate their own route through the OER to meet their own professional learning needs and, concurrently, the learning needs of their pupils.

Complementing the OER is a MOOC – massive open online course – designed to guide teacher educators on use of the OER with teachers. This has been run in both English and Hindi on the EdX platform, enrolling a total of over 40,000 educators. The MOOC had been the unexpected ‘hit’ of the project so far, capturing people’s attention and generating considerable enthusiasm for online learning.  Around 50% of the cohort completed the MOOC, which is far in excess of global averages.  For many participants, online learning was a new experience. Online access is not always easy– they had to travel, sometimes long distances, to weekly contact classes and share computers, tablets and mobile phones.

We attribute success – in terms of participant MOOC completion – to a blend of the digital and physical learning spaces and the way in which the MOOC enabled collaborative learning and exchange across traditional community boundaries. Trainee teachers, for example, were surprised and impressed to be learning alongside the Director of their institution.

Large scale use of TESS-India OER is still in its early stages but, as the quotes earlier illustrate, in recent classroom visits we have seen happy children keen to engage in collaborative activity and teachers paying much greater attention to their pupils’ learning progress.  In the next phase of TESS-India, as part of our new partnership with Save the Children India, our focus will be extending our work to strengthen state systems through a collective focus on meeting learning needs.

Images: created by the Tess-India project and shared under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA)

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