Saturday, June 28, 2008

Afterschool has a long history in India...

Organized afterschool programmes as distinct from tution classes are seen as a fairly recent phenomenon in India (a trend related to the growing numbers of nuclear families with both parents working). However, there has been a rich history of afterschool programmes - the next few posts will focus on this.

The Balbhavan is an institution whose history goes back to the 1950s. The national (at Delhi) and state level units provide children a range of activities that complement/supplement school education including - science activities, performing arts, physical education, creative arts, etc. It is also a training resource centre for teachers offering training in visual arts, teaching methodology, etc.

The Balbhavan is probably the only (or one of the few) ways in which the Government supports afterschool programmes in the country.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Free Math Resources

This post is about my site: It offers resources on math relevant to the K-2 stage. There are illustrated math story worksheets and flash presentations that you can download for free and use. At this site I hope to build a substantial collection of resources for parents who teach their children after school.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Computers Afterschool and Dell

Talking about resources for afterschool, there seem to be some funding support available for programs run in a not-for-profit context serving underprivileged children. This post is about Dell's efforts.

Literacy India (an NGO) and Dell Foundation have just announced the opening of the first Dell Multimedia Computer Center in India (located in Bajgera Village in Gurgaon). The Dell Knowledge Center (with 20 desktops) will offer 13-19 year olds skills like multimedia, 3D imaging, sound and video editing, desktop publishing, etc.

This is not Dell's first foray into supporting computer education. Through its h.u.g. (helping u grow) program, it has supported:
- a Dell Computer Center for the children of the Parikrama Learning Center in Sahakarnagar, Bangalore reaching under-served children.
- a 'Learning into the Future-Preparing Youth for the Digital Age' program to the Hope Foundation in Hyderabad which provides computer education to under-privileged school children and college students.

If you are planning an afterschool computer/technology education program for under-privileged children, you could try tapping IT companies for support.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Afterschool on the Political Agenda?

I got a Google Alert this morning pointing to Barack Obama's promise on supporting afterschool programmes. I found the document The Blue Print for Change - Barack Obama's Plan for America and looked at the section on education. It says the plan is to "Expand High-Quality Afterschool Opportunities: Obama will double funding for the main federal support for afterschool programs, the 21st Century Learning Centers program, to serve one million more children" and "Expand Summer Learning Opportunities: Obama’s STEP UP plan addresses the achievement gap by supporting summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged children through partnerships between local schools and community organizations". (John McCain's site claims he "will fight for the ability of all students to have access to all schools of demonstrated excellence, including their own homes" - I did not find a mention of afterschool, though).

Good to see afterschool on the election manifesto. Next stop, the manifesto of the Indian National Congress (why? simblee!). Will I find anything? Let's see...

The INC's 2004 manifesto says "The Congress pledges to raise public spending in education to at least 6% of GDP with at least half of this amount being spent in primary and secondary schools. A cess will he proposed on all central taxes to finance the commitment to universalize access to quality basic education. A National Commission on Education will be set up to allocate resources and monitor programmes for compliance with national priorities". Nothing beyond 'in school' learning.

What about the BJP? Its 2004 manifesto talks of 'Quality Education for All'but the strategy is largely about increasing access to education - except for one point "Improving the standards of education at all levels of the Educational Pyramid from primary to university". Again - nothing beyond the school system.

Why is that our leaders limit themselves to 'education = within the four walls of the school/university'? I wonder if the school system alone can wholly respond to the challenge of preparing children to face the future with confidence. The least our leaders can do is acknowledge the challenge and attempt to face it with a more comprehensive strategy.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Puppets and Science

Today's newspaper had this piece Puppet classes make learning science fun. It describes an effort by the Indian Science Communication Society to help school students understand and communicate the science behind contemporary environmental issues (ground water exploitation, pollution, etc). The article says the children learnt to make puppets, write scripts, and enacted their puppet shows. The quotes the organizer "...We brought in puppetry because it made the whole experience of learning science rather joyful."

I think the value of this intervention lies in the opportunity it offers children to reinforce their learning of science (which is best learnt through explorations, experiments, etc.). Writing a script sharpens research and communication skills. What is the main message you wish to give your audience (is it the most important thing that needs to be told about this issue? will it help your audience do something about the issue? etc.)? How will you say it in a way that relates to your audience (what is it that they are interested in? what is it that they already know? what is the new stuff that you wish to tell them? etc.).

The article made me search a little on the use of puppets for science communication. And here is what I found:
A news item in Current Science (2003) on the efforts of The National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC) introducing "the art of puppetry for science and technology communication for the first time in the country and has also developed a training module for the same use of puppetry for science". Organizations which have used puppetry in science communication include: Kainat Foundation, Kako (Bihar); SEARCH, Ghaziabad (U.P.); Students’ Welfare Society, Anantnag (J&K); Manthan Yuva Sangthan, Ranchi (Jharkhand); Gujarat Council of Science City, Gandhinagar (Gujarat).
The PUPPETS: Talking Science - Engaging Science project which explored "the use of puppets to engage and motivate children and promote conversations which help their learning in science. Puppets are used with primary school children to capture their interest, stimulate their thinking about science, challenge their ideas and model learning conversations". Among the positive outcomes listed, I found this the most interesting - "creating a context for the use of scientific vocabulary". The site also offers tips for teachers in using puppets. The tips range from little practical details ("Keep the puppet’s head down - it needs to make eye contact") to more profound stuff ("Your puppet needs to present a problem to the children for them to think about").

From what I have gathered so far (which is not much, mind you) I can sense a difference in approach in the two efforts mentioned above. The emphasis of the first is communicating about global/national/local issues. The second focuses on motivating children to think about solutions to everyday problems using science. The first is an advocacy tool, the second a teaching tool.