Thursday, July 31, 2008

Afterschool Guidelines

Afterschool programmes in India are not yet structured as in several other countries. There are no guidelines to help you with key decisions such as the children : staff ratio. I found this document (13 Indicators of Quality Childcare - a research update prepared by the Pennsylvania State University) very useful.

It suggests a child : staff ratio for the 9-12 age group at 12 : 1 with a maximum group size of 24. Suits my own centre! On staff qualifications it says that the director of a child care centre must have an academic qualification in child development (or a related discipline - elementary education), qualification/experience in administration and teaching experience. It also says that centres shall have licensed teaching staff. Again, I'm quite close!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

India Goes for Gold Afterschool!

Indian students won four gold and one silver medal at the 39th International Physics Olympiad (IPO) that concluded on Monday in Hanoi, Vietnam. This is India's best performance ever in the physics olympiad.

The Indian participants were mentored at the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education (HBCSE), the nodal centre for India's science olympiad programme. The main activities of the HBCSE are: (a) Research and Development, (b) Teacher Orientation and Science Popularisation, and (c) Olympiads and other Students' Nurture Programmes. The HBCSE is a valuable resource for afterschool programmes.

The HBCSE website notes "One of the most painful lacunae in our school system is the absence of quality printed materials for teachers and students to supplement the textbooks. The lack of such resources probably contributes to the authoritarian and bookish approach to learning that is often seen in the classroom". HBCSE publishes quality co-curricular materials including teachers handbooks, student booklets on remedial algebra, a set of 3 books on a problem-solving approach to physics, etc.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Comics for Afterschool

A lot of us grew up with the Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) comics. Children these days have a lot of reading material to choose from - but ACK is not just a comic. It is an integral part of growing up in India. The comics seem to have finally caught up with the internet generation with the launch of their fresh website.

The site offers several deals on purchase of comics, free downloads, online games, etc. It is a good place to check on what is missing in your collection and order it right away.

Every afterschool library must stock the complete ACK set - it is such a great way to get children interested in history, mythology, culture and geography. I will be getting a set for my own afterschool center soon.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Abacus Afterschool

A very popular afterschool activity in India is learning the Abacus. There are several companies providing abacus learning programmes for children in the age group 5-15. Some of these companies are franchisees of larger firms located in the far east.

The programmes are typically organized into up to 7 levels. Each level represents a certain level of skill in both using the abacus and in mental arithmetic. Classes are usually held twice a week (for about 1-2 hours). The monthly fees range between Rs. 350 and Rs. 500.

Some of the popular abacus companies are:
UCMAS
Aloha
SIP Academy
Ideal Play Abacus
Brain-O-Brain

My own site www.kalyanis.com provides free course material (videos, worksheets) on learning to use the abacus. It focuses on beginning learners in the preschool and primary age range.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Worksheets for Afterschool

One of the easiest right things to do afterschool is to get children to work on worksheets (of course, if your afterschool program is only about working on worksheets - then it is hardly right!). With homework in India largely limited to exercises from the textbook, worksheets can be useful in several ways:

Revision: Working on 1 worksheet a day is a good way to revise math.
Motivation: It is easy to get a child to work on a worksheet. Being just one sheet they may seem less daunting. They are also generally well formatted (for example, with illustrations) and look friendly.

There are any number of websites offering free math worksheets. My own site (www.kalyanis.com) offers a small but growing collection of free worksheets on pre-primary and primary math. What makes these worksheets special is that they are rooted in the Indian context. I've also made these worksheets printer-friendly - they are in .pdf format. While they have illustrations - they are light on toner use!

Another site that seems useful is this. It is a commercial site offering worksheets for the pre-primary up to the 4th standard. They also offer 20 free samples.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Computers for Afterschool

Which is a good computer to buy for your afterschool program? This was the question I asked myself a few months ago while setting up my own afterschool program. There are several interesting options to look at:

The One Laptop Per Child program in India is now spreading to new locations. There are 6 pilot locations in the states of Maharashtra, UP, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka.

The use of thin client computing is also spreading. See this article for an idea of what this is about.

Free and open source software has much to offer. For starters there is the linux operating system Edubuntu created for use in educational settings.

But finally what matters (in my view) is what you do with the machines (whatever they are). I know schools and organizations where computers are used more as glorified type writers. You use it for nothing more than typing and formatting text - that too in the most mundane way possible. So choose any computer that your pocket can comfortably allow - spend time and energy on stocking it with the right software and on designing good activities and projects around it.

As for my afterschool centre, I chose standard PCs - but what I've stocked them with is super-standard!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tell a Story Afterschool!

The potential of digital storytelling for getting children to think (deeply!) and communicate is being recognized the world over. Sadly, this hasn't really taken off in India. Computer classes in and out of school are limited to dull assignments on word processing and making presentations (I asked one 8 year old what he did in computer class - he said he typed 'India is my country' over and over again!).

What a pleasure it is then, to discover a digital storytelling project right in my city! The Modern Story project collaborates with the Digital Equalizer initiative of the American India Foundation to introduce digital story telling to government secondary schools. The project currently reaches two schools in Andhra Pradesh. Their site offers interesting activities, lesson plans and chalk board views of lessons on digital storytelling. You can also see what the students participating in this project have created.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Peep into the 'hole-in-the-wall' AfterSchool!

Getting Indian children ready for the digital age has to be a thrust of afterschool programmes. A well known initiative in this direction is the Hole-in-the-Wall.

Hole-in-the-Wall Education Ltd. (HiWEL) is a joint venture between NIIT Ltd. and the International Finance Corporation. The initiative is about more than just setting up computers in playground walls for children to use on their own. It calls the approach - Minimally Invasive Education - meaning that children can learn to get together and use computers (for learning educational content) on their own. HiWEL has set up more than a 100 playground learning stations across the country so far.

PCs and the internet need to be as accessible as the STD/ISD booths all over India's cities, towns and villages. Sure we have internet cafes in urban centres - but these are not easy to set up (a room, 4-8 computers, furniture, UPS, etc.). Also they aren't 'transparent'. Safety of the child is an issue (for example, risk of exposure to adult content).

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Headfake Textbooks for Afterschool!

You've heard 'headfake' before right? If not please look this up - its worth it!

Now talking about headfake textbooks relevant to Indian kids. There is a wonderful series of science (story) books by the IL&FS. I've got a few in my afterschool library. Just yesterday a 5th grader read one of the books - Camp Yellow Submarine - it gives a good intro to the structure and working of the digestive system. The storyline is an adventurous trip inside the body in a mini submarine. I handpicked the book for her as she had just finished the same lesson in school. It was a great way to reinforce and enrich what she had learned in school.

We need lots of books of this kind at costs that are affordable. Is anyone listening?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Go to the Guru Afterschool!

Math help afterschool all through the year for just about Rs. 2000? Making quality education accessible is one of the boons of IT.

MathGuru is an online math tutoring website. It provides neatly explained solutions to every math problem in the NCERT math textbooks from standards 6 to 12. You can view the samples on the site to get a feel of it. It would benefit students who can handle school math by themselves with a little extra help. A added benefit is that it gives space for self-learning. Rushing from school to tution to another tution eats away all time - where is the time for the student to learn by herself? Services like this are of special value to students who follow other prescribed texts at school. They give the child a chance to dive deep into another course text and benefit from additional practice and different treatment.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Turn to Textbooks Afterschool!!

Textbooks afterschool = Textbooks during school?

Not really. Children in India see just one prescribed textbook for each subject at each level. As schools often lack active libraries, and as learning usually does not go beyond memorizing the contents of the textbook - they do not refer to any other books. Most parents too believe that the textbook is the only thing the child must learn from.

How does an afterschool programme encourage reading outside the prescribed textbook in these circumstances? Luckily, we have several textbook publishers. There is of course the NCERT which designs the curriculum and has its own textbooks for the national CBSE syllabus. Then there are the various state boards printing their own textbooks for the schools following the state syllabus. Then there are any number of private textbook publishers.

It is quite an experience for the child to read the same lesson in another textbook - the way a concept is explained, the illustrations, and the review questions are all different. Checking another textbook to see what is similar or dissimilar as compared to the familiar one at school is a 'head fake' that reinforces and enriches learning.

So stock a lot of textbooks in your afterschool library!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Got a 'Room to Read' Afterschool?

Setting up a meaningful afterschool programme is a challenge. But you can look and learn - there are enough examples around. While afterschool programmes for a great majority of the 'privileged' children are limited to tutions or tv, there are a few (too few!!) innovative, well-designed, meaningful programmes reaching underprivileged children. Looking at these working models will help in two ways - designing programmes for any group of children and scaling up programmes for underprivileged children.

I looked up the Room to Read website just now. It is reassuring to know that my own afterschool programme also has the same contours - reading and computers (with science and math included). Room to Read's India operations started in 2003. The programme reaches rural and urban slum communities in five states (New Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh). By 2007 more than 1500 libraries and 16 computer and language labs were established through this programme.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Astronomy Afterschool

A readily available resource for learning science is the sky! Joining an astronomy club or starting one on your own is a good way to dwell deeper into the fascinating world of stars, eclipses, comets, etc.

The Astronomy Club of Hyderabad offers support to set up your own afterschool (or school) astronomy club. The Amateur Astronomers Association in Delhi is another resource. While it would be useful to give a complete listing of such organizations/institutions to help you find one in your city - this is beyond the scope of this blog. But a stroll through these two websites should provide you enough pointers and contacts to get info on your city/state.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

On the Roads, Afterschool!

One thing that Indian kids need to learn about is traffic safety. Two reasons - to be safe on the roads, to help parents (and drivers) be good drivers!

I could not help thinking how useful well-structured traffic education is while attending a few sessions at a driving school. Do children have to be 18 to learn about road signs, about good road etiquette? I think not. We do have a few programmes in India that take traffic awareness to children.

The Chandigarh Traffic Police seems to have a well organized traffic awareness programme for school children. Its infrastructure includes a traffic park where children are "taken for a walk along the driver track and are familiarized with the meaning of different road signs and markings. They are taught to cross the road safely at the zebra crossing and are also taught the operation of the pelican traffic light installed outside some of the schools. The children are explained the meaning and operation of the Automatic Traffic Control Signals and the blinkers. They are taught the simple right of way rules in different situations such as at T-intersections, at the rotary etc."

In Hyderabad too there is a traffic awareness park located at the premises of the Jawahar Bal Bhavan (Public Gardens). However, I am unaware of any organized traffic education programme being run there.

I am sure that most cities (at least the state capitals) would have such facilities - these would be an important part of an afterschool programme.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Take a Test Afterschool!

Yes! Testing is serious afterschool business. Just a couple of years ago testing was limited to schools - tests that teachers put together for their own classes. Grades or ranks are then given which tell the child where she stands in her class (of 35-60 students depending on which school she goes to). More often than not there is no other feedback mechanism to tell the child where she has erred. But not any more...

A range of testing services are now available to Indian children - and these are not limited to school based tests alone. An early entrant to the testing field that has built a reputation for itself is Education Initiatives with its ASSET testing service. The ASSET tests can be taken online or through the school. A fairly new entrant is 24 x 7 Guru - a site which enables the child to take a test daily! Then there is MacMillan's International Assessment for Indian Students - this seems to be school-based, though.

My personal experience has been that tests help. A well-crafted test can provide the child meaningful challenge and valuable instant feedback. Why! my (soon to be) five year-old has gone beyond taking tests - she now gives me tests! I watch with delight how she takes time to compose the test paper. She then hands it over with a promise to help me with the answers if need be!!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Train for the Olympiad Afterschool!

What gives gifted Indian students the motivation to keep going? One of the answers is the olympiads - competitive academic events that test the students ability to grasp and apply concepts - way beyond the exercises in the textbooks. Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education is the nodal centre for Olympiad programmes in Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Astronomy. The programmes aim at promoting excellence in science and mathematics among pre-university students. The exams are held in several stages - starting from the local to international levels. Students short-listed in the initial rounds are provided specialized coaching to help them face the international exam. Students of the XI and XII standards are eligible to participate - while some (astronomy) also have a Junior level where students from VIII standard upwards can join.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Afterschool Online

It goes without saying that the internet provides a great resource for afterschool education. That said, there is a value for sites that are 'Indian' in content. One such example is this. It is a networking site focussed on academic improvement in children. The site provides networking space for students, teachers as well as parents. It has content (relevant to the CBSE curriculum), on-line tests, forums to ask questions, etc. Though registration is free, you may need to buy a few points to start off using some services. You spend and earn points depending on what you do at the site.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Skywatch Afterschool

The Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune has a Scientific Public Outreach Programme (SciPOP). The SciPOP has several programmes reaching children both during and afterschool time. The 2nd saturday lecture and demonstration programme invites scientists to speak to kids in the 9th and 10th standards. For children in the age group 10-18 years, hands-on science workshops are organized. However, students must be in a group of about 40 and must be accompanied by their teachers to take part. On friday evenings a sky-watching programme is organized - this is open to all (with prior appointment). Campus visits can also be requested.

Academic institutions opening their doors to children is a sure shot way to generate interest in science and math. Afterschool centres also need to pursue links with such institutions - so that such learning opportunities do not get limited only to schools.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Afterschool Computer Clubhouse

The Intel Computer Clubhouse is an after-school program, where youth ages 8 to 18 have access to computers and mentoring. The focus is on learning by doing: creating digital artwork, making music and movies, designing websites, etc.

Intel India has partnered with NGOs to set up Computer Clubhouses in under privileged localities in India. The first Intel Computer Clubhouse was launched in New Delhi in December 2001 at the Katha Khazana, an NGO-run school for children from Govindpuri slum area in Delhi. The second clubhouse was set up in partnership with Children's Love Castle in Bangalore in December 2002.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Afterschool vacation camps on bioresources

The National Bioresource Development Board (NBDB) under the Department of Biotechnology been running a Vacation Training Programme on Bioresources since 2002. This 3-4 week programme is held annually for the children who have appeared in the class X board exams. The course consists of interactive lectures, hands-on lab & field work and individual projects on study of plants, animals, microbes of their area, web page designing on bioresources, simple biotechnology-based experiments etc. Since 2002, more than 40 programmes have been organized across the country.

The Department has now launched DNA clubs (DBT's Natural Resources Awareness clubs) in 145 schools across 23 states and UTs of the country. The Vacation Training Programme is now a part of the DNA club programme. These clubs will conduct a range of activities and provide hands-on learning opportunities focusing on bioresources. Regional Resource Agencies (RRAs) have been established at different locations in the country to facilitate this activity.

There is also a school contact programme through which quiz competitions, film shows etc are held in different schools at the regional and national levels. This programme is being hosted by National Geographic Channel.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Just how many Afterschool Programs out there?

There are several afterschool centres in Indian cities - but how many are there? what do they offer? This is one area where a rigorous search is needed.

They are several websites listing classifieds - one such site on Hyderabad city lists 120 entries under the category afterschool activities. Searching the same site for dance and music classes threw up 83 entries for music and 122 entries for dance. Even after accounting for cross-listing, that is a substantial number for one city. How about Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai? How about smaller cities and towns? A quick search only frustrated me - I know that there are lots - but they are not being captured!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Afterschool Science at the Museum

Did you know? - the first science museum in the country was set up in 1956 (I do not know yet which one it is!). The National Council of Science Museums has about 25 science museums across the country. Here is a map showing you their locations. Apart from these, there are science 'cities' set up state governments (for example, the Gujarat Science City, the Science City in Chennai). Then there are those set up by independent foundations (the Birla Science Museum in Hyderabad).

The Gujarat Science City has a variety of programmes and facilities for popularizing science. The facilities include exhibit halls on science and space, an energy park, a life science park, etc. The activities include a series of lectures on popular science topics, workshops on science for children, events to mark important days (such as the World Ozone Day), etc. Interestingly, they also have a training module on use of puppetry for science popularization - and a puppetry corner at the science city. The best part is that the science city is open till 9 pm.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Go to the Circus Afterschool!

The richness and range of afterschool programmes (what they are and can be) never ceases to amaze me! It's definitely not: anything goes afterschool! Rather, it is: there is so much meaningful learning to explore after school hours.

Edutopia's e-newsletter alerted me to the use of circus for education - and brought home the fact that I had no clue this was going on (shows how important it is to look out for information - something I hope to do with this blog)!

Between October 2007 and March 2008, Dreamtime Circus (USA) and Swechha (India) joined hands for a Circus for Change programme that toured several states in India reaching schools and communities supported by NGOs: "Performances will include an array of circus arts, music, and storytelling, and will communicate positive messages of hope, dreams, and respect for the earth and all humanity. In addition to performing, the Dreamtime troupe can hold workshops to teach a variety of basic circus arts to kids of all ages. These performances and workshops will provide a unique and creative venue for partnering organizations to raise awareness about their issues."

Searching specifically for the use of circus arts in afterschool I chanced upon this: Circus of the Kids. The potential of the circus for afterschool education in India is waiting to be tapped - it has a twin benefit - providing exciting afterschool education and giving artists (circus, folk) a forum to perform and teach.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Afterschool...Naturally!

The Bombay Natural History Society's Conservation Education Centre is located on 33 acres of forest land on the outskirts of Mumbai (earlier Bombay) city. It provides a range of 'afterschool' educational opportunities including nature trails, nature camps, special events (how about 'Breakfast with Butterflies'?!), and even distance learning courses. (BTW distance learning courses will be a separate post - there are so many great courses out there!) The centre also offers volunteering opportunities.

Several nature clubs/associations across the country offer a range of nature-related programmes:
The Birdwatcher's Association of Andhra Pradesh (of which I am a member) based in Hyderabad organizes monthly birdwatching trips and indoor meetings.
The Butterfly Conservation Society, also in Hyderabad, organizes similar programmes with a focus on butterflies.
Sundarvan, a nature discovery centre (and mini zoo) in Ahmedabad organizes nature camps at its campsites.

Opportunities provided by these institutions are valuable - they give children a chance to learn specialized skills (species identification, census, etc.), they give a real-life feel to science (especially important as many Indian schools do not have basic lab facilities), and build nature appreciation. These are what every good afterschool programme must aspire to achieve.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Science Education Afterschool

Another important area where afterschool programmes are active in India is science education. There are several institutions focusing on popularizing science. Some like the Jana Vignana Vedika focus on using science to counter superstitions, some like Ekalavya focus on promoting activity-based science education, some others like the Bombay Natural History Society focus on a specific agenda (in this case nature camps, eco-clubs, etc. for conservation). There is a lot of ground to cover in this blog! One step at a time. To start with one of my favourites:

The Vikram A. Sarabhai Community Science Centre (or the VASCSC) located in Ahmedabad, India is an institution built (in the 1960s) by the visionary whose name it carries. Its campus offers several interactive science exhibits that children can fiddle with. There are well equipped physics, chemistry and biology labs. A small but resourceful science shop offers do-it-yourself science kits and puzzles for children as well as demonstration kits for teachers.

The VASCSC offers a range of programmes for children and teachers. These includes weekend clubs on science and math, summer workshops (science hobby workshops, math lab, computer workshops, etc.), teacher training programmes, etc. The centre also has several outreach activities.

The need for such institutions across the country is great. However, what we have are a handful scattered across India's gigantic landscape.