The new year has begun with a sense of cautious optimism with children gradually returning to classrooms, even those in primary grades. However, many of these children have not seen the inside of a classroom for the better part of the last two years, and concerted efforts have to be made to ensure they are safe, and readjusted to the new learning environment. Only then can we make meaningful strides to bridge the learning gap.
2022 is also touted to be the year when India kickstarts work towards achieving the vision outlined by the National Initiative for Proficiency in reading with Understanding and Numeracy (NIPUN) Bharat mission. Launched in July, 2021, the NIPUN Bharat mission aims to achieve universal acquisition of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) skills — a child’s ability to read with comprehension and perform basic math problems by Class 3 — for all children by 2026-27.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) has released guidelines for all states on how to implement the mission and allocated funds for key areas to ensure the mission succeeds and achieves its targets in a time-bound manner. Many states have begun or are beginning to implement programs to actualize this vision. This article attempts to unpack a few budgetary provisions to guide states to plan the NIPUN Bharat mission.
1. Teaching Learning Materials (TLMs)
All successful attempts in improving FLN outcomes in India and around the world, point to the availability of FLN TLMs in the classroom as a key contributor to success. TLMs include teaching and learning tools which help teachers in supporting students attain foundational language and numeracy skills. Some of them are print rich posters, reading cards, big books, Math manupilatives, etc.
Our diagnostic across India finds that often states struggle to make such additional TLMs available in primary classrooms. MoE has made a provision of Rs 500 per child for states to plan the mission delivery. This is a great opportunity for states to carefully curate well-known FLN specific TLMs for their classrooms.
States can engage experts from non-profits organizations (NGOs) and their own academic bodies such as SCERT to develop contextual TLMs which they can print and deliver to all classrooms. Procuring two of these TLMs—both very crucial for young children—has been traditionally difficult for states: good quality graded reading books and big books. States often can only procure these from the National book trust (NBT), and it is widely believed that NBT’s collection for FLN grades is not large enough for states to choose from. Also, books in vernacular languages is a bigger gap that needs to be addressed. Some states like Chhattisgarh and Delhi have solved this problem creatively. They partnered with NGOs like Pratham, Room to Read, Katha, etc., to get copyright-free children’s books and then used their budgets to print and deliver them. This turned out to be a win-win for both states and NGOs.
Another FLN tool which states struggle with is Math Kit. This is usually a set of manipulative objects like Deans block, ganit malas, etc., in the range of Rs. 1500-3000 per kit. Ideally, every class should have 2-3 of these for teachers to support children in picking up early numeracy concepts. The challenge often is the tedious process of tender and procurement through NCERT or other sources. The budget provision and clear guidance by NIPUN Bharat perhaps gives an opportunity for states to solve for this. Uttar Pradesh, for instance, has solved the administrative hurdles to procure NCERT kits and ensured the availability of Math Kits in schools. Haryana on the other hand partnered with Sampark Foundation which delivered these Math Kits in every school as part of Sampark’s Math program.
2. Teacher Materials
One of the big gaps most diagnostics show is that teachers often struggle to plan and teach. They also tend to focus on completing textbook chapters instead of focusing on learning outcomes or skills that children need to acquire by the end of the week and sessions.
MoE’s provision of Rs. 150 per teacher gives states the opportunity to correct that situation. Most states can provide teacher guides to support teachers with how to use textbooks, TLMs, and student workbooks. These guides can be designed such that it helps teachers with suggestive daily and weekly lesson plans along with classroom activities. Research indicates that the use of structured pedagogy lesson plans can really have an impact on teachers performance in FLN classrooms.Read more about Structured Pedagogy here
Some states have already made great strides in this direction. Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have partnered with organizations like Language Learning Foundation, Room to Read, Sol’s Arc, and Vikramshilla to support their SCERTs in developing thought-through teacher guides which they will roll-out as part of the coming academic year.
3. Program Management Units (PMUs)
NIPUN Bharat guidelines put enormous emphasis on states to set up a State PMU and District PMU. MoE has also recommended that states provision for Rs. 50-65 lakhs per state and Rs. 6-24 lakhs per district for effective FLN delivery.
This provides a great opportunity for State Education Departments to attract good talent to help them execute the mission successfully. It is well documented that good leadership at the district level is often very crucial for all mission-like programs to succeed. Missions like Swachh Bharat also benefited from district-level structures to drive key workstreams.
States can also look at other mission-like programs for inspiration which use fellowships as a route to attract young talent to drive workstreams: CMGGA fellows in Haryana, Swachh Bharat fellows, aspirationals district fellows. Visualizing a NIPUN Bharat fellowship program to utilize this budget provision can be an interesting way to set up districts to succeed on the goals outlined by the mission.
While getting into a mission mode, especially when schools were practically shut for students, is very difficult. But if states are careful in interpreting the design intent behind the budgetary provisions made by the Ministry of education, they will stand a great chance to set up the mission very well in the first two year.
4. Student Assessments
MoE has provisioned Rs. 10 to 20 lakh per district which will be dedicated towards assessing student learning. This is a crucial line item which states can use wisely to track and achieve the goals of NIPUN Bharat. States must aim to get the following three levels of assessments correctly.
First is school-based assessments. It is important that states develop high-quality formative and summative assessment items which teachers can use weekly and quarterly to regularly assess children. Assessment integrated teaching plans have shown great results in the context of FLN teaching. Some states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh have done well in working with assessment organizations to develop high-quality assessment items which have strengthened teachers’ plans.
Second is a dipstick assessment system. Here, a mentor or CRC visits schools periodically to orally test a small sample of 5-10 students. This assessment data helps the system understand how a block and district is performing at an aggregate level and then accordingly support children.
Third is an annual endline assessment. Here, the state could conduct an oral assessment of a small sample of students per district to understand how the district is performing with respect to the NIPUN Bharat goals. This assessment data can be used to set accurate goals for each district and help district officials and teachers focus on competencies where they are lacking.
Oral reading fluency or ORF is regarded as a key indicator for assessing children’s ability to read with comprehension. Hence, MoE has provisioned some budget for an ORF study. This budget allocation can be used by states to benchmark what is speed at which children read, i.e., words per minute in which a child should read something in her home language to attain reading fluency. For instance, in Hindi, it is regarded that 35-40 words per minute is the benchmark while for other languages like Odiya, Bengali or Tamil, that may not be the case. States can use this study to benchmark ORF for their languages.
5. Robust IT Infrastructure
MoE’s guidelines on the implementation of NIPUN Bharat has a dedicated chapter on the need and importance of a robust IT system. They have allocated Rs. 3 per child to provision for a tech-enabled monitoring system.
Our diagnosis shows that most state governments don’t have good quality data on how teaching and learning is happening in their classrooms. Their data systems focus on inputs like enrollment, attendance, mid-meal related information, material delivery, etc. For the delivery of the mission to be successful, it is important that the Mission Director and their District PMU have access to regular data on ‘how children are learning’, ‘how well teachers are performing in the class’ and ‘how critical enablers like mentor visits, material delivery are happening’. In order to do this, states will have to develop a robust technological architecture including app-based data collection, dashboards for report visualizations, and healthy review systems to use data for informed decision making.
States will be well served if they prioritize development of such a system in the very first year of the mission to reap the advantages of reliable data to monitor and support districts and blocks to achieve the mission goals.
Some states have already taken decisions to onboard an external technology partner to help them develop and deploy such a system. Gujarat invested in this direction even before the mission. It has also set up a Command and Control Center with a state-of-art data center which can be used to regularly monitor school-level performance.
A working roadmap, but needs necessary contextual tweaks
These line items should provide a holistic roadmap to states to improve education delivery and eventually work towards achieving universal FLN in India. However, they should not be looked at as a one-size-fits-all solution. Every state has localized issues and requirements, and the success of the mission would largely depend on how well the states contextualize these recommendations based on their needs.