Insights from a Study of Middle School Students’ Foundational Mathematics and Language Skills

Introduction

175 students from government higher primary schools in Bengaluru were engaged as part of a study to understand their learning needs in the context of schools being re-opened after the prolonged school closures during the pandemic. The study was conducted through a series of activities wherein students worked individually, in pairs or in small groups and their abilities in foundational mathematics and language were assessed based on their responses. Conscious efforts were made to ensure that students didn’t feel like they were taking a ‘test’ or being judged.

Objectives:

  1. To understand students’ learning needs in Mathematics, Kannada and English subject areas through an evaluation of their foundational knowledge and skills.
  2. To identify learning difficulties that students are facing and particular areas where they need help.
  3. To identify students showing signs of moderate/mild learning difficulties (MLD).
  4. To assess students’ abilities in listening and reading comprehension, speaking, writing, computation, pattern recognition and understanding of basic geometric concepts.

Key Findings:

  • Across schools, about 70% of all students were able to listen to phrases in Kannada, comprehend and perform the associated task correctly, whereas in English only around 38% could do so.
  • About 41% of students across schools could speak more than 3 sentences in Kannada without hesitation and with minimal mistakes and only 3.3% of students across schools could speak more than 3 sentences in English without hesitation and with minimal mistakes.
  • Percentage of students who can fluently read and comprehend a short story is only about 30% in Kannada and 13% in English. About 17% of students are at a level where they can only recognize letters in Kannada. This number is around 27% in English.
  • About 41% of students across schools could speak more than 3 sentences in Kannada without hesitation and with minimal mistakes but only 3.3% of students could do so in English
    In mathematics about 25% of students assessed have challenges in solving addition and subtraction problems and over 70% of students have difficulties in performing multiplication and division

Overall observations from school visits:

  • All children have been pushed to their age-appropriate grades without taking into account their learning needs and difficulties. As a result, some students have dropped out and several others seem to be disengaged in the classroom transactions, putting them at the risk of dropping out in the future.
  • Interpersonal skills seem to be gravely affected in students perhaps due to lack of opportunities for social interactions during the pandemic induced school closures. Instances of bullying, delinquency and use of inappropriate language have been observed across schools and grades. Despite schools being co-educational, both boys and girls are unwilling to interact and collaborate with peers of the opposite sex.
  • Several students who cannot speak/read/write Kannada were seen to be mechanically copying down answers in Kannada for the Kalika Chetarike worksheets written on the blackboard or from peers. As a result, there seem to be limited meaningful learning opportunities for students to develop their knowledge and skills.
  • The Kalika Chetarike material currently being used is designed to bridge the pandemic-induced learning loss. This is pegged at grade level or 1 grade below but students’ levels are even lower. There seems to exist wide disparities in students’ understanding and the retention of concepts previously taught even within the same grade in the same school.

Conclusion & Suggestions

The baseline study provided an in-depth understanding of the students’ foundational knowledge and skills in mathematics as well as Kannada and English languages at present. From the results and observations of the baseline study, the impact of the pandemic and school closures is clearly evident. Students across schools seem to be struggling with concepts at their grade level and in most cases even those below their grade level, even 2+ grades below grade level. Students’ learning needs are to be further assessed and apt pedagogic strategies need to be applied. Chief among the changes is incorporating strategies that can accommodate multilevel and multilingual teaching-learning.

Following are some suggestions for addressing these issues:

  • Multilingual resources and approaches need to be used to accommodate students who have migrated from English/other medium schools and have difficulties understanding classroom transactions in Kannada.
  • If teachers are able to use some materials or activities that help revisit concepts from 1-2, (and even more) grades below for children who require it, it might help students learn according to their needs. Department should to issue a circular that encourages teachers to use the required Kalika Chetarike material relevant to each child’s needs irrespective of their grade. It is absolutely necessary for each and every learner to find the classroom process meaningful. If any learner finds the process meaningless (is unable to make meaning), such a student is at risk of dropping out of school. Even if the student continues schooling (and is promoted every year), s/he will lag further and further behind grade levels.
  • Teacher workshops and trainings can be organized on multilevel and multilingual teaching strategies. For example, in Tamil Nadu, cluster level meetings are being organized on a monthly basis for their foundational language and mathematics learning program. Similarly, meetings could be planned in Karnataka for teachers to discuss and formulate ways to help student’s learning better.
  • A program on the lines of Subject Teacher Forum – Karnataka Open Educational Resources can be planned to provide ongoing support to teachers to access, adapt, and revise resources for their contextual use and also share with their peers across the state. This will enable teacher-teacher cooperation and collaboration on materials and methods, on a continuous basis.

The full detailed report can be accessed here.

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