Learnings from Azim Premji Schools during COVID-19

Understanding different pedagogical approaches and strategies to engage students effectively in situations when normal school functioning is not possible

Two community classes at the same venue

The pandemic forced us to rethink several details of the teaching-learning process. Our school is in a small village, Bamor of Tonk district, with a large proportion of students from underprivileged backgrounds. The school has 247 students in grades 1 – 8, and this report is based on our work with students of all grades. 

During school closure, 60% of our students had no access to digital tools for online learning, and even for those who had access, in our experience, online learning was ineffective. Hence, we started exploring other strategies to engage our students meaningfully. Our end goal was simple – that our students should not forget what they had already learnt and should continue to keep pace with the basic curricular expectations as per the academic year, they are currently placed in, despite schools being shut. 

Therefore, our efforts were organised around – a) ensuring that all our students have a reasonable competency level on all basic capacities for their grade, and foundational literacy and numeracy across grades and b) optimise the use of all possible methods, available resources for maximum learning.

Our off-school engagements began in March 2020 when the lockdown was imposed. The entire journey since then can be divided into three phases: phase 1 was the online phase (video calls, sharing assignments on WhatsApp and simple phone calls); phase 2, which began in June 2020, centred around worksheet-based assignments with individual scaffolding through home visits; and phase 3, which began in July 2020, was around organising in-person sessions for community or village-based groups in safe, well-ventilated public spaces.

Each of these phases brought with it its own operational complexities – for example, finding appropriate public spaces for community-based classes, the roster for teachers, etc. While some of these are mentioned in this document, we have refrained from dwelling on details of such matters.

We learnt as we progressed through these phases, and our strategies improved and became more grounded and effective. We see these learnings as useful in making teaching-learning processes more effective not only in the current disrupted educational scenario but also as normal school functioning is restored. This document, hence, focuses on such insights from this experience, which are summarised below:

  1. We were faced with a situation where we had to plan for a mixed group of students from various classes (a multi-level, multi-grade class). Instead of segregating the group and engaging them on different tasks, we started each session with a common activity – such as discussion around a topic or reading a carefully selected set of library books – which engaged all students. These shared activities, which set a common rhythm for the group — and encouraged peer learning, were followed by activities differentiated based on grade and learning level.
  2. Across grades, all of us joined hands in working on foundational literacy and learnt to integrate language learning outcomes in the regular lesson plan for their respective subjects – making the approach of language across curriculum’ a reality. For instance, an EVS teacher of grade 5, while teaching her regular subject lessons, also ensured that her students could understand the text, summarise it in their words and comment on it in a systematic way – these are learning outcomes of language.
  3. To help students achieve foundational literacy, we went beyond textbooks and brought library books to the centre of our teaching in the form of one full session anchored in library books for purposive reading and writing. Students were free to choose any book to read followed by a range of choices in doing individual or small group assignments, such as drawing, selecting words beginning with a specific alphabet or those where a specific maatra was used, rewriting the story in one’s own words or narrating it to the entire class, etc. 
  4. While conducting classes in community spaces brought its own operational challenges, we converted the situation into a teaching opportunity. Situating lessons within their local context and using local resources made lessons more relatable. For instance, students learnt profit-loss by understanding local businesses of their liking such as selling chaat, and so on. 
  5. We were able to help students improve their writing skills through open-ended tasks – writing skills were one of the challenges we faced even when schools were functioning normally. Relevant tasks were given in continuation to the library class or other sessions located within local contexts. Students could choose to write on any books they had read or any observation they would have made while doing their projects, maintain a journal and then share it with peers for feedback, and so on. 
  6. We understood that a good relationship with students, their parents and the community directly influences continuity of engagement and learning and is hence essential. During the pandemic, we observed that when people saw that their own house or street could be a place of education, their attitude towards the school and teachers changed – there was more trust, sensitivity in interactions and cooperation in efforts. All this led to a better learning environment for the students. 
  7. Similarly, we understood that keeping our alumni engaged has its own advantages. They are our resident representatives in the community. Hence, they could help us in mobilising the community and aid students directly; also, their success could simply inspire younger students.

Because of all these efforts, learning loss for our students was minimised, and they also progressed within their grades, as indicated by our periodic tracking through regular assessments. Notably, student performances for grades 5 and 8 improved marginally for all and significantly for some in August 2021 when compared to similar data from March 2020. Therefore, it makes sense to continue these efforts in our normal course’ routine.

Hence, in this document, we also discuss our plan to include these efforts in our regular work as the education scenario becomes normal. These insights may seem obvious and sometimes common-sensical, but their operationalisation was complex and not easy to get habituated to. However, we realised their need and importance in these difficult times when circumstances compelled us, teachers, to think outside the class.

Download the full report here