Primary Education in Tamil Nadu: When They Thought They Were Playing, They Were Learning!

Primary Education in Tamilnadu



Primary Education in Tamilnadu

Recently there was news that the Andhra Pradesh government was planning to set up a committee to explore the success of State-run primary schools in other States, including Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

In 2011, the literacy rate in Kerala was at 93.91 percent, a 3.05 percent rise from 2001 and Tamil Nadu stood at 80.33 percent, a 6.88 percent rise from 2001. These two States can certainly take pride in having an education system that is far more performing than the other States.

Both the States have been focussing on the quality of education provided at the primary level. Primary education acts as a foundation on which States are built. Where primary education is strong, the citizens stand to progress, eventually leading to a growth in the State economy.

India is believed to have made huge progress in the area of primary education. The India Development Gateway, an initiative that deals in the domain of social and rural development, states that improved education in India has played an important role in promoting the economic growth of the country.

When a Class III student could not read Class I book

However, there are other reports stating that there is lot of scope for development in the primary education sector. The Annual Status of Education Report released by Pratham, an NGO, in 2012 shows that about 30 percent of students in Class III could not read Class I book. There has been an increase in the attendance and retention of students, but the quality of education often was not up to the mark. For instance, a child with low quality of education in Class I tends to carry it over to higher classes such that by the time the child reaches Class V, his standard may not match that of a Class I student. And naturally he will be unable to proceed further.

Kerala and Tamil Nadu are believed to have tackled this problem to a large extent and have been able to provide quality primary level education. In 2008, Kerala was ranked number one in the Education Development Index (EDI) prepared for primary and upper primary levels of schooling. It was followed by Tamil Nadu. The EDI included parameters like access to schools, infrastructure, teacher-student ratio and the outcome.

Let us take a look at how both the States manage their schools

There are many factors contributing to the high standard of school education in Kerala. First and foremost is that the State understands the importance of education and is aware of its needs. The amount spent on education, though less compared to other States, is well utilised and last but not the least, the Kerala Education Department has been focussing largely on primary education, thus ensuring a strong foundation for the students.

There are three types of primary schools in Kerala – government-run, aided by government and the unaided private schools. The boards followed are either State board, the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) or Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE.) The schools impart education in both English and Malayalam medium. However, most of the private schools prefer the English medium.

As per 2011 data posted in the General Education Department, Government of Kerala website, there are a total of 2,986 upper primary schools and 6,774 lower primary schools. About 27 lakh students study in the primary schools. The State has around 1.1 lakh teachers, out of which about 35,000 are teaching in government schools.

What makes the Kerala schools stand apart?

• In Kerala there is widespread awareness about the need for education among the masses. Every family understands the importance of education and invariably sends children to school.
• The Kerala Education Bill passed in 1958 gave a basic framework for the establishment of the schools and its management. This, in fact, was the first of its kind in India. Besides, there are other rules that ensure uniformity throughout the State.
• Private players establish schools with the government acting as a regulator and facilitator. The government does not interfere although.
• No complaint related to education goes unheard in Kerala. The system is efficient and transparent.
• Teachers are guided to teach students in a practical manner and are advised to include projects and other activities in their teaching methodology.
• English is a commonly taught language, hence students from Kerala can more communicative compared to rural students from other States.

Primary schools in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu is supposed to have the highest number of enrolment of students at the primary level than any other State in India today. Similarly, the State has the lowest number of drop-outs too. However, things were not like this always. In 2004, when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) conducted a survey, the performance of the elementary level students was found to be dismal and far below national average. However, in 2007-08, the State rose to the top in the elementary education chart.

What did Tamil Nadu do differently in the schools?

In early 2000, Tamil Nadu was struggling to understand why the schools in the State were underperforming despite huge amounts being spent on education. A study revealed that teachers always dominated the classrooms. They did not have any teaching materials and resorted to rote learning. The focus was more on teaching than ensuring that the students have understood and learnt. There was nothing to attract students to studies and syllabus was covered by the teacher rather than the children. To overcome these challenges, Activity-Based Learning (ABL) was introduced.

I listen, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand…

ABL is credited with having changed the way elementary education was imparted in Tamil Nadu. ABL focuses on learning through various interesting activities where children assume they are playing or having fun but actually are learning different concepts and facts. ABL was first launched by the Rishi Valley schools in Andhra Pradesh and followed the ideology – I listen, I forget;  I see, I remember; I do, I understand. They realised that students learnt by not just listening but also by doing, experiencing and reflecting.

Soon, Tamil Nadu adopted the concept with the result that a gram panchayat school today somewhat looks like this – a class room with no tables and chairs, the teacher sitting on the floor, the students sitting in small circles…all of them busy…while some are writing on a low black board, some are drawing and a few others are using the abacus. In this type of learning, sometimes different grades sit together too.

How ABL revolutionised Tamil Nadu primary school education

Initially, a few teachers were trained for this kind of teaching. They were reluctant in the beginning, but when they began to see the benefits, they supported the methodology. Interesting and customized activity modules were prepared for different classes, through which children could easily understand different concepts. Work books were prepared and even headmasters were trained. The idea was to launch it in Classes I and II and take it till V.

Once it was implemented in the schools, the result was there for everyone to see. The children began to learn at their own pace. Teacher’s time was equally divided among the students. Children participated at every step and their evaluation was being done even without their knowledge. The students were given freedom to choose their own activity and no child could move to the next level without completing the previous level. This gave a sense of self-achievement to the students and not only enhanced their learning skills but also made them very confident.

Initially, ABL was implemented in 13 schools in 2003-04, then it was implemented in 264 corporation schools in Chennai. Gradually it was implemented in about 37,486 schools, covering 3 million students and involving 1,40,000 teachers. No wonder, Tamil Nadu schools have become a role model.


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