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The Mother’s Service Society

Plot 4, Venkata Nagar Extension

Pondicherry, India 6050121


 

 

PROPOSAL TO ESTABLISH PRIMROSE SCHOOL AS A MODEL FOR ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION THROUGHOUT INDIA

 

 

Introduction

EDUCATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Early childhood education in India is subject to two extreme but contrary deficiencies. On the one hand, millions of young children in lower income groups, especially rural and girl children, comprising nearly 40% of first grade entrants never complete primary school. Even among those who do, poorly qualified teachers, very high student-teacher ratios, inadequate teaching materials and outmoded teaching methods result in a low quality of education that often imparts little or no real learning. It is not uncommon for students completing six years of primary schooling in village public schools to lack even rudimentary reading and writing skills.

At the other end of the social and educational spectrum, children attending urban schools, especially middle and upper class children in private schools, are subjected to extreme competitive pressures from a very early age to acquire basic language skills and memorize vast amounts of information in order to qualify for admission into the best schools.  Parents and teachers exert intense pressure on young children to acquire academic skills at an age when children should be given freedom and encouraged to learn as a natural outcome of their innate curiosity, playfulness and eagerness to experiment. The primary method for this education is memorisation of standardized texts without any reference to wider topics. There is no concern to stimulate the creative thinking of a child’s mind.  Rising concern over compulsory learning at an early age is prompting many educators to advocate dramatic steps to counter the obsession with premature and forced teaching practices.

In Search of a ‘Third Way’

Between these two extreme positions, lie a wide array of mostly mediocre practices. Rarely do we find the educational system fostering the natural process of spontaneous, self-motivated self-education in which children learn just as they play and as a form of play out of their innate curiosity and urge to acquire knowledge of the environment. Internationally, there have been many efforts to find a ‘third way’ that suffers neither from the sad neglect all too common in low quality public education or the compulsive pressures exerted even on very young children by competitive, career-conscious school systems.

A highly successful alternative approach has been evolved in the USA by the Institute for the Development of Human Potential, founded by the eminent educationist Dr. Glenn Doman. Doman’s work is based on the conviction that learning is a natural instinctive urge in young children that is very often curbed or destroyed either by neglect and lack of exposure or by compulsory teaching. During more than three decades of work with both normal and brain damaged children, Doman has shown that exposing young children to interesting sources of information for very brief periods each day actually stimulates the development of the brain cells during early years and fosters a spontaneous curiosity and natural love of learning in children. Doman’s methods have been practiced for more than 20 years at the Institute’s school in Philadelphia and more recently in similar institutions established in South America, Western Europe and Japan. The same methods have been applied successfully by more than one million parents around the world.

Organizer

The Mother's Service Society is a non-profit organisation registered in Pondicherry on 17th October 1970. The Society's objectives include a wide range of educational and research activities with particular emphasis on social science research in the field of socio-economic development. The Society undertakes field projects for education of the public, conducts studies and prepares reports for governmental and private organisations, engages in pure and applied research, holds seminars, carries on joint educational and research programmes with universities and other educational institutions in India and abroad, and publishes papers, articles and books relating to its educational activities and research findings.

 

The Society first became active in national development activities thirty years ago when it successfully initiated one of the first village development programs in India, which was subsequently extended throughout the country. Over the years, it has prepared numerous reports for the Government of India on strategies to accelerate development and is presently participating in the Government's effort to evolve a vision for the country over the next two decades. The Society considers efforts to improve the quality of education the most important cornerstone of effective development strategy. (see enclosed Report on the Society’s activities)

  

As an institution of higher education, the income of the Society is exempt from tax under Section 10(22) of the Indian Income Tax Act. Since 1981 the Society has been approved by the Government of India as a social science research institute for the purposes of exemption under Section 35 (i) (iii) of the Indian income Tax Act whereby donors are permitted 100% tax deduction on donations to the Society for its social science research activities.

Strategy for Improving Indian Education at the Pre-School and Primary Level

At the request of Dr. M. Anantakrishnan, Vice Chancellor of Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education, the Society presented a strategy to the Confederation of Indian Industry to accelerate primary education in rural areas and computer-based technical education in urban secondary schools. These recommendations were part of the Society’s continuing work on alternative methods of education.

Based on close collaboration with an experimental school at Arasavangkadu, Tamil Nadu, which the Society has been assisting over the past four years, the Society decided to establish a model school in Pondicherry applying the 21st Century educational methods that have proved so successful in Arasavangkadu. Thus, Primrose School was started under the aegis of The Mother's Service Society.

Primrose  School

Primrose School,  inaugurated  in June 1999 in the former French colony of Pondicherry, is a pioneering effort in India to utilize Dr. Glenn Doman’s teaching methods as the basis for a full program of pre-school, primary and secondary education.  Already several other schools have started adopting the methods demonstrated at Primrose.

At present the School has a total of 80 students in four grades from pre-KG up to 1st grade, starting with very young children of the age of 2 years in the nursery section. Every year fresh students are taken only at the nursery level. It is proposed to continue expanding the grades upwards until the 12th grade is reached. This year there are seven full time teachers including a separate teacher for computer lessons. The school is presently located in a rented building.

The Society has purchased a 4468.49 square metre plot of land in Pondicherry and started the construction of a high school campus. Eventual plans are to include a computerized library, indoor gymnastics hall, air-conditioned computer lab with 30 computers and a sports ground. At present, the funds of the Society will permit it to construct only the ground floor classrooms up to 5th grade level.  (See Appendix A for details on proposed investment by the Society).

Approach and Methods

The system of education provided at the Primrose School is based on the following approach:

·         The most important aspect of the approach is attitude of the teacher, which should be that learning is a form of play which fosters the blossoming of the child’s natural development. Learning should and can be made interesting, enjoyable, fun.

·         A large portion of the teaching materials are produced at the school by the teachers, who customize their teaching aids to suit the interests and knowledge levels of the students.

·         Children learn spontaneously when their interest and curiosity are awakened. ‘Teaching’ is confined to brief periods according to the natural attention span of each child, which is normally 15-30 minutes daily during the first two years. It is never extended beyond the child’s span of interest.

·         The student-teacher ratio is kept very low to enable the teacher to work with small groups of 4-5 children at a time while the others are absorbed in learning games or recreational play. The most effective ratio is five students per teacher during pre-school, LKG (Lower Kindergarten) and UKG (Upper Kindergarten) and fifteen students per teacher during standards 1 to 5. However, since the teaching methods are intense, each student actually need attend only 2˝ to 3 hours of class per day, enabling each teacher to effectively handle double the number of students.

·        The act of teaching consists primarily of presenting sensory images, objects and information to the child in a pleasant and interesting manner in the form of flash cards. This permits the child to observe and inquire about the subject, without compelling the child to memorize. Coloured flash cards with large images are utilized as convenient, low cost teaching aids. 

·         Since the stress is on the idea that the younger a child is, the better equipped is he to learn, the method is focused on rapid flashing of information through cards. The child is taught systematically to synchronise two of his sense organs, namely his eyes and ears. Even as the words are being flashed, the word is called out. The child learns to assimilate skilfully the two pieces of information being given. The baby is taught to see a word, hear it and know it simultaneously. The child is taught a word as a complete unit of sound and its meaning.

·         Rapid acquisition of basic reading and verbal skills in multiple languages occurs naturally by exposing the child to whole words as objects on flash cards repetitively for very brief periods. Story telling is used to make learning fun and to communicate basic values of goodness, beauty, harmony, responsibility and right conduct.

·         The child is not so much taught a language as much as a skill to acquire and learn as many languages as his environment will permit. And when the child is capable of logic he is  shown  its various components of alphabets and syllables. Similarly, the child is taught numerals before numbers and functions in mathematics. Encyclopaedic knowledge is taught to a child by first teaching bits of  information about any topic. The ring of knowledge is slowly enlarged until it encompasses and includes other topics too. The ring grows big enough to move from topics to subject to interdisciplinary ideas. The result is a very broad based learning, a very wide foundation  to understanding, assimilating and finally creating new ideas.

 

·         Information on people and other living things, places, history, geography, and other cultures are presented to the child in the form of stories, pictorial information and explanations combined together to present facts in a living, integrated context rather than as a series of separate divorced subjects. For this, an extensive range of printed books are used as well as our own home-made flash cards.

·         Audio visuals, including video films on nature, science, language development, etc. and computers using multimedia CDs to teach sciences, geography and history are also important learning tools.

·         Rapid acquisition of basic math skills is achieved through the use of number line method which enables the child to physically experiment and act out different combinations of addition and subtraction.

Results

·         In India, the average age of learning to read simple stories is 8 years. Yet, in Primrose School, despite the very brief time exposure, very average children are able to read simple Tamil and English stories by the end of 15 months, in lower Kindergarten, or around 4 or 4 ˝ years of age. During the same period, the children have also learned to recognize all the states of India, the geography of the country, the continents, peoples of the world and a wide range of plant and animal species.

·         By 5 years of age, or upper KG level this last year, most of the children at Primrose were able to read at least 2000 words in English and Tamil. Many of the children on entering the school had no prior knowledge of the English language.

·         In the first year the school engaged four women with teaching credentials and successfully trained them in these methods. The trainees learned and now regularly apply these methods for teaching our children and they also actively participate in the design of lessons and production of the teaching materials. Every year the teachers undergo further training for the next grade. This training is carried out by the Correspondent of the school, Mrs. Aruna Raghavan, a highly qualified former high school teacher who is proficient in these new methods adapted to Indian conditions.

·        Although there was initial skepticism about the effectiveness of these new methods from families of the first year children, parents have become proud of their children and the school is rapidly becoming recognized as offering the best quality education available in the town.

Replication of Results

Over the past two decades, similar methods have been tested and proven effective in homes and schools in many different countries and social environments around the world. The effort at Primrose School demonstrates that these same methods can be successfully applied in India  with urban children of lower, middle and upper class parents, whose understanding of education is the prevalent idea of memorization techniques.

Aim of this Project

The Society plans to expand the school each year to take in new students at pre-school level and progressively add classes up to and through the 12th standard. This will require a gradual expansion of the teaching staff and addition of new classrooms each year.  Since the student to teacher ratio is quite high, with optimal levels of 15 students per teacher, the overhead costs of running the school are more than normal. Most of the best schools now existing in Pondicherry have approximately 65 students per teacher.

Once this school is established as a model and the results of rapid reading, joyful learning, curiosity, and creativity are seen in all the students, the surrounding schools in the town will be encouraged to adopt similar methods of teaching. Doman’s methods can be enhanced by combining the classroom education that he advocates with computer-aided learning and with skill-based vocational training for all students of 7 years of age and older. By this means, students in rural areas would be able to acquire high levels of both academic knowledge and practical life-oriented work skills before graduation from High School. This education and training will better equip them for success in life than the average college educated student in India today.

Already this new method has attracted the attention of the Indian government.  In July 2000 the Member for Education, for India’s Planning Commission, Dr. K. Venkatasubramaniam, visited Primrose School in order to assess the method and its applicability to a wider level in Indian primary schools.

Proposed Targets

Primrose School will expand only as funds permit.  Already a sum of $95,000  has been spent on running the school for the first two years, purchase of land and beginning of construction. A further sum of $150,000 is planned for the construction of the ground floor this year. (see Appendix A).

The following expansion projects are proposed for the year 2002:

Computer Lab

Rapid computerisation of the school is very much desired. A full-fledged computer laboratory with 30 terminals and a server large enough to handle the software needed for all 12 grades is proposed to be built on the 1st floor.  It is proposed that each grade would have access to the computer lab for one hour every other day starting from 2nd grade.

Doman’s methods can be enhanced by combining the classroom education that he advocates with computer-aided learning, which accelerates reading skills and enhances creativity. A computer lab is essential to our school for the following reasons:

1. Thinking processes: Computer-based technologies provide support for thinking processes. Technology provides opportunities for acquiring problem-solving skills -- either through instructional software designed to teach problem solving or through the many requirements for solving problems that naturally emerge when one is trying to use computer tools to accomplish a task.

2. Self-esteem: Technology stimulates motivation and self-esteem. Technology is the ultimate carrot for students. It is something they want to master. Learning to use computers enhances the children’s self-esteem and makes them excited about coming to school.

3. Preparation for future: Technology prepares students for the future. Both higher education and the world of work will be infused with technology in future. Schools have a responsibility to give students--and especially students from low-income homes--the confidence and skills in using such technology that they will need after graduation.

4. Skill development: Students gain a sense of empowerment from learning to control the computer and to use it in ways they associate with the real world. Students, even at the elementary school level, are able to acquire an impressive level of skill with a broad range of computer software. They can handle more complex assignments and do more with higher-order skills because of the supports and capabilities provided by technology

5. Value of work: Technology is highly valued within the Indian culture. It is something that costs money and that bestows the power to add value. By giving students technology tools, we will implicitly give weight and importance to their school activities. Students are very sensitive to this message that they, and their work, are important

6. Collaboration: Collaboration is fostered for obvious reasons when students are assigned to work in pairs or small groups for work at a limited number of computers. Students who have mastered specific computer skills generally derive pride and enjoyment from helping others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Projected cost of Computer Lab:

 

Room size: 111 sq. metres at Rs. 5400/sq. metre construction cost

Rs.   600,000

Equipment needed: 30 pentium computers @ Rs. 40,000 ea  

Rs. 1,200,000

Server

200,000

UPS  5 KVA

70,000

Microsoft 2000 Server software

45,000

Air conditioners – split type 2 nos.1.5 tons  

60,000

Desks and chairs --  30 nos

45,000

                       

                                                                   

            TOTAL                                                Rs.   22,30,000

   @ today’s exchange rate = approx             US   $  48,000

 

 


 

Library

 

A library with books from kindergarten level up to 12th grade will be an essential part of this method of education. As in education in Western countries, children will be encouraged to begin researching and writing original essays on various subjects using the library as resource. This is contrary to the prevalent educational system in India where children are taught only to memorize particular texts.

 

This library will not only be a place for reading and research, but also a place to access to Internet and expose children to global knowledge. It will be stocked with the latest CDs in primary education syllabus as well as a full range of textbooks, fiction, encyclopedias, etc.

 

The library would require a minimum of ten computer terminals allowing access to the Internet on ISDN lines.

 

Projected cost of Library:

Room size:  75 square metres @ Rs. 6400/sq. metre

Rs. 480,000

10 pentium computers with Internet connection

500,000

UPS 2 kva            

30,000

ISDN router

20,000

Office equipment (Xerox, printer)

100,000                  

Books, educational CDs   

     300,000

10 cubicles with chair

       50,000

25 steel racks (book racks) 8 ft. height x 10 ft

       50,000

5 wooden tables 3.5 ft. by 10 ft

18,000

50 chairs               

                12,000

2 nos.  1.5 ton split airconditioners

70,000

1 counter                             

       10,000

2 desks & chairs

                10,000

Lighting, electrical wiring

       80,000

False ceiling @ Rs. 150/sq. foot      

     1,20,000

           

                                   

   Total  approx.                                                        Rs. 1,850,000 ($ 40,000)


 

 

 

Appendix A

Projected Financials (amount committed by the Society for construction of new campus)

                                                 

 

June 2001 – June 2002  Projected cost of construction of compound wall, ground floor, 6 classrooms, science lab, staff room, toilets (total 8000 sq. ft),  administration block (1100 sq ft.), two bus sheds, playground, watchman house, courtyard, basketball and volleyball courts, and landscaping

 

Rs. 7,000,000 ($150,000)

Projected cost of office equipment (computers, printer, Xerox etc ) and furniture for administrative block, furniture for 5 classrooms, lab equipment, infirmary furniture, staff room furniture, etc.

Rs. 1,000,000 ($21,000)

 

 
 
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