CREATING EQUITABLE CLASSROOMS

Renisha Bharvani, Project Rangeet

Project Rangeet was founded on the premise that quality education is every child’s universal right and that current education systems in most countries do not prepare children to thrive.  The following reasons / conditions support our beliefs:

  1. Most government education systems and low fee private schools, especially in developing countries, teach in a rote learning style tracing back to a “factory model” that emerged in the early 20th century. These are the systems of a bygone era when the architects could not have even imagined the future of today. If such systems are dated for today, they are necessarily crippling for the future.
  2. Educational inequity is impacted by multiple factors like income, race, religion, gender and geographical regions. Eg. According to the India census 2011, 82% of boys are literate while only 65% of girls can read and write.
  3. Most of the children in developing countries have limited or no access to digital technology. Eg. According to reports only 8% of homes with young children in India have a computer system with internet connectivity.
  4. Equipping children with a breadth of skills is extremely important. The child of 2050 will have employment opportunities that we haven’t yet imagined or will compete against robots that do maths and science faster than they do. Policy and curriculum needs to be agile and the designers need to use their imagination and intention to already be working in the future.

These conditions maintain a vice-like grip on disconnected communities, offering little to no solution for inclusion, erasing opportunities for innovation and progress. Children from disadvantaged and disconnected communities have a right to the same opportunities as those available to their counterparts, whether they be disadvantaged due to income, race, religion, gender, geographical location or other factors.

Project Rangeet as a Safe, Equitable and Scalable  Solution

Competence in social emotional skills can help bridge the gap in educational inequalities worsened by disruptive events, such as the pandemic or any humanitarian crisis. A 2017 Collaborative For Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) study indicates that SEL interventions can support the positive development of students regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or geographical contexts. The World Economic Forum has reported that the top ten skills required in the workforce all involve social and emotional competence (Future Jobs Report, WEF) and according to the CASEL study, 92% of executives surveyed agree. 

 Children need a breadth of skills to keep up with the lightning pace of today. According to 2018 research performed by the Brookings Institution, half of all youth entering the workforce in 2030 will lack basic secondary-level skills needed to thrive, from literacy and maths to critical thinking and problem-solving (“How Playful Learning Can Help Leapfrog Progress in Education”, Rebecca Winthrop, 2019). No matter what path they choose or culture they come from, children require a combination of learning, literacy and life skills. Each skill is unique but essential in the internet age.

Schools should encourage this “breadth of skills approach” adapting how they teach to how children learn. Child-centred, pedagogical methods like playful learning and multiple intelligences ensuring that “no child is left behind” should be adopted (The Brookings Institution, Policy 2020; Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, 2019 updated). Project Rangeet’s unique SEEK curriculum does just this, using a “breadth of skills approach”, with the crucial addition of monitoring and assessing teachers and children in real time. SEEK also includes ecology because without a healthy planet there is no viable future for all. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes due to climate change.

SEEK is based on a belief that the existing reading, writing and arithmetic concentrated primary curriculum and learning is not enough to achieve the full learning outcomes. A Project Rangeet classroom is equitable rather than prescriptive. Teachers and children discuss, think about and voice their opinions on important social issues, such as different types of discrimination and bullying, mental health and climate change, thereby raising awareness among students, encouraging them to come up with solutions, whilst also imbibing necessary life skills. Classrooms become safer environments by eradicating such problems. Project Rangeet develops children into better learners and successful, happy and well-adjusted adults no matter their background, by teaching empathy for oneself, society and all life on earth.

Project Rangeet’s SEEK curriculum is educationally sound. We have identified specifically what works with the psychology of children, using proven methodologies such as playful learning methods and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to include every child in every lesson and teach in the way different brains think and learn. SEEK involves every child as an active participant in their own learning process through music, art, games, role-play, experiments and storytelling, amongst other activities. The curriculum itself is replete with exercises, lessons and activities that build equity in the classroom, the home and/or community. SEEK’s methodologies are unique and almost certainly not adopted to teach core curriculum, thereby showcasing strengths that children themselves might not know they have or that teachers and classmates might not recognise in someone. For 50 minutes every child is afforded the opportunity to shine, whereas in a regular classroom, they may not. 

SEEK recognises that children learn best when education is active with room for discovery and experiential learning through inquiry and reflection; consistently engaging without distraction; made meaningful through connections between new information and prior knowledge; socially interactive with peer collaboration and adult support; iterative with chances to form, test, and revise hypotheses about how the world works; and joyful. These principles naturally emerge through guided play, in which an adult facilitates child-led playful activities to meet a learning goal.  
The added benefit of these teaching-learning tools is that teaching SEEK produces better school teachers in that they are pedagogically upskilled across subjects and their social emotional competencies are improved. Necessarily, this leads to more equitable classrooms because teachers become more inclusive and open-minded. Evidence of this is obtained through tests run in the Project Rangeet app. Project Rangeet not only delivers the SEEK curriculum but also measures its impact on students and teachers alike to demonstrate efficacy – from changes in attitude and behaviour, to development of life skills, to teacher reflections on their own pedagogical growth through the program, as well as skill development within the children.

Summary

As students re-enter classrooms, we have a unique opportunity to reimagine and reinvent education. Schools should be vehicles through which children can learn necessary life skills to function successfully in the present and future. Skills which will always be relevant, including:

As the pandemic has shown, even within a small radius, children of different races, genders, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds or geographic locations with access to the same internet connectivity face a divide. Some children have access to full online learning, whilst others do not. Digital inclusion is not just about devices, technology and connectivity. That is simply an access problem. We believe that true inclusion is about creating an equal footing for children from marginalized communities by providing them with the tools that are also available to children who are in a more advantageous position.

Bridging the digital divide is the crucial first-step to provide quality education across racial, gender, socioeconomic, linguistic, religious and geographical barriers. A SEEK intervention has the following characteristics:

SCALABLE

EDUCATIONALLY SOUND

RELEVANT

MEASURABLE

COMMUNITY-LED

SUSTAINABLE

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