How the Andhra Pradesh govt is working to reduce learning gap among government school students

The Department of School Education is empowering government school students with better infrastructure and is focusing on tech-enabled learning and digital literacy to attain better learning outcomes.

Summer schools, practice papers, activity-based learning, and technology-enabled student assessments. No, we are not talking about an international school or a private institution, but thanks to the Andhra Pradesh government, these facilities are made available to children studying in government schools across the state.

One of the biggest differences between studying in a private school and a government school in Andhra Pradesh, as well as most other states in India, has been the poor learning outcome of students.

Recalling the state of affairs in a government school in Anantapur, Yashashwin H, a Class VI student, says:

“I spent my last vacation in school studying Mathematics and English. Because of my poor scores, my mother forced me to go to school during holidays. I didn’t enjoy the extra studies, but I did pass in my half-yearly exams. So, I guess the summer school was worth it.”

Looking at the scenario, in 2014-15, the Department of School Education collaborated with several non-profits and organisations including Pratham, Tata Trusts, and Samagra to assess the challenges plaguing the education sector in the state.

In 2017, a strategic school transformation programme called ‘Badi Parivartana’ was implemented in government schools across Andhra Pradesh. Its aim was to ensure all children complete K-12 education and gain age-appropriate scholastic and co-scholastic skills. To achieve this, the department embarked on a project to not only improve the existing infrastructure in government schools, but also involve community learning and focused on tech-enabled learning and digital literacy.

K Sandhya Rani, Commissioner of School Education, Government of Andhra Pradesh, tells YourStory:

“Our aim was to focus on learning outcome of students, and not on finishing the curriculum or just conducting examinations. We envisioned to move towards ‘child-centric’ school education, with a goal to create an all-enabling ecosystem that can ensure ‘happy, fulfilled, resilient, and responsible students who are future-ready.”

The root of the problem

Through a predictive modelling application developed by Microsoft, it was identified that more than 80 percent students drop out of school due to their inability to cope with academics. The existing school administration and teachers were also unable to bridge this gap and lacked the capacity to provide special attention to weak students.

S Nagamallikarjuna, a high school teacher for Social Studies in SB High School in Nellore district, says:

“Most students in government schools come from backward communities. Malnutrition combined with them coming from Telugu medium schools has resulted in their poor performance. Their parents are daily-wage labourers who cannot provide extra educational support to them after school. These children are unable to understand what is happening in the class as they don’t even have their basics cleared in primary school. The students cannot cope with Class-VI studies, and I would end up teaching foundation courses.”

Students at the residential hostel

To address such challenges, a state-wide summer remedial programme called Gnana Dhara was initiated in 2018. Here, classes were held in Math, Science, and languages in over 500 camps across the state. About 60,000 students and 4,500 teachers from Class VI and Class X participated in it. The objective of this programme was to strengthen foundational skills among students and reduce the dropout rate in these two classes. It was conducted in partnership with other departments and ministries such as tribal welfare, health, and social welfare.

“The biggest challenge with summer school is that parents are not interested to send their children to study. Even students don’t want to stay inside the hostel, as they would prefer to go out and play. We need to make this programme compulsory and give parents initiatives to send their children to school,” says Nagamallikarjuna.

He adds that there has been an improvement among the students who have attended the summer school programme.

The government claims that after this programme was held, the students’ learning outcome increased by four percent, and their internal survey highlighted that more than 80 percent of students found the programme to be useful.

“In the course of over 15 days, learning outcomes improved by 18 percentage points for class six students, and by 15 percentage points for class 10 students,” Sandhya adds.

The programme is set to be expanded to other classes as well in a year-long format. It aims to reach a greater number of students, thus leading to better learning outcomes in the state.

Also read: Using simple user-friendly technology, Himachal Pradesh revamps its education processes, teacher training, and more

Addressing student learning gaps

In order to address student learning gaps, the State Council of Educational Research and Training formed a 13-member Assessment Cell the same year.

The Cell comprises of subject experts and assessment experts who are trained to meet three key objectives over a span of three years. First it looks to enhance quality of test design and development, and then develop data research and assessment reporting skills, as well as strengthen test administration processes.

The team underwent a three-year rigorous certification programme by the Centre for Science of Student Learning (CSSL) to design assessments for 38,000 schools.

Elaborating on this, Ramesh Veluthedan, member, assessment cell, says:

“We conducted standardised assessment across all schools in Andhra Pradesh last year, and we published the data and the outcomes publicly. The gaps, the problematic topics, and themes were identified, and we went back to the teachers with this data. We provided a full picture of the learning outcome of a child and this enabled the teachers to re-design their curriculum and teaching methodologies.”

The cell captured education assessment information of more than 20 lakh students from Classes VI to X across six subjects, and fed this data into a larger, more comprehensive “CM dashboard.”

Further, this allowed for accurate and granular data to be made available to all levels of review meetings across the board, at block, district, and state levels. It also enabled the administration to monitor and hold teachers accountable. This dashboard is integrated with the students’ report cards, wherein teachers can provide parents with a clear picture of each student’s progress.

“The publicly available data also helps teachers assess student learning levels faster, and aids them in staging timely interventions,” Sandhya adds.

Another initiative towards this end is the state-sponsored summer remedial programme, which uses this data to bring students at par with their grades. Till date, the dashboard has had almost 90,000 users and over 33 lakh page views.

Also read: How Haryana transformed dismal student learning outcomes in its government schools

Need for teacher focused initiatives

Following the steps taken by the government, today, the grade-wise competency framework has been adopted by over 72,000 teachers across the state. They design all summative and formative assessments for Classes VI-X, capturing subject-wise data on a Student Assessment Dashboard. Further, 10 standardised competency-based summative assessments have been administered over the past 36 months.

Similar to the multi-pronged approach initiated by the State governments of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, and Delhi, the Department of School Education in Andhra Pradesh is working on addressing the challenges in the education sector.

While technology has helped to address the learning gaps among students, Madithati Narasimha Reddy, Headmaster at Zilla Parishad High School in Sambepalli, Kadapa district, says more focus on teacher training is required to aid the children.

“Seven out of 10 teachers in government schools are old or middle aged, and they lack the drive to adopt technology. Also, teachers don’t get enough time to prepare for their classes as they are busy implementing other programmes in rural areas like election duty, conducting government surveys, and mid-day meals,” he adds.  

However, he is hopeful about the interventions headed by the State department, and believes that with sustained efforts, soon there will be no difference between a government and a private school student.

“We want our students to be happy and successful. We do this by emphasising on socio-emotional learning and providing the students with latest skills where career guidance, life skills, and vocational education are given importance,” says Sandhya.

Also read: What needs to be done to improve India's public education system?