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Monday, August 27, 2012

Never pay up until you are sure you have lost

That is my advice now to Usha. This is because the subsequent data I have received shows a strong correlation in one village between division level children and Std 2 level or higher level readers. In the other two, the proportion of both division-level children and story level children is too low (blame it on backward regions or not a very strong learning camp or very low baseline to start with?) to arrive at a positive conclusion.

A lot of the (few) readers of this blog were excited by the idea that math might be a trigger. This may yet be true of children who are reading at Std 1 level (simple paragraphs) but probably not enough for the others who start with an even lower baseline.

Well, experiments are planned and we will know more in a couple of months. Until then I will not claim Rs. 500 from Usha and will not surrender to her either. Let us see what the experiments throw up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How I won Rs. 500/- (only).

Betting is not something I do. That is because I don't like to lose bets. But yesterday I saw a certainty. I  bet Rs. 500, and won.

Some members of the Pratham leadership team were discussing the different "learning camp" models they were using in different states. Some conduct camps for 5 days. Others for 10. Yet others experimented with 15 and 30 day models. Some created models of teaching math for a few days followed by reading-writing the next few days or the other way round.  See "Harshad's Learning Camp"

But Renu Seth and her Gujrat team had used a 5 day camp focused on teaching math. Over these 5 days, the camp taught children to master up to 6 digit numbers including place values, and also the four operations with numbers up to 100. Over 50% children learned numbers up to the hundred thousands and also learned all four operations  up to division in that short span. They went back to some camp villages after 15 days and checked if the children had forgotten (most had not). In others they went back after 3 months and still the children had not forgotten what they had learned. In both cases they conducted a 3 day camp again and some more children learned more operations. This time the progress was quicker.

As we discussed these results my colleague, Usha Rane, said to Renu that they should not focus on math alone. They should make sure children can read too. This is because we know that wherever you go in India, half the children in Std 3-5 cannot read even Std 2 level. In Pratham jargon, the children who can read Std 2 level as per the ASER test and higher are called "story" level children.
See Hindi testing tool.  

 I said that Renu should continue to do what she is doing but Usha persisted that teaching the children to read fluently is important. It is common for Usha and me to be on opposite sides of an argument (until she finally gives in and agrees with me!). But I have to use persuasion. In this case, I used a different technique.

So, I said, let us take a bet. Rs. 500. I think, all those children who have now learned to solve division sums have also learned to read at "story" level  although they have not received instruction in reading. Renu was to call her associates in Gujrat and within two days test those same children and see what their reading level was. 

At first, I said this without too much conscious thought. But, once I said it, I started believing in that idea. Then I said it several times and it started to become conviction- without evidence, of course.All those in the room too began to think that this was possible. After all, they too knew that usually children who know how to do division are also good readers. But all those in "story" level are not necessarily able to solve division sums. But, in this case children lagging behind in math and reading were included in the camp and they had received no special instruction in reading.They had only been helped to learn simple arithmetic systematically in a few days. So, would math learning act as a trigger to their learning to read at a higher level on their own? 

What an exciting thought! Math as a trigger for learning to read??? Wow!

We got the first results from one village in just 24 hours. More results will come in another 24 hours. In one village, 26 out of 48 children had learned all operations including division and 26 children were at 'story level'.  Now, we do not yet know if the 26 who are in "story" level are the same 26 in "division" level. We'll know that shortly but at this point those who heard the results are convinced that they will be the same. What were the reading levels of these children before the learning camps. Unfortunately, we do not know that. 

So, we will now conduct a simple experiment  to check the hypothesis:  "when school children in Std 3-5 who are lagging behind in reading and math learn math, they also become "story" readers without any extra instruction in reading". 

If the hypothesis turns out to be largely correct,  it should be cause for a more detailed research. 

But, for now Usha owes me Rs. 500.