Engaging Parents in Early Childhood Education
The majority of children from low-income communities in India are far behind grade-level competencies, especially those in their foundational years. As per the ASER 2019 report, 43% of children in grade 1 can’t recognize letters of the alphabet, and 35% can’t recognize numbers 1-9. The Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the learning crisis. Given the dire situation, there is a need for government systems to re-invent their outlook on education and consider smart technology solutions to facilitate improvement in education delivery.Go Back
By Siddhant Sachdeva
October 29th, 2021
The majority of children from low-income communities in India are far behind grade-level competencies, especially those in their foundational years. As per the ASER 2019 report, 43% of children in grade 1 can’t recognize letters of the alphabet, and 35% can’t recognize numbers 1-9. The Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the learning crisis. Given the dire situation, there is a need for government systems to re-invent their outlook on education and consider smart technology solutions to facilitate improvement in education delivery.
What is the Smart Balwadi Program?
The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), in partnership with Rocket Learning, launched the Smart Balwadi program to roll out a technology-backed solution to engage parents and teachers in the everyday learning process of young children. The program was launched in January 2021 with the goal of changing the mindsets of parents towards the importance of early childhood education and delivering better learning outcomes. The program covers 300 balwadi teachers covering 6,000+ parents / children and is now being scaled up to cover all 800+ balwadis and 20,000+ parents / children.
Our parent engagement framework is based on providing parents from low-income communities with AIM — Aspiration to be involved in their children’s learning at the foundational level via awareness campaigns, Information that is contextual and usable to educate their children in the form of daily content videos, and the motivation to continue education in a sustained manner via technology-backed nudges. We leverage technology on top of simple-to-use WhatsApp groups to reach parents via parent-teacher groups, where each group is a digital learning community anchored by the teacher and the government. We have found it to be extremely effective owing to the effects of multiple parents’ participation which nudges all in the group.
The Rocket Learning technology is simple and leverages WhatsApp which parents are familiar with. Their simple motivation features like smiley report cards are very popular and their activities are doable with materials available at home. They also make sure that the Balwadi teacher is part of the process and the automation helps reduce the admin workload for the teacher.Balwadi teacher on MCGM-Rocket Learning use of technology for education.
Early Childhood Education is Critical
Abundant research has proven that early childhood education is critical to lift up any educational system’s performance, with positive effects on cognitive development, long-term career advancement opportunities and behavioural benefits for society. The recently released National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in India emphatically makes the case for early childhood education (ECE), calling it ‘the greatest and most powerful equaliser’ for the 30 million children in this age-group belonging to low-income communities. Over 85% of brain development occurs before the age of six, when children from underprivileged backgrounds have almost no cognitive stimulation through institutions or at home.
What’s more is that parents and at-home learning have been found to have a great deal of impact on early childhood education. For instance, a research done by ScienceDirect on parent-child joint reading states that ‘Joint storytelling with a parent promotes print awareness, an important factor in developing literacy and reading skills. In a separate research done on family engagement during early childhood in Columbia, experts suggest that interventions and policies designed to improve family engagement in early learning opportunities both at the ECCE centers and at home could have positive and independent effects on early childhood development. While anecdotal evidence would make parent engagement a ubiquitous and essential component of early childhood development, there is now a growing focus on it along with at-home learning courtesy of the pandemic.
The Impact of Smart Balwadi Program
The Smart Balwadi program works with parents/children and the MCGM Balwadi teachers to ensure improved learning outcomes and behaviour change at scale while leveraging technology. Owing to the high smartphone penetration, 90%+ (18,000) parents are now benefiting from getting daily educational content on their Balwadi WhatsApp groups along with technology-powered automations like weekly report cards, customized individual certificates and compilation videos. Of the users who were in these groups, 80%+ of parents became active participants in their child’s learning journey by watching the educational activities and sharing responses on the group. Further, around 50% of the parents were actively engaged on a regular basis, suggesting habit-building on part of the parents in their child’s early childhood education.
The results on parent behaviours were also tested out by an independent policy think-tank Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy which surveyed participating parents. Behavioural parameters tested included time spent with children on educational activities, awareness of the importance of early childhood education as well as likelihood to continue their participation post school reopening. Surveys showed very positive results and established that being part of the program resulted in increased awareness on the importance of early childhood education. Surveyed parents were 2x more likely to continue participating in educational activities and were found to spend 30% more time with their children on a daily basis.
Rocket Learning works in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana leveraging a similar technology based model to engage parents, children and teachers at a systemic level. Not only does this work towards positive behaviour change among parents, but also allows regular sharing of data with key state stakeholders for them to act upon. For e.g., there are teacher, school, block and district leaderboards shared routinely in both Uttar Pradesh and Haryana with the aim to mobilize the system. The model will also stay pertinent even as states enter partial/full school reopening as a positive reinforcing loop of revision/homework at home anchored by parents. Our work on Mission Prerna in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in partnership with Central Square Foundation has shown that it is possible for sustained engagement for the full academic year even with schools reopened. Such models with proven outreach can have auxiliary benefits for state education departments as they allow dissemination of broader educational campaigns and can also be leveraged for sample-based assessments using low-tech innovations such as WhatsApp chatbots. These assessments can then inform the strategy on content, curriculum and also provide personalized feedback to children/parents in areas where skills/competencies are lagging behind the curriculum.
The hope is that projects such as the MCGM Smart Balwadi program can act as beacons of responsible and timely response by government systems to spot and leverage low-cost, easy-to-access ed-tech solutions to support their existing efforts, ensure reduced system admin workload while ensuring high participation from teachers, parents and children alike. Such solutions will be relevant even after schools reopen, as they will be critical to stem any learning loss that might have occurred during the pandemic and will help build a supplementary model for parents and children to engage in homework and revision in tandem with the regular classroom instruction.
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Leadership team, Rocket Learning
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