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No ‘brakes’ on learning during summer break!

By Dr. Parthajeet DasGarima Grover and Shalet Sicliy Jose

Jun 30, 2023

What memories do you have of your summer break? Most of us made our fondest childhood memories during this time. It was a break that all children looked forward to with joyous anticipation- a time to play without care, pick up new hobbies at a summer camp, learn about new things through school assigned activities, visit new places with family and for some of us, catch up with school work and even get ahead on our syllabus. Even teachers looked forward to the same to take a break from their schedules and plan a vacation with their own children. We may also be familiar with parents being a bit hassled with the need to “engage their children productively” often with concealed plans to “cover the syllabus in advance!". Unfortunately, this may not be the reality for the majority of the students attending government schools in the country.

What memories do you have of your summer break? Most of us made our fondest childhood memories during this time. It was a break that all children looked forward to with joyous anticipation- a time to play without care, pick up new hobbies at a summer camp, learn about new things through school assigned activities, visit new places with family and for some of us, catch up with school work and even get ahead on our syllabus. Even teachers looked forward to the same to take a break from their schedules and plan a vacation with their own children. We may also be familiar with parents being a bit hassled with the need to “engage their children productively” often with concealed plans to “cover the syllabus in advance!”

Unfortunately, this may not be the reality for the majority of the students attending government schools in the country. Access to summer programs or conducive learning at-home environments is often limited for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Planned school closures such as summer breaks often lead to a dip in learning levels referred to as summer learning loss or summer slide.

Research indicates that students who previously made significant gains are the most affected by school closures, emphasizing on the urgency of addressing this issue within year-round educational programs. The visual below shows the learning journey of grade 3 and 4 students in a targeted Teaching at the Right Level [TaRL] Program, highlighting learning loss during the summer after substantial gains in a Graded Learning Program in 2019 by Pratham in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Source: Banerji, R. (2020).
Learning “loss” and learning “gain” in primary school years: What do we know from India that can help us think forward in the COVID-19 crisis? RISE Insight Note.

Summer breaks not only adversely impact the learning achievement of students but also worsens the in-class equity, especially for students who are still developing foundational literacy and numeracy (FLN) skills. For example, proficient readers are less affected by disrupted school schedules than those still developing these essential skills and will then continue to lag behind as the class progresses.

Research suggests that targeted remedial programs, bridge courses, and extending the school calendar with curriculum adjustments can impact student achievement and mitigate summer slide.[1] During our recent field visits across two states where CSF is supporting FLN programs, we had the privilege of witnessing some truly inspiring instances of community and state-led interventions that tackle the summer slide in their respective contexts. These initiatives serve as proof that communities and governments are beginning to work towards mitigating summer slide, especially for those who need it the most.

A community-led approach to bridging summer slide in Telangana

During a recent visit to a small village in Vikarabad, close to Hyderabad, we witnessed a community-led initiative to overcome summer slide. The community members held summer classes in spaces which were identified as summer camp centers across the village. These were mostly homes of the volunteers, shop rooms, Anganwadis, and community centers. The camps focused on activities and exercises to ensure that students’ learning was not stalled during the summer break. Since groups of the summer camps were created based on proximity rather than grades, these were mostly mixed groups of students getting differentiated and targeted support from volunteers. We noticed that the students’ relationship and engagement with their teachers was, as it should ideally be, organic and sans inhibitions. One of the teachers also noted, “They don’t fear us, see how they ask so many questions!”. During our interaction, we assessed students on grade-level competencies through games and quizzes and were amazed at how most of the students, especially in the primary grades, were able to display a good understanding of the concepts.

What we saw was how a small change initiative by a highly motivated teacher was taken up and owned by the entire village. The teacher, Veeresham sir, a math teacher in the local government school, was able to generate a demand for summer classes within the community through continuous engagement and awareness activities among the parents. Along with the parents, it was inspiring to see the  bond he shared with his students and almost hard to believe that he was not a native of the village. Incidentally, it was also his birthday and we were part of not one but three birthday cake-cutting ceremonies by students, parents, and ex-students. Without discounting formal teacher incentives and rewards, one can only think of such instances as the epitome of teacher recognition.

Due to his sustained efforts, the village saw the value of education. Our interactions with the parents, most of whom had not even completed primary education, valued the importance of educational programs such as these for their children. A key insight for the parent involvement was that the teacher was able to establish tangible education goals for students in the village.Parents valued quality education for their children, especially the opportunity to receive better secondary education. When they saw students from the government schools getting admissions to aspirational state-run secondary schools (Gurukul and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya [KGBV]), many of them moved their children back to government schools from private schools. When we asked parents about their aspirations for their children, they responded, “We just want them to study and do well in life, whatever they choose to do”.

Moreover, sincere supplementary efforts such as summer camps by the teacher have further strengthened their belief in the effectiveness of the government school in their village. Through the collective efforts of the teacher and the community, these summer camps provided valuable educational opportunities to children in the village to continue to build a strong foundation for a better future.

(Clockwise) CSF and state team interacting with students at the summer camp;
Veerasham sir with students and; CSF and state team interacting with parents and community members.

State-government led program to deal with summer slide in Odisha

In the wake of a severe heatwave in the state, the schools in Odisha declared summer vacation two weeks earlier than scheduled. The Govt. of Odisha took cognizance of the academic loss during such a school break and its disproportionate effects on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. To ensure that students remain engaged in academic activities and to minimize learning setbacks, the state government launched a Holiday Homework Program for students in grades 1 to 10. Under the programme, the state departments of elementary and secondary education designed short subject-specific assignments, which included project and activity-based questions. The state government set up district-wise help desks and toll free numbers to provide assistance to students, so they may easily clarify questions and resolve doubts with teachers.

During one of the field visits in May, the CSF team visited the professionally set up help desks in Dhenkanal and Angul districts. It was promising to see teachers dedicating their vacation time to answering queries and providing support to students and parents. The helpline is operational on all working days from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Teachers stationed at the help desk start their day by proactively reaching out to headmasters on any challenges being reported by students, and nudging them to encourage students to work on the holiday homework. Throughout the rest of the day, they attend to a flurry of queries from parents, students, and teachers who are dialing the helpline for assistance. “We received about 10-12 calls yesterday, mostly from students in grades 9 and 10 asking us questions, not just from the assigned holiday homework, but also from their textbooks.”, shared a social sciences teacher stationed at the Dhenkanal helpdesk.

At each desk, two teachers- a Trained Graduate Teacher (TGT) in Arts and Science are present throughout the day in two shifts. A TGT-English teacher at the Angul helpdesk noted, “The assignment has questions from concepts in the textbook, but it also includes activity-based questions to nudge students to think beyond the syllabus.” While the assignment for primary-grade students is simpler and activity-based, the help desks are receiving queries from their guardians who are supporting them with the homework tasks.

A few other teachers we interacted with shared that a considerable number of students were lagging behind the curriculum. To mitigate this, along with prioritizing summer learning, some of the teachers are willingly putting in additional efforts during the summer break to conduct online classes and undertake community visits.

While holiday homework may not be a new concept for many schools and students, this version of supported holiday homework has certainly been a first for students in government schools in Odisha, who are for the first time engaging in structured academic activities at home during their summer vacation. During our visits, we saw district education offices buzzing with the holiday homework program. The district officials were eager to share about the initiative and showed us the help desks with great pride. “It was the Secretary Madam’s (Aswathy S., IAS) idea that she shared during one of the academic workshops in the state”, quipped a district official handling academics for grades 1 to 10. This initiative showcases the state’s commitment to establishing supportive structures that aid student learning and efforts to mitigate the academic losses experienced due to school closures.

(Clockwise) Teachers on duty at the help desks in Angul and Dhenkanal districts; Teacher in Odisha undertaking community visits during summer break to support students (shared by teachers)

In summary, as we strive to build a more inclusive and equitable education system, which has a sharper focus on learning trajectories of children particularly in the early grades, tackling the summer learning gap is an important factor. We must recognize the adverse effects of extended breaks on student achievement, especially among those in foundational grades, and acknowledge the socio-economic disparities that perpetuate this divide during program design. More systemic changes would include reimagining education schedules and expanding access to enriching summer programs. However, as demonstrated by these initiatives, it is also a reminder for us as practitioners in the education domain to take significant strides towards nurturing continuous learning and bridging the gap for all students through small but notable steps.


[1] https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000377841

Keywords

Foundational Learning

Authored by

Dr. Parthajeet Das

Project Director, Strategic Support States, Central Square Foundation

Garima Grover

Project Manager, Strategic Support States, Central Square Foundation

Shalet Sicliy Jose

Project Manager, Strategic Support States , Central Square Foundation

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