March 13, 2016
Written by USAID Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP) Nepal
Srijana Bishunke and Trishna Achchhami are helping students of grades I, II and III with picture word cards and a short story in one classroom. Flashcards with animal illustrations and colourful artwork hang from the ceiling. Charts displaying student progress are on the left wall. Blue and green baskets labeled with animal names are neatly placed in a cubby. Right next to the door, colourful books are on display.
The ambience of the classroom resembles that of a fancy private school in Kathmandu. However, as one looks out of the open window, a close view of the hilly terrain, evokes a sense of the rural countryside.
Tucked away in a rural setting of Kavre district, the scars of the April 2015 earthquake are still visible on the cracked walls of Jana Udhhar primary school. Students were taught in a temporary shelter for almost four months.
Following the earthquake, Srijana and Trishna faced a daunting challenge: how do we make the students feel safe and help them learn at the same time?
In response, USAID’s Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP) worked with Rato Bangala Kitab, a local publishing house, to provide 200 titles of children’s books to 5,748 government schools and temporary learning centers (TLCs). Jana Udhhar School was one of them.
“Apart from cultivating a love of reading in children, these books have been really useful for integrated learning and parents’ engagement”, says Srijana, who is trained in MGML (Multi-grade Multi-level) teaching pedagogy.
MGML teaching methodology is practiced in many schools across the hilly and mountain regions, where limited teacher supply and frequent change in student population is an issue. About 90 percent of the students in Jana Udhhar School represent the Dalit community from lower socioeconomic background.
“Attendance often changes because many parents are brick kiln workers and take their children with them to work. Sometimes, we cannot stop them. However, we provide books to these parents, so their children are able to read on their own and to their parents”, shares Trishna. The school organizes workshops and conferences where parents get to share three memorable lessons from the books their children read to them.
And how do these books facilitate MGML learning in Jana Udhhar School?
Students in grade I, II, and III are taught in the same classroom by Srijana and Trishna. While third graders Goma, Sandhya and Sujata are learning about fruits and vegetables from the books, first graders Aakash and Sangita are doing needle work on picture cards with illustrations of vegetables. As Srijana teaches the third graders about fruits and vegetables, Aakash and Sangita are developing a natural inclination wanting to know more about the topic, already laying the foundation for lifelong learning.
Their learning progress is registered in a simple visual display on the ladder chart displayed on the wall. It is a visual metaphor that motivates Aakash and Goma as they see themselves moving ahead.
While more research is needed to attribute MGML’s success in Nepal, benefits of USAID’s Early Grade Reading books are evident in improving children’s learning abilities and building stronger communities.