Thursday, June 20, 2024

Meghalaya’s SSA initiative – ASPIRE helps realise aspirations


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By Our Reporter

SHILLONG: While the Education Department has been in the news for the wrong reasons some innovations in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) have escaped public attention.

One such intervention is the ASPIRE programme-(Allow Synthetic Phonics to Improve Results in English) – a joint effort between SSA Meghalaya & International UK based Children’s charity ARK (Absolute Return for Kids) formally launched in April 2012. It is steadily emerging as a small, though innovative effort that seeks to unlock the dormant potential of children and improve English competence of students across SSA Schools.

Frederick Roy Kharkongor, State Project Director, SSA Meghalaya who is playing a key role in pushing the ASPIRE programme says the State adopted the ASPIRE programme under the aegis of its Learning Enhancement Project (LEP). It is a pilot project for 41 rural schools, catering mainly to students from marginalized families. “The idea is to provide them an opportunity to learn quality English comparable to standards in Quality Schools. I am hopeful the project would make a profound impact on a children’s life by offering them the opportunity to become proficient in the English language and thereby enhance their own job prospects.” Kharkongor stated.

The ASPIRE programme has 8 overarching principles. They are – Child focussed, Transformative, Catalytic, Systemic, Sustainable, Measurable, Replicable and Scalable.

Covering 41 schools, ASPIRE is currently implemented in 20 schools in Mawryngkneng Block, 4 in Mawphlang, 13 in Mylliem and 4 in Shillong Cantonment, including Special Schools of East Khasi Hills District.

The ASPIRE package includes an internationally designed pedagogic kit that comprises Jolly Phonics, Genki English and Read Write Inc, approaches that attempt to teach letter sounds, conversational English, reading and writing in an enjoyable and multi-sensory way, for fostering concrete learning experience and long term retention.

“Genki is a Japanese term for energy. ASPIRE aims to energize teaching through games, jingles, conversation and interactions. Each alphabet is taught as a distinctive sound, a story is woven around each letter, a shape is assigned to each alphabet, to make learning a completely multi –sensory experience involving all five senses.” Kharkongor informed.

The learning kit comprises 7 big colourful illustrated books for levels 1-7, blending boxes, with cards carrying a variety of phonetic sounds, picture cards with 20 themes, a teachers manual, Tricky sounds, workbooks ,a Magic hat from where the teacher fishes out cue words are used to teach ASPIRE, making teaching interactive and joyful.

Recognizing the transformative potential of ASPIRE, the programme was rolled out in 41 schools initiated by a rigorous training for teachers to equip them with innovative teaching techniques and to enable them to be key class room drivers for delivering English lessons with passion and confidence. This Kharkongor says has better learning outcomes in children who require English competency as a vehicle for better opportunities.

A random visit to Lad Umrisain SSA School, Mawphlang, the teacher Patricia Blah covered the entire Lesson Plan on Jolly Phonic, using the “Big Book” effectively. The Children participated with child like fervour, so an impromptu dictation was organized, amazingly the children were able to perform fairly well, managing to correctly spell a plethora of difficult words and sentences, including the word storm with effortless ease.

At Jyoti Sroat School, the Big Book was converted into Braille for the visually challenged. Mary Rice school has introduced ASPIRE to other classes too besides Class 1.

Varinia a teacher of Providence School remarked, “ASPIRE is interesting for both me and the children”. Marylin Wanswai teaching at St Anns Upper Primary School says, “I have been a teacher for the last 9 years and have faced a lot of problem teaching children the alphabets. I have looked for solutions but with little success. I am thankful to SSA and ARK for teaching us this new method”.

While the programme cannot substitute the existing teaching-learning model, ASPIRE seeks to add value and innovation to the process, Kharkongor added.

SSA Meghalaya and ARK are set to replicate the programme in other parts of the state. ARK is also considering introduction of interactive technology to assist teachers in their day to day teaching transactions through use of existing mobile phones or an innovatively designed “talking pen”, making the ASPIRE programme a truly aspirational ladder for the rural child.


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