A teacher turns the dial, and 40 pairs of eyes light up; a few small heads begin to sway. A simple melody fills the bright pink and green walls of a Delhi classroom as the teacher walks up to the blackboard. She jots down the words awake and asleep, translating each in native Hindi.
Then, along with a voice that booms out from the audio player, she instructs: “Let’s all sing the morning song. Students sing!” Dressed in matching navy blue uniforms, the youngsters eagerly oblige: “Good morning, good morning, how are you?”
This is the voice of EDC’s Technology Tools for Teaching and Training (T4), a nationwide program that assists education departments in India to improve elementary education through technology learning.
T4 delivers educational videos, group teaching and learning software, and teacher training programs, in addition to its main component, interactive radio instruction (IRI).
“We started by launching pilots in three school districts, each in a different state, to a total of 900 schools,” says Nadya Karim-Shaw, project director for T4. “Within a year of the pilot, all three states were expanding to have T4 statewide.”
That was in 2005. By then, quality education for all children was a priority for the government of India. T4 became the U.S. Agency for International Development’s first foray back into India’s education sector after a long hiatus, and EDC was chosen to manage the project.
Five years later, T4 has reached a total of 42 million children in 300,000 schools, across 8 of India’s 28 states, each with a unique curriculum. With additional support from the government of India, pilot programs in all participating states have been expanded to reach students who speak 32 different languages and more than 100 dialects.
Transforming teachers and students
What began as an award of $5 million now totals $12.5 million. The government attributes T4’s IRI success to its interactive component, something India’s former traditional radio lessons lacked.
“Originally, education officials thought interactive radio would be disruptive,” says Karim-Shaw. “Now students and teachers get excited when it’s time to turn the radio on.”
Without a doubt, T4 is improving education in India. A 2009 report by EDC and others shows that students in India have made significant gains since T4 was implemented, by as much as 17 percentage points in math and science and 26 percentage points in English.
The program has played a vital role in training teachers and reaching poor students with little-to-no English language skills. It is helping teachers conduct student-centered activities, even in large, unequipped classrooms, many without so much as desks for students to sit in.
“Unlike traditional classrooms where rote learning is used, and children are just passive listeners, the IRI programs prod students to participate through a variety of games, activities, and even song and dance,” says EDC’s Victor Paul, who directs EDC’s projects in India. “Besides improving the overall learning experience, the programs have added an element of fun to the staid classroom routine.”
For students living in rural parts of the country or those with disabilities, T4 is providing something much more fundamental: The at-home radio lessons are the first schooling they’ve ever had.
Then there are the teachers.
“Generally, you see T4 transforms a teacher because he or she feels more confident about their ability to teach,” says Karim-Shaw.
Training workshops and a detailed teachers’ guide help teachers learn to direct student group work, a strategy not commonly used in India’s oversized classrooms. And now, T4’s Group Teaching and Learning (GTL) software unites teachers and students around a single computer to play games with names such as Animal Discovery and What is Disease? Like IRI, GTL has made group learning possible, giving structure to lessons.
In Delhi, the radio trails off to allow the teacher to review the lesson. Then once again, it amplifies. An English voice booms and instructs the boys to stand up, point to a girl, and tell her “you are a girl.” There are giggles. The sounds of success.
Originally published on July 16, 2010