Insights from within activity based learning (ABL) classrooms in Tamil Nadu, India: Teachers perspectives and practices

04 Oct 2017

Quality has been an Education for All (EFA) goal since the 2000 Dakar framework positioned it ‘at the heart of education’ as a fundamental determinant of student enrolment, retention and achievement. Over the years, classroom pedagogy has been consistently regarded as ‘the crucial variable for improving learning outcomes’ (e.g., Hattie, 2009) and is thus seen as critical to reforms aimed at improving educational quality (UNESCO, 2005 p.152). The quality of teacher–pupil classroom interaction remains of central importance, rather research evidence (e.g., Borich, 1996) suggests that it is the single most important factor accounting for wide variation in the learning attainments of students who have used the same curriculum materials and purportedly experienced similar teaching methods. Other more recent studies (e.g., Aslam and Kingdon, 2011) have also reported that teacher ‘process’ variables have a more significant impact on student achievement than standard background characteristics. In the current era of the ‘global learning crisis’ (UNESCO, 2014) many developing economies have embarked on major pedagogical reforms. In India, the notion of energising schools and transforming classrooms has received unprecedented attention in the last 15 years. A number of programmes have been introduced in various states to provide meaningful access (Jandhyala and Ramachandran, 2007). The Activity Based Learning (ABL) Programme is one such effort to change the nature of teaching and learning in mainstream classrooms. In a national context, where there are innumerable on-going efforts aimed at pedagogical reform, ABL is hailed as a success story in terms of replication of a small model to a grand scale. From modest beginnings in 2003 in 13 Chennai (the capital city of Tamil Nadu) schools, ABL was rolled out in a phased manner across the entire state of Tamil Nadu for all children in classes 1–4, in all government and aided schools. The last few years have witnessed its adaptation under various guises in several other Indian states, such as Ekalavya in Madhya Pradesh, Digantar in Rajasthan and Nali Kali in Karnataka. Efforts to promote it internationally in other parts of the developing world, such as Ghana, Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mozambique (Fennell and Shanmugam, 2016)have also been made. Though as Nudzor et al., 2015 note it has been met with mixed success in the case of Ghana. Nonetheless, ABL is an interesting programme to examine given its rapid growth and international outreach.