Three Insights from Rukmini Banerji’s Podcast Conversation on Lockdown Learning

In a new episode of the EI Dialogues podcast, Dr Rukmini Banerji of the ground-breaking Indian NGO Pratham gave her insights on topics including pre-pandemic problems in the Indian education system, learning loss due to school closures, and actions to improve learning for India’s children.


Image of Lillie Kilburn

Lillie Kilburn

RISE Directorate

Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford

Learning in India before the pandemic

Dr Banerji began by pointing out that although COVID-19 school closures have impacted learning for children, they are not the only cause of low learning levels in India. She identified some pre-existing issues in India’s education system that were compounded because of lockdowns:

  1. Children’s levels of learning “were considerably lower in each grade than the grade level.” The curriculum and the children’s learning levels were already mismatched.
  2. There was “huge variation in learning levels within each class.”
  3. There was also great variation in learning levels among states.

All of these factors meant that teaching to the existing curriculum was not practical for helping children. A more personalised approach was needed.

The path to helping raise children’s learning levels

Dr Banerji explained that a shift in thinking from a focus on “completing the curriculum” to a focus on learning itself would be essential in order to raise children’s learning levels in future.

If the entire system took learning itself as its central goal, she said, then the resulting clear sense of shared purpose would help the system’s components to work together and complete this goal:

 “It’s a mindset, it’s a priority, it’s a goal. And then the system gets aligned. I think the problem that we’ve had for many years is that we were not driving towards a goal. Our goal was completing the curriculum.”

The power of community

Dr Banerji also emphasised the power of community engagement, including the potential of family involvement in education and the value of individual responses to the pandemic that, as a whole, built into a major force for good in helping kids learn during lockdowns.

For kids who are entering the school system, Dr Banerji said, “The team is anganwadi worker, mom, child, first standard teacher.” These adults will need to work in collaboration to support the child with a transition from home to anganwadi to school.

In particular, mothers and families can make powerful contributions to learning, but “we’ve got to do more of the listening to what people are actually able to engage in,” said Dr Banerji. She said that Pratham had learned a great deal during school closures about what kinds of homework questions evoked a strong response from parents, and this new insight had prompted Pratham to focus more on engaging families. Another benefit, Dr Banerji said, was that mothers of young children found this engagement meaningful and rewarding.

Learn more

To hear more insights from Dr Banerji on learning in India, including how best to employ EdTech and what Pratham would prioritise next if children’s learning levels came to match the curriculum, you can listen to the full podcast from EI Dialogues.

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