Nexus of Good: Global Dream
The methodology is addressing the colossal problem of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy through an experimental approach at a faster pace
Disruptive methods and systemic approaches are urgently required to make India's adults and children fully literate. Dr Sunita Gandhi has developed groundbreaking tools and processes that have the potential to solve India's greatest education problem — Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN).
India's New Education Policy (NEP) aims to reach universal literacy by 2025. The FLN problem, however, is colossal and unless out-of-the-box solutions are found, it will not be accomplished by 2025 or even 2030 as required by UN's Sustainable Development Goal 4.6. A quarter of India's adults are illiterate, accounting for 37 per cent of the world's share (UNESCO 2014). More than 50 million children in schools still need to be FLN capable (NEP). Nearly a half of Grade-5 children cannot read Grade-two text, and one-fourth of those graduating from Grade eight do not have FLN skills (ASER: Annual Survey of Education Report 2018).
Recognizing that literacy is the best equalizer, Dr Sunita Gandhi left her high-profile job at the World Bank to directly serve her family and the cause of education. By this time, she had gained considerable expertise in implementing education policies in several countries, travelling to 49 countries and studying their education systems against the backdrop of her own family-run world's largest school situated in Lucknow where she grew up to breakfast, lunch and dinner talks about education. She has also conducted a 15-year research in education in Iceland, the UK and India which got published in the UK in 2017.
To tackle the problem of worldwide literacy, an experimental approach was taken. Some difficult questions were posed: Can a completely illiterate person learn to read a newspaper in just one month? Can she/he do so with single 15-minute study sessions per day? Can they learn without much assistance from a volunteer? Through research work around these questions, the impossible was made possible. Upside-down Global Dream methodology relied upon cognitive mind-connections that solidified learning, and three guiding principles that nurtured intrinsic motivation and self-confidence: 1) Go from known to unknown, 2) Go from visual to abstract; and 3) Ask, not tell.
Global Dream delivers FLN in 30 hours over three months or more. In comparison, it takes 120 hours over four months or more to teach the FLN skills to an adult who is illiterate as per the Government's new Padna Likhna Abhiyan (Read Write Mission). A typical school-based learning of both literacy and numeracy skills at the Grade-3 level (considered to be the FLN level) takes 960 hours over three years or more.
Global Dream accelerates the delivery of adult literacy through faster speed, lower volunteer qualifications and minimal training. This allows a volunteer or teacher to begin teaching immediately.
The Global Dream FLN programme has been developed in 13 Indian languages and is being replicated in other languages. These advantages are combined with similar costs of physical toolkits, surveys, assessments, certification, etc., as in Padhna Likhna Abhiyan (PLA). However, the costs come down to near zero and zero with the Global Dream learning system and mobile app that works both online and offline.
For children in government schools, the Global Dream methodology has shown remarkable results. BTC Trainees were trained in Uttar Pradesh to implement the Global Dream reading programme in government schools in Lucknow district. Similarly, teachers of primary classes were trained to implement the same in the Hamirpur district in collaboration with Oxfam. The average reading levels of students of grades 1-5 in both districts jumped nearly 50 percentage points in just six weeks of implementation, a gain that is comparatively higher and faster than other programmes in similar contexts. Currently, discussions are underway to implement the Global Dream in the context of both adult literacy and of children studying in government schools.
So far, an estimated five lakh students at schools dotted across India have volunteered in the 'Global Dream Each One Reach and Teach At Least One' campaign to teach FLN to both adults and children outside of schools. They have used the physical toolkits in their summer breaks to teach an illiterate child or adult, who is often a family member, a maid or her children. Some schools and universities have created ongoing programmes and established school-based global 'dreamshalas' within their schools and in communities such as slums and villages near their locations.
A new Name Literacy Challenge launched by Dr Gandhi on International Women's Day on March 8, 2021, has a huge scale-up potential. Though it starts by teaching the learners to write their name first, this motivates both the learners and their volunteers to continue teaching the complete FLN skills. Name literacy takes just two hours of a volunteer's time because it does not require that learners first learn the alphabet (varnmala and matras).
While FLN is considered equivalent to Grade three, Global Dream's new digital platform adds content for homeschooling or government schools for up to Grade 12. The platform is an interactive learning tool that motivates learners to learn. It picks up data and analytics to track progress and provides useful insights to policymakers. The new digital platform solves the issue of "missing beneficiaries" by recording the real-time progress of every learner and therefore, serves as a literacy data repository for the nation.
Global Dream has made a significant impact without any external funding since the first groundbreaking toolkit was made. Some 2,50,000 adults and children have been made literate by the efforts of students in schools in different states. This is borne out in a detailed survey of 15 lakh target population in 3,96,000 households in Lucknow between six and 60 years of age, covering all rural blocks of Lucknow and some urban wards. This led to reports and policy discussions on adult literacy and mainstreaming of 10,000 out-of-school children. In an experiment, 22 women of a village made 800 women literate, 180 of them in the first two months! Going forwards, the plan is to make India literate through advocacy and in collaboration with governments, voluntary organisations, corporates and educational institutions.
Dr Sunita Gandhi presents a wonderful example of Nexus of Good. Based on thorough research and experiments, she has managed to scale the good work through public-private partnership and she has plans to scale it further.
Views expressed are personal