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Nexus of Good: Nurturing the roots

Language and Learning Foundation is boosting literacy and numeracy skills among early-grade students apart from focusing on system reforms and school intervention

Nexus of Good: Nurturing the roots
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From working at the top level in government to starting an organization from ground zero, Dhir Jhingran's journey has been inspiring. His passion for primary education made him give up the premier Indian Administrative Service and set up Language and Learning Foundation (LLF) in 2015. His work in the school education sectors spans over 30 years, with almost 22 of those within the governments at the state and national level.

LLF has focused on the improvement of foundational learning among young children from pre-school until grade three. Strong early language and literacy skills are the basis of all future learning at school. LLF has been developing and implementing a variety of professional development opportunities for teachers, teacher educators and other stakeholders in the realm of early-grade student learning with a specific focus on language and literacy.

The learning crisis in India is on a severe scale. A pragmatic approach is essential to launch the Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Mission across states of multilingual nature. Despite increased access to education (with 97 per cent of children enrolled in schools), recent learning assessments revealed that many children are leaving schools that are unequipped with even foundational literacy and numeracy skills

LLF's intervention models are thus based upon such investigations and research on the conditions of foundational literacy in primary education. It not only focuses on the continuous professional development of teachers but also emphasizes system reforms and school-level intervention to create an invincible and sustainable model of accelerated teaching-learning methods.

In the past six years, LLF has been successful in establishing strong partnerships with various state governments to revamp the foundational literacy skills of children studying in government schools, who often come from disadvantaged backgrounds. With Dhir's guidance and vast experience of working within and outside the government, LLF has brought a new dimension to the boosting of foundational literacy skills in government schools through a blended teaching-learning model. It has had an exceptional track record in delivering learning outcome-based programmes in Haryana and other states.

LLF currently operates in seven different geographies, running a variety of Early Language and Literacy (ELL) and Multilingual Education (MLE) programmes. Besides this, LLF's technical support and school-level interventions have been instrumental in bringing the much-needed behavioural changes within schools.

LLF operates keeping these four principles in mind:

• Strong foundational literacy skills build the base for all learning in school.

• Children's home languages need to find a place in early-grade classrooms.

• Many teachers are willing to learn and bring about a change in their classes.

• LLF's work should be at a reasonable scale, demanding collaboration with the public education system.

LLF strongly abides by the belief that efforts to establish foundational literacy should be at a reasonable scale and in close collaboration with the public education system, especially with that of the state governments. LLF's capacity-building programmes have been strategic in transforming teaching-learning in early grades in government schools. This will ensure that children's learning outcomes improve, and they can read with advanced comprehension and higher-order thinking skills.

Children's primary or home languages also need to be recognised and utilised in early-grade classrooms. This is one of the most crucial aspects of LLF's work and has also been emphasised greatly in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. LLF has been implementing high-quality sustainable programmes for improving children's foundational learning at scale with the firm belief that strong foundational literacy skills are the basis for all later learning at schools.

LLF has also adopted an 'equity-oriented approach' by shifting focus on the tail, through revision, spiralling, and differentiated instruction for disadvantaged children. Another key feature of this approach is using school-based assessment as a metric to create differentiated learning opportunities along with active engagement of all children.

LLF has been working tirelessly to improve foundational learning outcomes in underprivileged children of several states in India by working with the national Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) Mission. LLF has also attempted to clarify many misconceptions regarding the use of children's mother tongues and has given a clear roadmap for implementing multilingual teaching under the new education policy.

LLF has been conducting a large-scale foundational literacy programme since 2017 in Haryana. This involves teachers, teacher educators, district officials, local leaders, and CSR partners. This programme was the foremost Development Impact Bond (DIB) that was based on an outcomes-based financing model. These outcomes were in line with the FLN Mission and in tandem with the goal set by NEP 2020 to achieve foundational literacy for all grade-3 learners by 2025.

Owing to the onset of the pandemic, this programme was then pivoted into a home-learning programme. The initiative Har Ghar School – meaning 'a school in every home' – is ensuring that every child can build strong foundational literacy skills, by facilitating constant student-teacher and parent-teacher interactions to ensure and engage in learning development during the pandemic. The programme began in August 2020 with 16,087 students to enable learning at home, and rose to an estimated 53,126 students in Haryana in December 2020. The programme was conducted until March 2021 with the support of volunteers.

LLF has also launched several online courses and training programmes as Covid response for the capacity-building of teachers and teacher educators. These programmes include a five-week online course on early language and literacy (ELL) development, an online capacity building programme on ELL, and an online course and training on multilingual education (MLE).

LLF works with various state governments and has been recognized as a domain leader in language and literacy learning and multilingual education. It is also implementing India's first CSR-funded education DIB through its Learning Improvement programme in Haryana. Its work has garnered support from leading education philanthropies including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Central Square Foundation, Tata Trusts, HT Parekh Foundation and UNICEF.

LLF is currently carrying out a large scale FLN initiative in one of India's largest states, Uttar Pradesh. It has been closely working with the state education department to provide statewide technical assistance, capacity-building training programmes, development of remedial packages, and demo intervention models to the state under Mission Prerna.

With the support of various CSR partners, LLF now works with the governments of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Bihar, and Delhi in various capacities to design and deliver state-led foundational learning programmes.

From a one-member team in 2015 to 140+ members across seven offices in 2021, LLF has come a long way. Here is a look at their cumulative impact:

• 5,000+ teachers and teacher educators have been trained through professional development courses.

• 3,10,000 students have benefited from improved learning experiences.

By 2023, LLF will influence the classroom practices of eighth lakh teachers and teacher educators in collaboration with state governments which will potentially benefit 30 million children.

This former civil servant, Dhir Jhingran, has proved that one can contribute to social development from outside the government as well as in partnership with it. In the true spirit of Nexus of Good, the work done by his Foundation has been scaled through a public-private partnership.

Views expressed are personal

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