3 Prioritising actions to improve learning outcomes
Many factors can affect access to learning, such as attendance, being able to afford a uniform, students’ ability to get to school or the limitations of washroom facilities at school. Alternatively students may experience disadvantage in the classroom that affects their learning due to the teachers’ attitude, the methods and materials used, and the delivery of the syllabus while teaching.
You have become aware of the hard work put in by students who perceive that they are different and need to ‘fit in’ to the demands of school. These demands could be that students must write neatly, or read from a blackboard four metres away, or that they sit and listen for long periods of time.
Students react to these (and other) demands with a wide range of responses, spanning from ‘with ease’ to ‘with enormous difficulty’. For some students, meeting these demands requires minimal effort. In other cases, they are able to do so only when supported by significant people in their lives (usually parents and teachers).
It is clear that schools need to move from a position of seeing such coping strategies and difficulties as ‘inevitable’. The NCF is putting the onus of change on the school and the educator when stating that:
a critical function of education for equality is to enable all learners to claim their rights as well as to contribute to society and the polity. Thus, in order to make it possible for marginalised learners, and especially girls, to claim their rights as well as play an active role in shaping collective life, education must empower them to overcome the disadvantages of unequal socialisation and enable them to develop their capabilities of becoming autonomous and equal citizens.
It is essential to analyse the link between different groups of students in your school and their differential access to learning opportunities. The realisation that exposure and practice was a large part of how some students appeared to learn some subjects quickly changed the way that teaching was viewed. The art of good teaching moved from the mere delivery of information to employing strategies that enabled learners to find their own ways to a similar learning outcome.
Activity 4: Analysis of equality of access to learning
Take a look at Table 1, which is an extract from Mr Sharma’s diary as he reflected on the range of diversity in his school and how that might be linked to the students’ experiences of learning. Mr Sharma wanted to identify the range of diversity, how many students were involved and how that impacted on inclusion as per Artiles et al.’s dimensions. Recognising that learning does not just happen in school, he also thought about how the students’ home situation affected their learning. Mr Sharma used the data he had gathered in the unit Using data on diversity to improve your school to inform his planning.
Table 1 Mr Sharma’s reflections on equality in his school. (*‘Scheduled caste/scheduled tribe’.)
|#||Type of diversity||Percentage of students||Estimation of percentage access, acceptance, participation and achievement in learning at school and home||Actions, interventions or staff to collaborate with|
|1||Boys||80||90%: Boys are provided with opportunities for growth and development to build their earning capacity, they often sit at the front of the class and male teachers in particular favour them|
|2||Girls||20||30%: Girls’ education is not seen as an investment that will provide returns to the family; they do not always attend and may not have equipment such as paper and pens|
|3||Learning disabled||3||20%: There are no experts available to help teachers with strategies that work for these children; their difficulties are not always obvious until quite late, or parents are embarrassed|
|4||Upper band of the socio-economic spectrum||15||60%: Families buy support in the form of tuition; some students know they will join the family business and so are low on motivation; students have books and papers at home, and maybe technology to help with learning|
|5||Lower band of the socio-economic spectrum||85||40%: Little home support for reading and writing; expected to help with chores in the fields and at home; poor attendance; poor parental engagement; lack of learning materials and resources|
|6||Physically disabled||2||30%: Education for the disabled is not seen as an investment that will provide returns to the family; no adaptations to the physical environment to assist access; difficulty getting to school and other places in the community|
|7||Muslim students in the school||10||50%: Education is valued but competes with learning a craft and with religious education; little interest in girls learning beyond requirements for a good wife|
|8||Hindu||60||80%: Boys are more likely to receive support from the family than girls|
|9||Deprived community (SC/ST)*||30||40%: Low access to home support; expected to help with chores in the fields and at home; undernourished and lacking energy; low self-esteem|
Using Mr Sharma’s table, create a similar one in your Learning Diary (or use the template in Resource 2) for your school. It might prove useful to complete this activity with a group of staff to get a range of ideas and perspectives on how the students experience and achieve within different areas of the school.
In the first column, list the different types of diversity that you either observe in students coming to your school or have identified through data analysis in the unit Using data on diversity to improve your school. You might like to consider such factors as:
- ethnic group
- socio-economic status
- language or dialect
- religion and belief systems
- size and structure of family
- history of education in family
- geographical location.
If you have completed the unit Using data on diversity to improve your school, you could use the data you have collected to complete columns B and C, and begin column D. Estimation could be used to start to build a picture, but you should be careful about drawing conclusions from these until you have investigated further.
Column D allows you to begin to think about how different groups access, are accepted, participate in learning and achieve. This will just be an initial reaction and you will need to work collaboratively with your staff to identify these issues more fully over time.
Column E (not yet covered in Mr Sharma’s template) will help you to begin to think about steps for addressing issues of inclusion in your school. This final column allows you to make notes about any ideas you have for actions to take to address the issues you identify.
The categories that Mr Sharma used relate to his school. He looked at majorities and minorities in order to reach some generalisations about each category. He only singled out Hindus and Muslims and might at some point look at the characteristics of other religious groups.
You may have looked at Mr Sharma’s list and realised that the Hindu male student from a reasonably well-to-do family has the best chance of getting access to learning. Does this correspond with your table? It probably became apparent that a female student has fewer opportunities to learn if she is from the economically weaker section, a minority community or the scheduled tribes and castes. If she has a physical disability, she may never even make it to school. This introduces the idea of double or triple disadvantage, and you should be alert to students who fall into more than one category.
You may have been interested to note that Mr Sharma did not make the easy assumption that he did not have to be concerned about an apparently ‘advantaged’ group – note what he identified in relation to the learners in the fourth group (with a higher socio-economic status): he was concerned that the students might not be engaged in learning, something that is worrying for a teacher. At the same time, what this table does not show is the fact that students may identify with several groups – there will be multidimensionality in their profile. Thus it is important to acknowledge that if you put (for examples) female students into a group, it will be very diverse, as will a group identified as having a particular religious identify. It is important to see individuals within the group and to identify their particular position within the learning of the school.
It is most likely that there will be two or three issues that you identify as having the greatest impact on students’ learning outcomes, and these will become your priority areas. You may have already identified these in the unit Using data on diversity to improve your school and begun the process of collaboratively developing a strategic plan to address these with your staff. But do not feel that every action needs to be a big step; initially you might make very simple changes, such as seating arrangements in the classroom.
It is by using data and identifying priority areas that you can begin to collaborate with your staff to understand how making changes to the curriculum, teaching strategies, support systems or even just the way students, teachers and other adults in the community interact can create a more inclusive learning environment.