Sandeep Menon, co-founder and CEO of the India-based education initiative RiVERTIDE, explains how personalized education can benefit young learners in the developing world.
Fabio Segura: You promote a methodology in primary education that is markedly different from the regular education system. For instance, you favor classrooms in which children sit and work in circles, rather than in the traditional rows facing a single teacher. Why?
Sandeep Menon: At the education initiative RiVERTIDE, our methodology emphasizes that children must fully understand a concept before they move on to the next one. Because we believe that every child learns at a different pace, our classrooms are set up to support effective individualized learning, with teachers taking on the facilitator role.
The classroom is divided into several learning areas, including the teacher-supported area, the peer-support area, and the self-learning area. Children learn at their own pace following a “learning ladder,” with movements corresponding to each concept. The child is assisted by a variety of learning resources, including the teacher, peers, games and traditional resources such as local songs and puppetry.
In the peer learning area, students work and learn from each other, which makes it possible to instill democratic values at a very young age.
FS: Why is this methodology more successful than traditional teaching at fulfilling educational objectives?
SM: In RiVERTIDE classrooms, the curriculum is broken down into simple milestones and limited activities. Instead of school-wide exams or tests, a small-scale assessment is conducted at the end of each milestone or concept. When children have reached their milestones, they advance up their own “learning ladders” – a tool we use that continuously and comprehensively evaluates learners as they progress. We have found that this model instills great confidence in learners because they are able to reach milestones more easily, which motivates them to progress further at their own pace.
This self-paced model is especially effective in rural areas, where students are often absent from school for as much as three to four weeks, for example to help with the harvest or when a child is born to the family.
“This model instills great confidence in learners because they are able to reach milestones more easily, which motivates them to progress further at their own pace.”
In a traditional classroom, the teacher conveys information without knowing for sure whether all students have fully absorbed and understood it. After explaining a concept, the teacher moves on. Consequently, students who were absent often return to a classroom that has left them behind. With the self-paced model, children return and are able to continue where they left off. This has significantly reduced the dropout rate in rural areas.
FS: How do you balance your goal of massively upscaling this model with the goal of responding to local needs?
SM: We adapt to local contexts. For example, the curriculum is not dictated by RiVERTIDE but is devised by the local state or stakeholders. We work closely with the stakeholders’ expert development teams to integrate the entire curriculum into the methodology – across design, training, development, and implementation.
“In a traditional classroom, students who were absent often return to a classroom that has left them behind.”
We also focus on training. First, a core team of master coaches is assembled with the help of local stakeholders, and the coaches are trained in methodology as well as in the RiVERTIDE system. They learn how to use the various technological tools, baseline data, and data analytic tools that are built into the system to inform them of their progress. This core local team also trains teachers to facilitate a Multi-Grade Multi-Level (MGML) classroom and to identify and facilitate learning within these scenarios.
We help teachers to use the local resources they have. For example, in a community where the local culture has always focused on traditional folk tales, teachers are able to use the RiVERTIDE methodology to bring these stories into the classroom and utilize local traditions to describe concepts to students.
FS: What have been your biggest challenges?
SM: One of the biggest challenges was to change the mindset of parents. It was very difficult to change the attitudes of parents who equated report cards with learning, and expected their children to return home at the end of the year with a report card telling them how progress was achieved.
“It was very difficult to change the attitudes of parents who equated report cards with learning.”
We overcame this challenge by bringing the parents in to observe the learning process that takes place in our classrooms. Once the parents saw how learning happens in our classrooms, there was immense buy-in.
FS: Who should provide the financial resources to replicate self-paced models such as RiVERTIDE in different parts of the world?
SM: We strongly believe that these models should be funded by governments. We are convinced that the RiVERTIDE model is the most effective classroom setup. It is important, therefore, for governments to take ownership of the program and the financial responsibility that comes with it. At the same time, we are looking at supporter organizations like UNICEF to kick-start this methodology and enlist the support of stakeholders.
RiVERTIDE is an innovative approach to delivering an activity-based, culturally-aligned curriculum that addresses the challenge of multi-level and/or multi-grade classes in which students’ ages may not be correlated with their competency levels.
Rishi Valley Institute for Educational Resources (RiVER) is a program that addresses today’s educational challenges using a unique Multi-Grade Multi-Level (MGML) approach to primary education. The success of this program attracted the notice of various agencies, such as UNICEF, and has received national and international recognition. RiVER has been adopted by more than 250,000 schools in over 16 states in India,benefiting more than 10 million children.
TIDE stands for Technology Initiative for Development of Education. The mission of this India-based initiative is to develop tech-assisted learning tools – delivered via tablets – that will create new learning experiences in primary education and help teachers and less privileged children across the globe.
RiVERTIDE is an exclusive collaboration between the RiVER and TIDE Learning Systems.
Sandeep Menon is the CEO and co-founder of TIDE Learning. An entrepreneur for the past 25 years, he was motivated to found TIDE Learning by a desire to have a positive impact in the social sector. An alumnus of Rishi Valley School, he firmly believes that the philosophies and principles of that school, coupled with the unique pedagogy developed by its Rural Education Center, can have a positive and sustainable impact on the education system. This prompted the RiVERTIDE movement, which was designed to create a holistic, sustainable model capable of having a large-scale impact on education.