Providing teachers with simple methods for putting children at the center of their learning environments is at the heart of two innovative programs: POM (process-oriented child monitoring) in Vietnam and Kadam (Step Up) in India. Caroline Smrstik Gentner talks with education innovators whose organizations are implementing these programs. 

Caroline Smrstik Gentner: What are the challenges in creating a positive classroom environment? And what effect does that environment have on individual children? 

Kelsey Carlton, VVOB in Vietnam: In Vietnam, there’s a big push from parents and the government to get through the curriculum as quickly and as effectively as possible. Having a supportive learning environment isn’t on everyone’s priority list. 

The pressure isn’t necessarily bad: Everyone wants children to succeed, but our priority, using the POM approach, is to help teachers and school leaders understand that they’ll be even more successful if they also focus on child well-being, social and emotional learning, and teaching at the right level.  

Snorre Westgaard, Humana People to People India: Although we’re going about it in a different way, with Kadam, we’re also attempting to address this misguided “one size fits all” thinking around education. Different children have tremendously different needs. 

“It’s so important to create a learning environment where you celebrate progress instead of ranking children.” 

Snorre Westgaard

CSG: Since Kadam focuses on children who have left school and are coming back, I would imagine parental pressure is very different relative to POM. How do the relationships among parents, teachers, and students differ?  

SW: Many parents of the children we reach have given up. They don’t believe their children can benefit from education. In India, education is very competitive, with strict ranking, which creates a very divisive environment. It’s so important to create a learning environment where you celebrate progress instead of ranking children. 

Tran Thi Kim Ly, VVOB in Vietnam: In Vietnam, the adult-child hierarchy is very rigid. Teachers and parents often tell the children what is right. So classroom environments are often not very friendly or open to children saying what they think. With POM, we are helping teachers embrace a new way of thinking: Observing the children’s behavior, identifying barriers limiting their learning, and coming up with ways to create a more positive learning environment. 

CSG: Both programs are whole-school models. Can they bring about lasting change in how a school functions?  

SW: When teachers in a school adopt new practices because they have actually experienced change in the classroom through using specific methods and tools, it creates a lasting change in the teachers and the schools. Organizations like ours come up with systems and create practices and by doing so, we generate learning for the common good. Kadam won’t be implemented all over India, but we create experiences that can be shared throughout the country. We can definitely influence how educators understand children and the debate over how children learn. 

“When parents understand what is happening at school, they can provide needed support at home and strengthen the child’s holistic development.”

Tran Thi Kim Ly

Ha Huong, VVOB in Vietnam: POM has helped teachers become more reflective, which changes the tone in a school. Inviting parents to observe the class and to engage in certain class activities also fosters positive parent-teacher relationships. 

TTKL: Exactly, and the parent-child relationship becomes stronger. When parents understand what is happening at school, they can provide needed support at home and strengthen the child’s holistic development. 

KC: Did Kadam help children as they returned to school after COVID closures? It’s designed for kids who have left school and returned, who have a learning gap – and with COVID, that was all kids.  

SW: During COVID, Kadam continued programs with children in their homes or in smaller groups in villages. Now children are coming back after schools were closed for two years. But even before COVID, over half of the children were far behind their age-appropriate level. India designed a three-month back-to-school curriculum for schools that were reopening, but when teachers focus only on getting through the curriculum, the children just sit there with no idea what’s going on. 

Taking a baseline for each child, then giving them the right workbooks for their level and organizing them in groups of three proved to be a really efficient approach. In classrooms in which all children were of the same age, but learning at grade levels one to three, children were able to work their way toward acquiring competencies they needed. After using the Kadam tools for, say, one and a half hours a day so that children can work and catch up, the teacher also has time to deliver the curriculum. Teachers can see how our methodology works and that it fulfills the curriculum requirement for activity-based learning.  

The challenge is changing the teachers’ mindset so that it is more about learning than teaching, with a focus on interacting with the children and being part of their activities. We give the teachers simple systems, and then they start innovating and coming up with their own methods. 

About the innovations

Kelsey Carlton: In the POM child-centered model, we’re looking not only at children’s learning, but also at their personal well-being and their interactions with other children in the classroom. Teachers are used to observing children; we’re just teaching them to observe in a more nuanced and effective way. 

Tran Thi Kim Ly: In Vietnam, we tend to be very much “one size fits all,” so one of the best outcomes of POM is a change in teachers’ mindsets. They have become more reflective and better able to see children as diverse individuals.  

Snorre Westgaard: With Kadam, it’s about how children engage with their own learning processes. They have a lot of energy and are highly engaged when they work with Kadam because of how their progress is tracked and how competences are made visible. This helps them understand where they are going, so they play an active role in self-learning at their own level. 

Tran Thi Kim Ly: Seeing the mindset of teachers change – they are so proud of what they are doing. Some even have tears in their eyes as they tell me how happy the children are to come to class and participate. The relationship between teachers and children becomes closer. Seeing changes in teachers and children is emotional and inspiring, and makes me really happy about what we’re doing in Vietnam. 

Snorre Westgaard: In Haryuna state, we’ve been reducing our staff over the past five years. The state government employs a thousand “education volunteers,” young people from the community who are given the chance to work as teachers for nine months. Our staff of 15 work with district officials in 51 districts to train the volunteers and monitor progress. It’s been a gradual process, but we are seeing the same quality as when we ran the entire project as a donor-funded project, with our own teachers. It is truly a highlight to see Kadam working in a sustainable way as a system, with the government implementing the program and our organization providing light-touch support. 

CSG: How does POM help teachers gain a better understanding of children from poorer families?  

KC: Using POM, teachers assess how children are or are not involved in an activity: Is the activity at the right level? Are they challenged? Are they stimulated and thinking? When teachers know their pupils and can identify reasons why they might not be engaged, they will also know whether a given child is showing up to school hungry or tired. These things are typical of impoverished children. Students from an impoverished background may have specific barriers to learning. POM helps teachers identify those barriers and take action to mitigate them. 

CSG: In both cases, your innovative programs are giving teachers the agency and tools to do things that many would have wanted to try anyway if they had had the time or capacity. Can you imagine POM working for early childhood education in India?  

SW: I find POM very interesting, as we’re starting to think about early childhood education reform. With Kadam, children become more engaged because they are able to read simple instructions, and then teachers help them. At the preschool level, however, teachers need to be much more involved. We still have too much rote learning in preschools, so we want to learn from POM’s approach in helping teachers to understand that each child is different. 

A good start is to determine where each child is at the outset. That’s the core of our approach: You have to see every child as an individual, a child with different needs. If you do that, then everything will go well. 

Footnotes

HundrED is a mission-driven organization headquartered in Helsinki, Finland. HundrED identifies and amplifies impactful and scalable innovations in K12 education. In 2021, HundrEd partnered with the Jacobs Foundation on the Formative Assessment Spotlight. 

This Spotlight sought to identify 10-15 impactful and scalable education innovations that promote the systematic use of formative assessments to inform teaching and learning. In total, 129 innovators from 42 countries submitted their innovation for consideration.  

Snorre Westgaard is the Chief Executive Officer of Humana People to People India (HPPI), an organization with which he has been associated for the last 18 years. To promote the reintegration of school leavers in India, HPPI launched the Kadam Step Up program in 2014. The Kadam Step Up program is one of the 2021 Spotlight winners. 

Tran Thi Kim Ly is an Education Advisor for VVOB Vietnam who is actively engaging in and facilitating the application of process-oriented child monitoring (POM) in Vietnam’s preschools. She is working with the Ministry of Education and selected pedagogical universities to scale up this program in Vietnam’s formal early childhood education system. 

Kelsey Carlton is a Strategic Education Advisor at VVOB Vietnam, where she focuses on emergent literacy, language-rich learning environments, and process-oriented child monitoring (POM). She also provides technical support for the Early Childhood Education section at the Ministry of Education in Vietnam regarding educational programs, specifically focusing on ethnic minority populations.  

Ha Huong is Education Manager for VVOB Vietnam, with responsibility for general matters related to education projects in the country. 

POM is one of the 2021 Spotlight winners.

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