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Dr. Vasudha Prakash, Founder V-Excel, Demystifies Inclusive Education

Inclusive Education in India deciphered by Dr. Vasudha Prakash, the founder of V-Excel Educational Trust.

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Inclusion works! This fact can be corroborated as soon as you step into the iconic Hotel Savera of Chennai and walk up to the reception. Arun Bhatia (name changed) who had been diagnosed with intellectual challenges at the age of 5, who struggled through the early years of school, whose education was attained in a special school, who was on medication for seizures for several years, and who according to everyone around him had no conceivable career possibilities ahead of him, will be the one to politely enquire how he can assist you.

Walk into one of the well-known schools of Chennai and you will find the easy camaraderie between two 12-year old friends, one neurotypical and the other with cerebral palsy, as the former pushes the latter’s wheelchair, chatting away all through quite naturally. A heart-warming and absolutely joyful sight to behold!

Inclusion is the natural organic state of life. Everyone, every life form is different and there is room for every creation in this world.  And there is no such thing as equality – only equal opportunities. Why then is inclusion considered such a lofty concept? India of yore, rural India and the India which is still quite its free-flowing self, is inclusive by default. In large families, if there was a child lagging behind or quite different in his abilities, he would naturally be included, as best as his capabilities allowed, in everything that went on around him. There was no room for stigma or shame. He would have been looked after by the extended family. Schools had their own version of inclusion where the teacher would customize education for the child from whom there were minimum expectations.

Over-analysis and overthinking have become the bane of the modern world. The world of education, while it should ideally be reflecting life in its magnificence and preparing children for enhancing life’s gifts, goes about creating a parallel universe where realities have to be rediscovered as problems to be dealt with. No wonder children with special needs have to constantly prove themselves worthy of even their basic rights in this lopsided world.

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Fast forward to the present times, and one finds that the whole idea of inclusion has become a scientific concept and a favourite subject of educational research. The practice of it, however, has not quite kept abreast with the academic and scientific furore.

INCLUSION AND OTHER RELATED NOMENCLATURES

With modern education going about its business with blinkers, homogeneity in the classroom was all that management, teachers and parents could process and fathom. Any heterogeneity of the student population was being treated as a novelty which required strategies instead of good old common sense.

University professors and research scholars came up with various gradations of inclusion and a separate terminology of the degree of inclusion. Below is a list of the terms:

  1. Mainstreaming: Mainstreaming, in the context of education, is the practice of placing students with special education services in a general education classroom during specific time periods based on their skills. To clarify, this means students who are a part of the special education classroom will join the regular education classroom at certain times which are fitting for the special education student. These students may attend art or physical education in regular education classrooms.
  2. Integration: Integration refers to exceptional students being partially taught in a mainstream classroom. Activities are adapted so the student can “fit in” with his mainstream peers while learning skills that may be better practised in a room with more age-appropriate peers. Integration supports student outcomes that include: improved social skills, exposure to typical classroom structure and curriculum, eased the transition to a mainstream class placement and exposure to educational content that is appropriately curated for interest and skill level. Integration is placing persons with disabilities in existing mainstream education without changing the system of education delivery. Many people mistakenly call this “inclusion” but unless the student receives the support needed, it is not.
  3. Segregation: Segregation occurs when students with disabilities are educated in separate environments (classes or schools) designed for students with impairments or with a particular impairment. It is most blatant when students with disabilities are forced to go to a school only for students with disabilities, but it also happens when students are educated in separate classes in a regular school. These are sometimes called resource classes.
  4. Exclusion: Exclusion occurs when students are denied access to education. Exclusion happens when students with disabilities are not permitted to register to attend a school, or when they register but are told not to come to school or when there are conditions placed on their attendance. Sometimes, students are registered but told they will receive their education from a teacher who will visit them at home – so effectively they are still excluded from school.
  5. Inclusion: Inclusion involves a transformation of the education system with changes and modifications in content, teaching methods, approaches, structures, strategies, and review mechanisms in place.

INCLUSION IN INDIA

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The Indian education system is quite a complicated one with various boards enforcing their edicts on their subscribers. Each board has a different philosophy and practice as far children with disabilities are concerned. It does not help that the ministry governing education is different from the one administering disabilities. This misalignment in systems becomes a natural outcome of the ambiguity.

The other dissuading factor for inclusion of children with special needs is the difficulty level of the curriculum and the academic focus of the education system to the exclusion of anything organically developmental.

It is no wonder that the management, teachers and parents of regular children feel ill-equipped to admit children with varying abilities into the regular schooling system

So, the mindset is in complete contradiction with the laws of the land. Enactments such as the RTE, PwD, and the list of offerings for the disabled population do not find any resonance in the real practical world. Schools diplomatically turn away students with cognitive disabilities while colleges and workplaces have their own set of excuses.

However, there is still a silver lining in this. The country has seen a certain shift in the mindset of schools along with the teachers, thanks to the persistent and passionate efforts of professionals in the field of special education. There are wide recognition and intelligent acknowledgement of the fact that abilities and disabilities must be viewed in a spectrum paradigm. Every classroom will be a representation of the bell curve, with varying ranges of abilities and some severe cases. The philosophy of every school and every teacher should necessarily be to reach every student and leave no one behind.

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Our organization, V-Excel Educational Trust, has been instrumental in facilitating inclusiveness in at least 100 schools in Tamil Nadu, through activity and practice-based workshops. We also keep a helpline open to the schools whose teachers trained with us, to support them through inclusion.

A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO INCLUSION

  1. Inclusion as a school Policy decision: The management team and board should convene and create a policy on inclusion which will address the following points:
    1. Total number of students to be included – minimum and maximum
    2. Number in each class
    3. Additional resources – special educators, therapists, counsellors
    4. Training programs for teachers and staff in preparation of inclusion
  2. Administrative and infrastructure readiness: Making sure that the building and classrooms have all the accommodations needed for educating PwDs in the building and to ensure that they have all the documentation, permissions, forms and formats.​
  3. Parental communication: it is very important that the policy decision about inclusion should be communicated very lucidly and firmly to parents of regular children straight from the horse’s mouth. The message should be communicated clearly to the parents that this is not a negotiable decision. Workshops should be held for parents to enlighten them about the deep positive impact of inclusion on their neurotypical children. Values of empathy, helpfulness, humaneness are automatically imbibed in students when they interact with their differently-abled classmates.
  4. Preparing the regular students: The starting date of the academic year should be a week earlier for neurotypical students than for their inclusive counterparts. This week should be used to orient the students in welcoming their differently-abled classmates. The teacher’s activities should actually succeed in getting the students excited about inclusion, and making them feel privileged and special. Most of the activities should be aimed at activating a deeper value system of empathy, kindness and generosity of spirit. They should also be orienting students about how differences are a natural part of life and should not be shunned or feared. Examples of such activities are:
    1. Welcome letters for the special child
    2. “Say Hello to someone who…”
    3. “Getting to know you” (Name-tag)
    4. “Picture this” – A gallery of ideas (bookmarks, wall, directories)
    5. People Packages – Nice vs. Ordinary
    6. “Ready, set, go!” – Preparation for inclusion
    7. Name through movements
    8. Walk your own shoes
    9. (descriptions can be found online)
  5. Preparing the students with special needs: It is very important to prepare the inclusion student for this major transition no matter where he will be coming from. Children can handle anything if they are given a heads-up and are given proper directives and support. Children with special needs react strongly and with a great deal of stress and anxiety to new situations and unpredictable environmental conditions. They feel out of control of their lives and that creates negative associations. To provide appropriate counselling services, to help them become comfortable in their new environment would go a long way in sustaining inclusion. It would be a good idea to make several trips to the school before the school year commences so that the student becomes familiar and comfortable with the feel of the school. He can meet the non-teaching and custodial staff as well and start some interactions with the teachers. It might be a good idea to keep shorter timings during the first few weeks so that the routine and rhythm can be gradually set.
  6. Giving it time: Inclusion can take even two years for it to become aligned to the regular school’s program. But until the teachers and schools get a hang of it, the student may not get comfortable. Some schools may include co-teaching as a part of their inclusion methodology. In such cases, training the co-teachers, defining their roles and boundaries will have to be done with systematic precision. Otherwise, the confusion is bound to unsettle students.
  7. Supporting Special parents: Parents of children with special needs are the most vulnerable of all the stakeholders. Their emotions range from guilt and hopelessness to hope and expectations. They may be extremely anxious and ask incessant questions about the well-being of their child. They also may have questions about the academic parity for their children and want the teachers to challenge them more. The teachers will have to develop deep empathy and patience towards the parents and act as counsellors as well. The parents can be referred for professional counselling too.
  8. Orienting all teachers: All the teachers of the school, subject teachers and class teachers should be given the case files of the inclusion students so that there are no discrepancies or differences in the way the student is educated. There must be periodic reviews and workshops so that teachers’ challenges can be addressed and they continue to remain motivated participants in the inclusion paradigm.
  9. Non-teaching staff of the school: Interactions between students and teachers will be quite frequent with all the members of the school. Sensitivity and kindness must be instilled in all the staff members as a matter of living and working.
  10. Tone setting in the first week of school
    1. Building anticipation
    2. Building awe and reverence  
  11. Special education strategies benefit everyone: There is a number of procedures and rules that have to be put in place in an inclusive classroom. A multimodal, multisensory method needs to be instated in as a part of the instructional process. A lot of consciousness must be brought into the pace of instruction, thoroughness and repetition of teaching. Attention to detail and clarity in communication is a must too. Movement, music, and cultural activities must become part of everyday activities. Sensory inputs and sensory integration activities must be interwoven into the program.

CURRICULAR ADAPTATION

An enormous amount of planning goes into working teaching work and the effort becomes even more imperative when there are children with special needs in the class. Adaptation of the curriculum is an integral part of the inclusive exercise. In an inclusive system, teachers should be trained to respond to different learning styles and present lessons in different ways so that all students can learn.

Curricular Adaptations are “changes permissible in educational environments which allow the student equal opportunity to obtain access, results, benefits, and levels of achievement.” Simply put, curricular adaptations allow students with disabilities to participate in inclusive environments by compensating for learners’ weaknesses.

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There are two kinds of adaptations –

  1. Accommodations are used when the student is expected to learn the same curricular content. But the student may be taught in a different way or need changes in the environment.  Accommodations are changes in teaching methods.  It can include changes in; where you teach, who teaches, how you teach, how the student can respond, materials you use.
  2. Modifications are used when the student is expected to learn less or different curricular content.  This could require the modification of assignments, tests, worksheets and other materials in the classroom.

LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (LRE)

The concept of LRE must necessarily prevail over all other considerations for inclusion to be successful. The terms least restrictive environment, inclusion, and mainstreaming are often used interchangeably. They are not, however, synonymous concepts. Least restrictive environment refers to the idea that while students with disabilities should be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with peers without disabilities, they still have the freedom to choose an educational setting that is least restrictive to them – whether in a special school or home-schooling. The LRE concept ensures that students with disabilities get access to a setting most comfortable and appropriate to them and one which ensures that they meet their potential in the most humane and positive manner.

(Dr Vasudha Prakash holds a doctorate in Special Education from Rutgers University, USA. She is the Founder-Trustee of V-Excel Educational Trust)

http://www.v-excel.org/about-us/who-we-are.php

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STEMpedia Successfully Completed Codeavour 5.0- India’s National Innovation Fest

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STEMpedia, in collaboration with ART PARK@IISc, India’s premier AI & Robotics Technology Park, established by the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, successfully concluded the national level event of 2023’s biggest innovation fest, Codeavour 5.0 International. This year’s event, supported by leading organisations including AI Foundry, Startup India, and INDIAai, witnessed participation from 300,000 students across 70 countries, underscoring its global impact and the cumulative achievements of the competition to date.

The event, which also enjoyed backing from entities like AWS, NITI Aayog, and STEM.org, focused on fostering hands-on learning and innovation among next-gen participants. They were encouraged to create projects using PictoBlox that would contribute towards making the world a better place, aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Dhrupal Shah, Director and CEO of STEMpedia, reflected on the journey and the fest’s objectives, saying, “Five years ago, we initiated Codeavour with the intention to empower young innovators and equip them with the necessary skills for the future workforce. This year, we are thrilled to announce that the top 20 winners will be awarded a trip to Mexico to participate in the FAB24 Event, accompanied by their mentors.”

The fest not only highlighted the technical skills of young minds but also provided them with a platform to showcase their creative solutions to real-world problems. In addition to the innovation and entrepreneurship track, participants competed in the AI-Robo City Challenge, demonstrating their prowess in applying AI and robotics to urban development challenges.

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The panel discussion titled “AI EduFusion Conclave: Shaping Global School Education with AI, Robotics, and Policy Insights” was a highlight of the event, featuring experts like Dr. Sreejit Chakrabarthy from GEMS Dubai American Academy and Mr. Pankaj Verma from STEMpedia. The discussion provided insights into how governments and educational institutions are integrating AI and robotics into school curriculums to prepare students for future job markets.

The event culminated with the National Innovation Awards, where participants presented projects that tackled environmental challenges and proposed sustainable solutions. Winners from the event will now proceed to the International Showdown in Dubai, hosted in partnership with Dubai American Academy.

As Codeavour 5.0 International wraps up, its success marks a significant step forward in integrating technology and education, inspiring the next generation of innovators and leaders to think critically and act creatively. The continued expansion of this fest promises to keep pushing the boundaries of what young students can achieve in the fields of AI and robotics.

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Reviving School Education: Countering the Coaching Centre Dominance

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In recent years, a troubling trend has emerged within the educational landscape: the rise of “Dummy Admissions,” where students formally enrolled in schools are effectively abandoning the classroom in favour of coaching institutes. This phenomenon, particularly prevalent from the 11th standard onwards, sees students dropping out of school to prepare for competitive exams under the tutelage of coaching centres, which were originally intended to supplement, not supplant, school education.

The shift has been stark. Coaching, once a support system, has transformed into a parallel education industry, with some arguing it overshadows the broader developmental benefits of traditional schooling. This evolution poses a critical question: How can schools reclaim their role not just as preparatory grounds for board exams but as sanctuaries of holistic education that truly prepare students for life?

The Diminishing Role of Schools

The primary role of any educational institution is to foster an environment conducive to learning, curiosity, and personal growth. Schools are meant to be arenas where young minds receive a balanced education — academically, socially, and emotionally. However, the allure of scoring top marks in competitive exams has tilted the focus sharply towards rote learning and intensive exam preparation, often at the expense of holistic development.

The Coaching Conundrum

Coaching centres operate with a laser focus on results, primarily targeting competitive exams like the JEE, NEET, and others. This narrow approach prioritises immediate academic results over long-term learning and personal development. Students, driven by the pressure to excel in these high-stakes environments, often find themselves estranged from the broader educational experiences that school offers — experiences that are crucial in shaping well-rounded individuals capable of adapting to life’s varied challenges.

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Reclaiming the Sanctuary of Education

For schools to regain their central place in the educational journey of students, they must evolve to meet the diverse needs of their students. Here are a few strategies that could help schools reassert their relevance:

  1. Integrated Curriculum: Schools could integrate aspects of competitive exam preparation into their regular curriculum, thus reducing the need for external coaching. This would allow students to prepare for exams without missing out on the broader educational offerings of the school.
  2. Focus on Skill Development: Beyond academic prowess, schools should enhance their focus on developing critical life skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and communication. These skills are crucial for success in professional and personal life and can make schooling more relevant.
  3. Counselling and Support Services: Enhanced counselling services can help students navigate their educational pathways and career choices effectively. Schools should equip students with the tools to make informed decisions about their futures.
  4. Experiential Learning: Schools must emphasise experiential and contextual learning, making education a more engaging, practical, and enjoyable experience. This can be achieved through project-based learning, internships, and real-world problem-solving scenarios.
  5. Parental Engagement: Engaging parents in the educational process and informing them about the importance of a balanced education can help shift the focus from mere exam preparation to overall development.
  6. Promotion of Arts and Sports: Encouraging participation in arts, sports, and other co-curricular activities can enrich students’ educational experience and support the development of a wide range of skills.

As the educational landscape continues to evolve, the challenge for schools is not just to prepare students for exams but to prepare them for life. In a world increasingly dominated by coaching centres, schools must innovate and broaden their educational offerings to ensure they remain valued not just as conduits to board results but as launchpads for the futures of students. It’s about striking a balance between academic rigor and holistic development, ensuring that schools remain the nurturing grounds for the leaders of tomorrow.

To read more on such trends that need to be called out and #un-trended, head to the April issue of our magazine here

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CBSE to Initiate Pilot for National Credit System in Grades 6, 9, and 11

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The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) is set to launch the pilot for National Credit Framework for students in classes 6, 9, and 11, commencing in the 2024-25 academic session. This innovative step, aimed at fostering a seamless integration of school, higher, and vocational education, aligns with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020’s vision for a holistic and flexible educational system.

Under the new scheme, students will have the opportunity to earn credits through a variety of learning avenues, including classroom teaching, laboratory work, projects, sports, performing arts, NCC, social work, vocational education, and experiential learning. These credits will be accumulated in the Academic Bank of Credit (ABC), linked to the student’s APAAR ID and DigiLocker, ensuring a cohesive and secure record of their academic journey.

The introduction of the National Credit Framework marks a significant shift towards competency and outcome-based education, aiming to bridge the gap in achieving learning outcomes. It encourages students to engage in additional courses, programs, or projects beyond the mandatory 40 credits, offering them the flexibility to tailor their educational experiences to their interests and career aspirations.

To facilitate the smooth implementation of this framework, the CBSE has developed draft guidelines, which have been refined through multiple workshops and received approval from the Union Ministry of Education. “To further test, refine, and assess their effectiveness in real-world contexts, a pilot implementation of these guidelines has been planned in schools affiliated with CBSE,” stated a letter from the CBSE to school principals.

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Schools interested in participating in this groundbreaking pilot program have been invited to register their interest, marking a collaborative effort to enhance the educational offerings for students across the nation.

This initiative not only promises to transform the way students learn and earn qualifications but also paves the way for a more inclusive and flexible education system that caters to the diverse needs and aspirations of India’s youth. As the CBSE embarks on this ambitious journey, it sets the stage for a future where education is not just about accumulation of knowledge but the holistic development of every student.

(Source- PTI)

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The Role of Marketing in Education: Navigating the New Educational Landscape

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In an increasingly competitive and interconnected world, the concept of marketing, once synonymous with businesses and industries, has found its place within the realm of education. As educational institutions vie for attention amidst a cacophony of voices, the need for strategic marketing and public relations (PR) efforts has become paramount. While the moral implications of marketing in education may spark debate, there is a compelling argument for incorporating marketing concepts into the educational curriculum, equipping students, teachers, and parents with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions in an ever-evolving educational landscape.

Gone are the days when educational institutions relied solely on their academic prowess to attract students. In today’s digital age, where information is abundant and attention spans are fleeting, the ability to cut through the noise and communicate effectively has become a prerequisite for success. From crafting compelling brand narratives to leveraging social media platforms, educational institutions are embracing marketing strategies to enhance their visibility and appeal to prospective students and stakeholders.

However, the incorporation of marketing into the educational sector extends beyond mere promotional efforts. At its core, marketing is about understanding the needs and preferences of your target audience and delivering value accordingly. By teaching marketing concepts to students, educators empower them with critical thinking skills and an understanding of consumer behaviour, enabling them to navigate the complex marketplace of ideas and opportunities.

Moreover, marketing education goes beyond the classroom, extending its reach to teachers and parents alike. Educators, tasked with shaping the minds of future generations, can benefit from an understanding of marketing principles to engage students more effectively and create meaningful learning experiences. Similarly, parents, as key stakeholders in their children’s education, can make more informed decisions about school choice and educational resources by understanding the marketing strategies employed by educational institutions.

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Critics may argue that the commodification of education undermines its intrinsic value and fosters a culture of competition at the expense of collaboration. While these concerns are valid, it is essential to recognize that marketing, when approached ethically and responsibly, can serve as a powerful tool for positive change. By promoting transparency, accountability, and accessibility, marketing can help bridge the gap between educational institutions and the communities they serve, fostering a culture of trust and mutual respect.

The integration of marketing concepts into the educational curriculum represents a paradigm shift in how we approach education in the digital age. By equipping students, teachers, and parents with the knowledge and skills to navigate the complexities of the modern educational landscape, we empower them to make informed decisions and drive meaningful change. As we embrace the potential of marketing in education, let us remain mindful of its ethical implications and strive to harness its power for the greater good.

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From Overwhelmed to Empowered: Strengthening Educator Skills for Success

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In the corridors of any classroom, teachers stand as pillars of guidance, tasked not only with imparting knowledge but also with nurturing the holistic development of their students. However, the onerous burden of managing a multitude of responsibilities within resource-constrained environments poses a formidable challenge, underscoring the urgent need for enhanced teacher training programmes.

At the heart of this challenge lies the staggering class sizes prevalent in Indian schools. With classrooms often overflowing with 35 or more students, the task of catering to diverse learning needs while maintaining order can seem insurmountable. Effective classroom management techniques, tailored to accommodate large cohorts, are essential for fostering a conducive learning environment and mitigating stress for both teachers and students.

Moreover, the complexity of the modern educational landscape necessitates a multifaceted approach to teaching. From addressing academic gaps to promoting socio-emotional well-being, educators are expected to wear multiple hats, often without adequate training or support. Enhanced teacher training programmes must equip educators with the pedagogical tools and strategies necessary to navigate this intricate web of responsibilities effectively.

Central to the need for better teacher training is the imperative of managing workload and stress. The relentless demands of completing the curriculum, crafting assessments, and addressing administrative tasks can take a toll on educators’ mental health and overall well-being. By providing teachers with comprehensive training in stress management techniques, time management strategies, and self-care practices, we can empower them to strike a balance between professional duties and personal wellness.

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Addressing the point of the topics that should be touched upon, these teacher training programmes must encompass modules on effective assessment practices and differentiated instruction. By equipping educators with the skills to design assessments that cater to diverse learning styles and abilities, we can ensure that every student receives the support they need to thrive academically. Similarly, training in differentiated instruction enables teachers to tailor their teaching methods to meet the individual needs of each student, fostering a more inclusive and equitable learning environment.

In addition to addressing immediate challenges, enhanced teacher training programmes must also focus on future-oriented skills and competencies. With rapid advancements in technology and pedagogy, educators must be prepared to adapt to changing educational landscapes and embrace innovative teaching methodologies. By providing training in digital literacy, collaborative learning, and project-based instruction, we can empower teachers to harness the potential of emerging technologies and create engaging learning experiences for their students.

Ultimately, the need for better teacher training is not merely a matter of professional development; it is a moral imperative. By investing in the growth and well-being of educators, we invest in the future of our nation. Because one teacher’s well-being will lead to the well being of those 35 other kids in a classroom.

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NCERT Introduces Bridge Month Programme for Class 6 Amid Textbook Transition

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In a bid to revolutionize the educational landscape and foster a more dynamic learning environment, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has unveiled its Bridge Month Programme tailored for Class 6 students. This initiative marks a significant departure from conventional teaching methodologies, placing a heightened emphasis on interactive sessions and projects aimed at enhancing students’ overall skill set.

Aligned with the National Curriculum Framework for School Education (NCF-SE) and the recently implemented National Education Policy (NEP), NCERT’s Bridge Month Programme is poised to redefine the educational experience for both students and educators alike. By steering away from rote memorization towards a competency-based approach, the programme seeks to cultivate a deeper understanding of various subjects while nurturing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

The month-long bridge course is meticulously crafted to equip teachers with innovative pedagogical tools designed to engage students in enjoyable and enriching learning experiences. Through a curated blend of fun-based, play-based, and discovery-based activities, educators are empowered to guide students towards holistic development, transcending the boundaries of traditional classroom instruction.

Central to the programme’s ethos is the integration of vocational skills within the curriculum, commencing as early as Class 6. This forward-looking approach not only broadens students’ horizons but also fosters practical, real-world application of academic concepts. Additionally, the restructuring of the Grade 6 timetable allows for a dedicated immersion period, during which students can delve into a myriad of engaging activities spanning subjects like science, social studies, and vocational education.

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With the impending release of new textbooks for Classes 3 and 6, NCERT’s phased approach ensures a seamless transition to the updated curriculum across all educational levels. As educators and students embark on this transformative journey, the overarching goal remains clear: to cultivate a generation of lifelong learners equipped with the skills and knowledge to thrive in an ever-evolving world.

As reported by India Today.

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Indian Embassy Advocates for India-US Collaboration in Education Sector

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The Indian Embassy in Washington DC has underscored the significance of fostering collaboration between India and the United States in the realm of education. In a recent social media post on platform X, the embassy expressed contentment with the fruitful engagement it had with senior faculty members from esteemed universities in Washington DC.

During the interaction, the embassy stressed the substantial opportunities for bolstering knowledge and research partnerships between India and the US. This joint endeavour aims to bolster educational initiatives and advocate for the well-being of Indian students pursuing studies in the United States.

“Excellent interaction with senior faculty from prominent universities in Washington DC on India-US collaboration and opportunities for strengthening knowledge and research partnership and promote well-being of Indian students in the US,” stated the Indian Embassy in a post on X.

Moreover, amidst recent distressing incidents involving Indian nationals or individuals of Indian origin in the US, US Ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, has addressed concerns regarding the safety of Indian students studying in the United States. Garcetti urged students to remain vigilant and employ appropriate safety precautions, while emphasizing the importance of staying connected with peers and utilizing campus safety resources to enhance awareness and preparedness.

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In a recent interview with ANI, Garcetti acknowledged the distressing incidents involving Indian students, noting that such occurrences can statistically happen in a country of this scale. He reiterated the importance for students to remain vigilant and take necessary safety measures.

As per reports, five Indian students were reported dead in separate incidents in the first two months of 2024. (Source: ANI)

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Nurturing Healthy Behaviors: The Role of Schools in Shaping Health-Conscious Citizens

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In the landscape of education, schools play a pivotal role far beyond the realms of academic learning; they are instrumental in moulding the future of our society by nurturing health-conscious citizens. This World Health Day, as we embrace the theme ‘My health, my right’, it’s crucial to spotlight the impact of school programs and policies in fostering healthy lifestyle choices among students. This endeavour not only aligns with students’ rights to education about health but also paves the way for a healthier, more informed generation.

In India, where diverse cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses often dictate one’s access to health education and resources, schools have a unique opportunity to bridge these gaps. The Midday Meal Scheme, one of the largest school nutrition programs globally, serves as a sterling example. By providing nutritious meals to children in government and government-aided schools, it aims not just to combat hunger but to promote nutritional education and healthy eating habits among young learners. This initiative directly impacts the health and educational outcomes of approximately 115 million children across the country, showcasing the powerful role schools can play in shaping health-conscious behaviours.

Furthermore, the Government of India’s Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) program emphasizes the importance of adolescent health, targeting the 253 million adolescents in the country. RKSK aims to integrate health education into schools, covering critical areas such as nutrition, mental health, and substance misuse, thereby ensuring that young individuals are equipped with the knowledge and skills to make informed health decisions.

However, the journey doesn’t end with national programs. Individual schools across India are taking innovative steps to encourage healthy behaviours. For instance, several institutions have introduced yoga and meditation into their daily routines, recognizing the importance of mental well-being alongside physical health. These practices not only improve students’ concentration and stress management skills but also instill a lifelong appreciation for holistic health practices.

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Moreover, environmental health has become a growing concern, with schools incorporating lessons on sustainability and the importance of preserving our planet for future generations. Initiatives like setting up organic gardens, recycling projects, and awareness campaigns on water conservation are becoming increasingly common, fostering an eco-conscious mindset among students.

Despite these strides, challenges remain. Access to quality health education and resources is not uniform across India’s vast and varied landscape, with rural and underprivileged communities often at a disadvantage. Addressing these disparities requires concerted efforts from policymakers, educators, and communities to ensure that every child, irrespective of their background, has the right to health education and the opportunity to grow into a health-conscious citizen.

As we observe World Health Day, it’s clear that schools are much more than places of academic pursuit. They are crucial battlegrounds in the fight for a healthier future, where informed, conscious choices are not just encouraged but ingrained. By continuing to develop and implement comprehensive health education programs, schools can truly honor the theme ‘My health, my right’, turning it from a vision into a reality for every student across India.

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CBSE Updates Exam Structure for 11th & 12th Class; Concept-based Questions Now 50% of Weightage

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In a significant overhaul of the examination structure, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has announced changes to the year-end assessment format for Classes 11 and 12, commencing from the academic session 2024-25. The board has decided to enhance the weightage for competency-based questions to 50%, a substantial increase from the previous session’s 40%. This adjustment aims to shift the focus towards application of concepts in real-life scenarios, aligning with the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020.

The recent circular dispatched to all CBSE-affiliated schools outlines the board’s decision to reduce the weightage for traditional short and long-answer questions to 30%, down from 40% in the 2023-24 academic session. This move is part of the board’s ongoing efforts to foster an educational environment that prioritises critical thinking, creativity, and application of knowledge over rote memorisation.

“Continuing with its practice of aligning assessment and evaluation with the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in the forthcoming 2024-25 academic session, the percentage of competency-based questions that assess application of concepts in real-life situations is increased by 10 per cent,” reads the circular issued on April 3.

Competency-based questions will encompass multiple-choice questions, case-based, and source-based integrated questions. According to a senior official from the CBSE, the increment in weightage for competency-based questions has been a consistent annual strategy for the past three years, reaching its peak at 50% this year.

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The CBSE has chosen not to modify the examination format for Classes 9 and 10, maintaining the structure set during the previous academic year. The changes for senior secondary classes reflect the board’s commitment to the NEP’s vision of competency-based learning as opposed to the traditional textbook-driven approach.

“The main emphasis of the board was to create an educational ecosystem that would move away from rote memorisation and towards learning that is focused on developing the creative, critical and systems thinking capacities of students to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” the CBSE conveyed in its letter to school heads.

This reform is a stride towards equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the complexities of the modern world, ensuring they are not only exam-ready but also prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the 21st century.

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Rebalancing the Scales: The Urgent Call for Humanities in STEM-Dominated Curricula

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Image Source- Envato Elements

In today’s educational landscape, the scales are heavily tipped towards Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, a trend that has sparked a crucial dialogue on the role of humanities in shaping well-rounded individuals. This discussion is not just academic; it reflects a deeper question about the kind of future we envision for our society and the individuals who will lead it.

Extra focus on STEM subjects is a broader issue: the sidelining of humanities in educational institutions, which reduces the vast expanse of human knowledge and creativity to mere footnotes. Students struggling to find value and meaning in a curriculum that doesn’t cater to their passion for history, literature, and the arts underscores a significant gap in our education system.

Recent studies highlight this imbalance. According to the National Foundation for Educational Research, students exposed to a balanced curriculum that includes humanities alongside STEM subjects exhibit a higher level of critical thinking, empathy, and adaptability. These skills are crucial not just for personal development but for navigating the complexities of today’s global society. Furthermore, a report by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on the state of the humanities in higher education points out that students who engage in humanities courses are better prepared for leadership roles, showcasing the intrinsic value of these disciplines in cultivating informed and compassionate leaders.

Despite these findings, the preference for STEM subjects remains dominant, driven by the perception of better job prospects and economic benefits. This preference has led to a significant reduction in the availability and quality of humanities education in many schools. The scarcity of staff for humanities subjects and the absence of facilities like language labs not only hinder students from pursuing their interests but also limit the educational community’s ability to foster a diverse set of competencies among its students.

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The consequences of this imbalance are far-reaching. By prioritising STEM at the expense of humanities, we risk nurturing a generation equipped with technical skills but lacking in the critical thinking, empathy, and cultural awareness that are equally vital in addressing the challenges of our increasingly interconnected world. This dichotomy raises a pressing question: are we merely training the next generation of technicians and engineers, or are we committed to nurturing well-rounded individuals who can contribute meaningfully to society?

The journey towards a more balanced educational approach begins with acknowledging the value of all disciplines. For students, and indeed for our future society, the richness of education lies not in the depth of knowledge in a single field, but in the breadth of understanding across the spectrum of human experience. As we stand at this crossroads, the choice is ours: will we continue down the path of narrow specialisation, or will we embrace the holistic education that our future leaders deserve?

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