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Impacts and Lessons Learnt from the Kajoli ECE Model in Bangladesh

SAIFUZZAMAN RANA


Introduction

Amar mrittur par ai kendroti amar seler bou porichalona korbe ata amar shapno (After my death this center will be run by my daughter in law, this is my dream). – Roushon Ara, Teacher, Khidirpur Kajoli Model Center, Monohordi, Norsingdi.

Ranking number 146 out of 187 countries on the Human Development Index of the UN in 2011, Bangladesh remains one of the least developed countries in the world. However, some important developments have taken place in the sectors of economy, agriculture, health, and education. Especially in the education sector, improvements have taken place regarding various indicators. The enrolment rate is significantly high. As a result of government and non governmental interventions people are more aware of the benefits of education. So, parents are finally sending their children to the nearest schools. However, quality remains a big challenge in the education sector in Bangladesh. Research shows that 35 to 40 percent of the children dropped out of school before completing the cycle of primary level. Many reasons for this have been identified, such as poverty, inadequate infrastructure, teacher student ratio, traditional teaching learning methods, poor teaching materials, low teacher salary, and the lack of knowledge regarding the importance of early childhood education (ECE), etc. It is true that there are multiple problems when we focused on early education. Early education means pre-primary education. If we are able to ensure pre-primary education for every child, it is believed that drop-out rate will decrease automatically, as pre-primary education helps children and parents to understand the process of education and raises their interest to go to school regularly.

 

Background of the Model

The story of the Kajoli Model (KM) started ten years ago. An action research was initiated on 1st January 2002 at the Kajoli village in Sreepur Upazila under Magura district of Bangladesh by Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB). Dr. Shamsul Bari, Chairman of RIB, conceived the model and initiated its application in Kajoli, which is his ancestral village. Hence the model was named Kajoli. After a year’s experience in the village, under the leadership of Mr. Akhtaruzzaman Tuhin (now deceased) of RIB and Professor Bashir Ahmed of Kajoli, during which the model was further refined, it was decided to try it out in other places of Bangladesh. In the second year, therefore, it was extended to fifteen other places in Bangladesh where the effectiveness of the model, particularly the innovative learning materials was further tested. Finally, after some more adjustments, the Kajoli Early Childhood Learning (ECL) Model emerged and allowed to spread throughout Bangladesh.

The Kajoli ECL model has two major components. One is the learning part and other is community participation/ownership component. Through the action research approach which was followed in the development of the model, the learning materials consisting of a pocket board, pocket cards, and the innovative use of black boards were perfected. Gradually, playing cards, a book of rhymes, story books, a drawing book on how to draw pictures were introduced. The playing card was devised to help children learn to add and subtract through playing a game. Action research was also used to develop the community outreach and mobilization programme through which local communities were encouraged to participate in running the Kajoli Centres through providing a gathering space for the centres and engaging the mothers in a daily feeding programme for the children.

Present status

The Kajoli ECE Model’s journey started in only one center at Kajoli village in 2003. Now there are two hundred (200) Kajoli centers all over Bangladesh. Most of the centers are in the northern part of the country, especially in the two districts of Nilphamary and Panchagarh in the extreme north. Almost 6000 boys and girls between the ages of 4 and 6, are getting the chance to learn how to read and write at the centers. Directly and indirectly more than 6000 families have benefited from them. Each center has a center management committee (CMC). The CMC takes the responsibility to run the center. Almost half of the CMCs have now turned into Kajoli Mothers’ Associations (Mothers’ Organization) which help in running the centers. A Kajoli Mothers’ Association (KMA) is a group of mothers who live near the center. Each KMA has undertaken various developmental activities for the betterment of their children’s education, livelihood and society. They have started cooperative deposit schemes, goat rearing, cattle rearing, land cultivation, horticulture etc. In total some 25,000 children have so far graduated from Kajoli centers between 2003 and 2011. Most of them are carrying on their studies at local primary and secondary schools. Presently more than 6000 children are studying in the Kajoli centers all over Bangladesh.

Recently the Kajoli approach was adapted for teaching Chakma language to children in the Khagrachhari District of Chittagong Hill Tracts. The model has also been introduced for children from Myanmar residing in Rohingya Refugee Camps. More recently the Kajoli model has also been adapted to teach English at the Kajoli centres throughout Bangladesh.

Innovative Learning Materials

The Kajoli ECL model is very effective and attractive for children because of its innovative learning materials. There are no books, paper or pencil used in the approach. Instead, the following learning materials are used:

Pocket Board: It is the main teaching/learning tool in the Kajoli ECE model. It is called Pocket Board because a large number of pockets are created by stitching a piece of cloth in a way where pocket cards can be inserted. The size of the pocket board is normally about 6 feet long and 4 feet wide. In our experiences we found this to be a very useful learning material to help children learn to read through fun and game.

Pocket Card: Three types of cards are used in Kajoli ECE Model. One is picture cards; another is card without picture and the third is smaller sized sound/letter cards. Picture cards are a set of cards where a colorful picture depicts the word inscribed on it. There are 130 such cards with pictures. There are also a similar number of cards without pictures. Children learn the alphabets by matching the non-picture cards to the picture cards. The sound or letter cards are the alphabets with or without the vowel sign which are used to help children form the words they have already learned. Children get used to form a word as if it was a picture which they have learnt through association during playing with the picture cards. There are 13 sets of sound or letter cards in each KM Centre.

Black Board: Each Kajoli Centre uses a number of blackboards, normally four of them which are made from two 8 feet by 4 feet plywood boards split into two and painted black.  Each child is provided a space on the blackboard for him/her to write upon, draw or do maths, using a piece of chalk.

Counting cards: Counting cards are used for learning the numerals. In a set, there are 10 (ten) cards containing numbers  from zero (0) to nine (9)

‘Maths game’: This is a set of playing cards used by the children for playing a card game called “the Maths War”. There are 56 cards in a box making a set. Two of these are Joker cards, one an equation card, one for rules and the remaining 52 cards are for playing. The objective is to make the children to add and subtract while playing with the cards. This is a very popular game among the children who are happy to play it without realizing that it is used as a learning mechanism.

Learning Methods

The teacher is central to the methodology. This is a very popular and common concept in the pedagogy of teaching but more often than not it does not work effectively in the early learning stages. Innovative, creative and effective learning methods are the most important elements to help young children to learn. In the Kajoli ECL model we tested and selected some of those which are more effective and creative. The Look & Say, Trial and Error and Doing-Learning method/process are used in KM. The interesting point is that we use all methods but do not fully depend on or use one single method. Our approach has been to keep it deliberately eclectic and at the same time to keep a trained eye on the field to see what works where.

The Kajoli ECE Model is therefore formed from a combination of those three well known teaching methods and we called it a picture method, because children are learning the alphabet by picturing it. This is why Kajoli is different from other educational approaches in that the bottom line is to make education joyful.

Concrete Use of the Learning Materials

Pocket cards and the pocket board are the main learning tools of the KM. First of all a pocket board is hung on the wall of the Kajoli centers at children’s height level. Then the teacher puts some selected picture cards (learning materials) in the pockets of the board. While the teacher is putting the cards in the board, the boys and girls are telling the name of the picture. Here, it needs to be explained that all pictures have been selected from the child’s immediate environment and are based on the children’s knowledge at the age level of around five years. This is why most of the children can recognize the picture. Pictures show for example a ball, a book or a mango. Then teacher asks the students who wants to pick-up a particular card, for example, the card with the picture of a  “ball”. Almost all students raise their hands immediately. The teacher chooses one of them who raised his/her hand first. In this example, Lalita raised her hand first. The teacher tells Lalita, ‘come to the board and pick-up the “ball” card and show it to the rest of the class’. Finally, Lalita comes to the pocket board, sees the “ball” card, picks it up and shows it to everyone. Everyone claps. What happened in the children’s mind, when the teacher told someone to pick up a card from the pocket board? First of all they hear the sound “ball” and then see the picture of the ball. We call it “Look and Say” method. What is the learning area developed through this method? Of course, it is the cognitive development of a child through the “Look and Say” method, but we have to look carefully at the full activity.  Initially, the students stand up and come to the pocket board, the student recognizes the selected card from a set of cards then he/she picks up the card and shows it to everybody. During showing the card she/he repeatedly says “This is a picture of a ball”. Observing the children’s activity in the center, it is very clear that not only is the cognitive function working here, but also the psycho-motor development of a child. How did this function get stimulated? The child saw the picture card and recognized it cognitively and reflected a few moments, and then moved to the pocket board. This movement is called psycho-motor action or development. Children become more confident to use the cards in the pocket board every day in the center. In the Kajoli ECL model, we do not teach children. We focus on creating the learning environment. Children learn many things through play, fun and game by using Kajoli learning materials.

In the Kajoli ECE model, we try to introduce other child development areas, for example physical development. During center hours every day children are given time to play. Sometimes this happens within the center and some times outside the center. Every body knows that play/game is a very helpful tool to build body and mind of children.

Leadership is a skill that cannot be developed without proper nursing. Every child should have the equal opportunity to become a good leader. At the Kajoli centers we have some practice that helps to increase the quality of leadership of every child. There is a system in Kajoli ECE Model, where once a month each mother provides the midday meals for all children. The son or daughter of the mother who provides the food becomes class captain for that day. The class captain plays an important role that day. He/she serves the food to everyone with the help of the mother and is the last of all to take his/her plate. If we analysis this activity, we can see some good practice in Kajoli ECE which is helpful towards developing leadership qualities. Furthermore, by being the last ones to take their plates that day, the Kajoli children are encouraged to serve others before serving themselves. There is no doubt that these qualities learned at an early stage, will not be forgotten for the entire life.

Social Development: In our Kajoli centers, we always tried to create an effective learning environment that can help children develop good manners and good behavior towards other human beings. Children in the centers get used to  social practices, such as the exchange of greetings , saying hello to everybody, and asking each other “How are you?” from the first day on. If someone came to visit the center then everyone would stand up and show honor to the visitor.  We do believe that this type of practice can play an important role for the social development of the children.

Emotional Development is a very important characteristic of every human being. Through the Kajoli activities we are also trying to develop the emotional side of a child. Usually, we are creating some space to help children express their feelings. When they play, do group works, sing or dance, they express their feelings. In the KM all activities are performed in the play mode. I think a playground is the best place to express feelings. In this regard it is our main concern to ensure creating this play mode and build spaces where children can have lots of fun and enjoy the game. On the basis of our experience, we can say that we are always encouraging the children to develop their emotional side.

Creativity is another very important characteristic in every human being. People say that it is a quality which is inherited, but interestingly it is possible to increase creativity through practice. In the Kajoli centers children play some game that helps to increase children creativity.

Language is the essential tool of communication between human beings. We are trying to develop the language skills of children through story telling, singing, reciting rhymes and chatting with each other in the KM. Our observation is that the tool of storytelling has a major impact on the development of a child’s language skills.  

Impacts

Kajoli ECL model is a project which is run by Research Initiatives, Bangladesh (RIB) with the help of local community. Positive impacts or effects can be found in two areas of the societies, where the Kajoli ECL Model has been introduced. First, the model has positive impacts in the area of Early Childhood Education. Second, the model results in positive changes on the community level.

a. Area of ECE: Early Childhood Education is a rather new concept in Bangladesh though it is not new in other countries. There is a lot of scope to do research, to develop learning materials, and to identify teaching-learning methodology in the context of Bangladesh. Today Non Government Organizations (NGOs) are trying to develop ECE guidelines. RIB is one of them. In 2003, RIB has conducted an action research on ECE. The Kajoli ECE Model is the result of that research. Through the research, we have developed a set of learning materials and a teaching-learning methodology and tested them at the field level. Children are enjoying themselves and they learn very quickly. This is not only because of the learning materials themselves, but also the way they are used: Teachers and students are using them as playing materials. Kajoli ECE is therefore a unique learning model that can help children to learn effectively in a joyful way.

b. Community Level: This impact on the community is very important for the success of any kind of initiatives and the sustainability of projects. In this regards, we can say Kajoli ECE model is one of the successful projects in Bangladesh. It has many possibilities to contribute to the society. Through the KM, we are trying to revamp the positive aspects of social trends inherent in our society. Formerly a spirit of volunteerism was deeply rooted in the society in Bangladesh. There are many areas in which society played a vital role for the betterment of the people such as in education, health, water supply etc.  However, since independence in 1971, Government and NGO interventions have taken over all such activities. Through the KM, we are trying to revive social and voluntary practices in communities, where people take care of some of their own needs. There are many areas where local people can do something or can contribute to the betterment of their own future. RIB creates spaces where responsibilities are shared by community members themselves, such as the mid-day meals for school children, providing the space for the centers, raising teacher’s salary, the center management and to form a local organization for this purpose. Midday meal is a great contribution from the parent side. Once in a month each mother provides food to all children. By providing midday meals, mothers come more close to the KM Center and they feel a sense of ownership. On the basis of KM center establishment and management experiences, we can say that people are interested to work voluntarily and take over many activities and responsibilities in each KM center. If local people would not have been willing to participate and were not interested in the KM, it would be impossible to run more than 200 KM centers all over Bangladesh. As a result of the KM, we can say that the tradition of volunteerism is re-emerging in Bangladesh. This has a great impact on the community level as well as the national level.

Conclusion

The Kajoli Model is not only a education model for chiuldren, but also a social development model on child education, adult education, on parenting, community participation, group work, sharing of feelings and work, community ownership, awareness, volunteerism and sustainability. KM centers have played an important role towards changing the concept of social responsibility among deprived communities all over Bangladesh. As a result of the KM, people are aware that they have a lot of responsibilities towards developing their own society. Already the community people are taking over various developmental works for future betterment of their communities, such as child education, community owned income generation programs. KM center-based mother’s organizations are now even building houses for the KM centers. These are positive signs for the development of a society. Through the Kajoli Model, we are trying to increase the awareness level of the community on their social responsibilities. After eight years of working experience with the KM, we are proud to say that people are more conscious about their children’s education and other important contributions they can make as members of the society.


SAIFUZZAMAN RANA: Education Coordinator, Research Initiative, Bangladesh, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

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