Simplified Activity Based Learning (SABL), touted as a superior platform for children of elementary schools to express their potential, is “functional” only in a small percentage of schools in Tamil Nadu, despite being “well designed.”
This is the highlight of a study carried out by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), an international research network based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), United States, to examine the status of SABL in 48 schools in Tiruvannamalai, Vellore and Krishnagiri districts during 2014-15. The three districts were chosen as they were “academically low-performing districts.”
The study was a sequel to J-PAL signing a memorandum of understanding with the State government on evidence-based policy making for effective governance. Esther Duflo of Department of Economics, MIT, and Harini Kannan of J-PAL South Asia were the principal investigators. The organisation has shared the recently-finalised findings of the study conducted three years ago with The Hindu .
The study was conducted in the light of “large inter-district variation” in learning outcomes in the State. Launched in 2012, SABL was a re-designed version of the Activity Based Learning (ABL), which was taken up in 2007 in all government schools.
Based on a trimester pattern, SABL relies on activities instead of text books and divides the curriculum into a set of competencies or “milestones” to be achieved, using cards and activities. A continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) framework was also included for student evaluation.
Despite the widespread presence of key inputs for SABL implementation, the study found that “there is a wide difference in the manner of implementation.” Besides, “a significant percent” of students was unable to work with cards independently.
Teachers, who should have encouraged the students to use cards, were found relying on textbooks. Also, “there is some resistance [among the teachers] to SABL implementation.”
The important difficulties cited by teachers in implementing SABL included “lack of cards, large class sizes, presence of slow learners and the increased amount of CCE record work.”
Pointing out that the “administrative data on milestone achievement and CCE grades belie these implementation challenges,” the study, however, noted, quoting the teachers and Block Resource Teacher Educators, that many students did not master the milestones and gain the competencies that they ought to have. This led to “poor learning outcomes.”
Notwithstanding such issues, a majority of teachers, according to the study, opined that “SABL is more effective than the traditional method of instruction” due to a variety of factors such as interesting activities and effective engagement with the students.
Asked for reaction, a senior resource person in charge of SABL argued that the study, by covering the academically low-performing districts, was “not representative” in character. In many districts, including in the south, the results are “impressive” as there has been a “vast improvement” in learning skills of the children in recent years, the resource person added.