It is around 3:30 p.m. on a warm Friday afternoon in Kisumu. As I walk into the school gate, the environment becomes cooler owing to ‘school forest’ right in the middle of the school. After a meeting the school’s administration, I proceed to assess one of our core activities at PACE, Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL). The school is buzzing with activities as the pupils join their respective clubs, while others seem happier playing in the field. In our partner school, TaRL is dubbed a ‘Reading Club’. In a few minutes, the pupils in the reading club are grouped into their respective levels; word, letter, paragraph and story level. “…I would like one of you to write for us the word GIRL…” this immediately attracts my attention.
Armed with a stick and a cleared-up patch of soil, Mary, one of our Pace Fellows has adopted a kneeling position. One boy lifts his hand excitedly and attempts to write the word. Although he doesn’t get it right for the first time, after few attempts and help from his fellow pupils, he is even able to write a more complex word: giraffe. As they continue with their lesson, there is a sense of happiness and satisfaction from the child. How can we replicate the model and ensure that no child is left behind?
Teaching at the Right Level is a pedagogical approach to remedial education which was developed by Pratham, an Indian Non-Governmental Organization. It has been adopted in various countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, India, Mexico, Botswana, taking up various names such as Learning for Access, Learning while Playing and in Kenya, the Accelerated Learning Program. Research from Uwezo indicates that learning outcomes are consistently low nationally as 8 out of 100 pupils in class 8 cannot do class 2 work and are lower in rural areas, arid areas and poorer households.
The participation of various organizations under the umbrella of People’s Action for Learning, such as Pacemaker International, Zizi Afrique, International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Women Educational Researchers Kenya and Lwala Community Alliance in the teacher training workshop in Bungoma on 6th to 8 February 2019 created the basis of effectively scaling the process in Bungoma county. Guided by values of the Competence Based Curriculum, the trained teacher assistants have begun delivering fun and interactive learning experiences for children.
There are components of TaRL that make it practical and desirable for pupils:
Learning by doing: During the training, there was emphasis on the availability of teaching aids such as picture cards for the students. This not only draws their attention but also expands their creativity. The encouragement of ‘teach back’ sessions enable the teacher assistant to gauge the level of understanding of different concepts. “When I hear, I forget When I see I remember, When I do, I understand” – Confucius
Capitalizing on the available resources: The use of locally available materials such as clay, or even employing the use of sticks to write on the ground gives the learner a more conducive environment.
Simplicity: The beauty of TaRL is that it is child-centred, anyone can do it. This gives the parents and other stakeholders the chance to act towards improving learning outcomes of the children. It makes it suitable for children 9-12 years to experience per learning.
Assessment: The progress of a child is tracked every 10 days. This enables the learners to progress to higher levels until they become readers. The program also sets achievable learning goals, enabling the pupils who cannot be able to benefit meaningfully from regular class instructions.
TaRL is a cost-effective strategy whereby the children are grouped by their learning levels using appropriate interactive materials, enabling them to catch up. There is a need for more actors to adopt interventions since poor learning outcomes in the country indicate that schooling is not directly proportional to learning.
Fellow Support Coordinator,
Pacemaker International, Kisumu