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Views Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO)

‘SMS Story’ project paves the way for teaching English in India

Alison Gee is a Primary School Teacher from London and a VSO Volunteer Education Specialist. During her placement in India, Alison developed the phonics resources for SMS Story with an Indian NGO - Pratham Education Foundation. Here, she reflects on her experience.

Last year, leading international development charity, VSO, ran a 7- week pilot project in 25 schools in Bundi, Eastern Rajasthan, which taught English to children via text message. Rajasthan has one of the lowest Human Development Index ratings in India, but as a direct result of using SMS Story in the classroom, 30% of children who took part in the trial, improved their English. VSO originally developed SMS Story in Papua New Guinea, but it has since become VSO’s flagship education project in India. SMS Story is an English literacy teaching aid in 35 installments

which tells a simple story in a 160 characters using phonics progression. Each daily instalment – along with a lesson plan – is delivered to teachers via two text messages. 61 teachers were given two days of training, a poster and some handheld flash cards to help with the delivery of their lessons. WhatsApp was also used during the pilot as a free platform for teachers to support each other and to exchange tips on best practice. Gayatri Prasad Gothaniya who took part in the pilot, teaches at Kethuda Block School and is delighted with his results: “The students were not very interested when we used books to

teach English, but when we read a story from our mobile phones it’s like something coming out of a magic box. The children are very excited about what is going to happen next and how the story will unfold. All my students are very eager to answer in class now. They raise their hand shouting ‘me first, me first!’ SMS Story has generated a lot of interest. I am hopeful that in the near future, children’s learning will improve as a result of this project.” By the end of the trial, 62% of pupils in SMS Story schools could

understand the meaning of English sentences, compared to only 48% of pupils in non-SMS Story schools. Overall, children in SMS story schools learned more English during the trial period than non- SMS story schools. Alison picks up the story. “I sat down with the Pratham team of

content writers and we had great fun writing the stories. They’ve got to be relevant and that’s where the content team from Pratham really kept me on my toes because I can’t just come into a country and write stories relevant to the children here. They told me about things that were culturally appropriate and which names I could and couldn’t use. What I saw happening was children reading. Proper reading, not just repetition or simply learning what was written on the board. They were really reading and using the sounds correctly. They were so excited!” SMS Story is made possible by

its partnership with the District Administration of Bundi, the Government of Rajasthan and local NGO - Pratham Education Foundation. VSO needs more partners to replicate SMS Story across India and take it to the next level. Due to the scalability of the project’s design, with further support, SMS Story could reach millions more children. April 2016 British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)

A sticky situation in UK classrooms

This month, Patrick Hayes, Director, BESA, reflects on the enduring popularity of sticker charts in our nation’s schools.

There are few of us who won’t recall the moment of pride we experienced when receiving a gold star from a teacher at school. It’s a powerful sign that your behaviour, or your work, meets the approval of your teacher and can be very influential in reinforcing such similar behaviours in future. Of course now, in primary classrooms in particular, there are a great variety of colourful stickers for teachers to choose from, from the classic gold and silver stars to digital equivalents being developed in online badging initiatives. And many teachers love them, as primary school teacher Zoe Conville

puts it, “In my class stickers are like little gold trophies, they collect and guard them with their life! A permanent visual reminder of a personal affirmation big or small… [They are] so helpful to motivate an engage children to meet their individual targets.” So it was odd to read in the Sunday Times earlier in the month that

gold stars are under attack by no less than the Government’s “Behaviour Tsar”, Tom Bennett, who believes these could be “counter-productive”. The newspaper reported that he believed sticker charts are, "inappropriate for old children and that even primary schools should be prepared to drop them". His concern is apparently that the approach can be time-consuming and that "if teachers find this system is strangling their teaching, then it should be jettisoned”. The debate around whether or not to use "extrinsic motivators" such

as stickers to encourage the right behaviour has raged in academic circles for a long time, with the anti-sticker brigade, such as U.S. parenting expert Alfie Kohn, saying the use of gold stars and the like is tantamount to “bribery”. Children, the reasoning goes, need to be able to motivate themselves on their own steam, without needing external rewards to motivate them. Imagine if this logic was applied to the adult world: I wonder how many bankers would remain in the industry if all “extrinsic motivators,” like bonuses, were removed! These Star Wars show no sign of ending any time soon, and nor

should they, such is the nature of academic inquiry. But what is of concern is when government representatives wade into the debate and begin to meddle with the teachers’ toolkit. Now Tom Bennett is a highly respected behaviour “guru”, and by all accounts a fantastic teacher, but in taking up the mantle of “tsar” his words now have greater weight, as clearly evidenced by the fact that his comments about stickers made it into the most-read newspaper in the country. Teachers can, of course, go overboard with stickers, and you can

envisage situations where an “all-must-have-stickers” mentality may break out. But these situations would be the exception not the rule. Stickers have long been an important teaching tool, and teachers should be trusted to exercise their professional judgement as to whether to use “extrinsic motivators” or not. Ultimately this is what it comes down to: trusting teachers. The

direction of travel of the Conservative government over the past five years has been to devolve more power down to school level and to give teachers more autonomy over how they teach lessons. And rightly so; through years of experience at the chalk-face, teachers are best placed to decide. Given teachers’ burgeoning workloads, that are leading more and

more leaving the profession, micromanagement of this kind is last thing that teachers need. Let’s hope this sticker situation is not a sign of other things to come.

uFor information from BESA contact: uPatrick Hayes u020 7537 4997 7

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