College and school drop-outs are no longer limited to underprivileged families; everyone has to measure up on marks. In this win or lose rat race, competition with others has taken a huge toll on our children’s psychology. The impact is often for life.
The doctors across fields say that children today complain of depression, feel low, hypertension, insomnia, and the like. Students flocking hospitals, psychiatric and stress management clinics, and mental hospitals is the new normal! Suicide rate is growing like creepers, sparing none.
Today, children and youth are depressed about their performance at school, college, university, or about their choices and careers. They all want to be toppers and succeed above others. And they want it fast. It is desperation that is taking over and this is not good at all — say the child psychiatrists.
Much to the relief, counters to such developments have been happening, albeit these are few and far between. Some tinkering developments like broadening of the career options more frequently into humanities, improved teaching pedagogy, or assessments that personalise learning, are evolving and keeping hopes alive.
One such development has changed more than 6000 lives in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The initiative is called TARGETplus. It helps children be their own judge and mentor. A simple method that tells a child where and how much effort is needed to reach his or her individual best. The basis is a concept — Compete With Yourself (CWY). This methodology is based on extensive multi year research done by Dr Sunita Gandhi that started in 2003 in Iceland and tested in 2007-8 in the UK, and recently in India. A believer that education needs to be based on far better principles, Dr Gandhi aims to revolutionise the way we educate. In addition to her research, Dr Gandhi has traveled extensively to some 40 countries to study their education systems and has worked on five continents on behalf of the World Bank in Washington, DC, where she served 10 years as project manager.
In an experimental approach, Dr Gandhi ventured into testing at the world’s largest school the possibility of reducing stress on the children and helping them increase marks in the least amount of time. This in turn would also teach them a number of life skills: planning, time-management and self-analysis, among others.
It was set-up as a research project with control and treatment groups. This is very hard to do in high-stake examinations like the Boards. However, she was convinced that her formulation would lead to better results. Good news was that principals of four schools volunteered for the experiment.
In this experiment, the children were divided into two groups — control group that had children who did not participate in the experiment, and treatment group that had children participating in the experiment. So all four campuses were now divided into these two groups. This ensured better scientific results. The children in both groups belonged to the same schools, read from the same books, and were taught by the same teachers. Besides, the children in both the groups also represented all ability levels, from the lowest to the highest. Both groups were tested in a comparative examination. This acted as ‘baseline’. They were finally tested in the Board exams, the ‘end line’. Results for both groups were then compared.
The results were very compelling— those in the treatment groups had done significantly better than those in the control groups at all campuses. In three of the four campuses that did mathematics at Grade X, twice as many children got 90 per cent and above compared to the control group. Ref: Figure 1 (report-chart)
Even Dr Gandhi had not expected such a phenomenal result in such a short time. After all, the students and teachers toil around the year, so what can a two to three hour intervention do to create greater successes. When results came out, it was a celebration for everyone and not just a select few.
The idea of CWY, behind this intervention has been worked by Dr Gandhi, has been published (as Chapter 11) in the 2017 book by Prof. Gwyneth Hughes called ‘Ipsative Assessment & Personal Learning Gain’. ‘Ipsative’ is a term in psychology that means ‘compared to self’. Develops a radical evaluation of assessment to encourage learners to celebrate their individual progress and learning journey
The project has been incubated at IIM (L) incubator centre. Dr Gandhi has been continuously striving towards providing solutions to the biggest problem for 21st Century Education — Stress among Children.Talking to students who were a part of the experimental learning, it was very evident that every child was talk about his or her improvement.
A student who passed the board exam with flying colours said: “The best part is the way the tests are structured. They are topic-wise and not subject-wise. It tells you where and how much focus is needed. It is great and helped me gain 90+ in my board exam.”
Principals and teachers say that the structure of the reports for the test is very helpful. Every child’s efficiency on every topic is measured and communicated in an in-depth self analysis report. It just gives confidence to the students that they are working in the right direction. It is not a test but has the potential of being a way of assessing the progress of a child.
Targeting with Focus
The ideology of TARGETplus started way back in 2007-2008 in Finland and UK. In November 2015, 11 years later, Dr. Sunita Gandhi who has conceptualised and developed TARGETplus, decided to do a fresh research study with a revised version of TARGETplus. In this study, TARGETplus was given to roughly half the students at three participating branches of CMS and two CBSE Schools (the TARGETplus Group) belonging to all quartile groups. The remaining roughly half of the students also belonging to the same quartile groups did not participate in TARGETplus. They became the control group. The Board Results for 2016 were then compared. The results showed significant improvement in results of TARGETplus students over control group students.