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Encourage Pre-Schoolers to Keep Alive the Inquisitive Spirit- Brainfeed in Conversation With Sneha Sundaram

Sneha Sundaram

Brainfeed in conversation with Sneha Sundaram, Co-Founder of PM endorsed app Kutuki, about the necessities of early childhood learning in mother tongue and maintaining the continuum of home schooling

What was the idea behind Kutuki?

Kutuki is extremely specific to the learning needs of Indian children. Both my co-founder and I belong from creative backgrounds. We are both professional musicians with extensive experience of working with young children. I, personally, have taught music to thousands of children and conducted workshops. As music teachers, we received frequent invitations from schools, and specifically pre-schools. We were asked to create fresh songs and rhymes for children. The demand could be attributed to the lack of innovation in children’s learning content and repetition of same old nursery rhymes like Ba Ba Black Sheep.

We noticed that a chunk of these rhymes has originated in the West with learning elements quite alien to India. We felt it is problematic because it not just affects learning capacity but also the self-esteem of young children.

Keeping this in mind, we decided to carry a little experiment creating original educational songs in regional languages for Indian pre-schoolers and started sharing them with pre-schools. Personally, it felt like a whiff of fresh air amidst the cacophony of same, old songs or rhymes. We observed how easily children connected to these stories and songs. Once this experiment became a resounding success, we conducted further analysis to pan the early learning landscape in India. And that’s when we realized the lack of original content and the early learning crisis in India.

Around 200 million children under the age of 7 studying in 40-50 thousand pre-schools were affected by this lack. The situation is aggravated by the absence of dialogue on the poor access to quality pre-schools in India and lack of contextual learning that is supposed to help children learn and grow. So, a combination of these things spurred the inception of Kutuki, giving us a big opportunity to make a real impact by bringing art and technology together.

We decided to carry a little experiment creating original educational songs in regional languages for Indian pre-schoolers and started sharing them with pre-schools

There is a lack of learning content in regional languages on virtual platforms. . .

Yes, and I strongly believe in the use of mother tongue as a catalyst for learning for this age group. In fact, child-psychology says that kids learn from observing familiar things they see around or imitating elder members. Once they are comfortable, children then start looking to add more information or lear something new. But if we introduce learning to them with non-contextual and unfamiliar things or teach them stories in accents and languages completely incomprehensible to them,  it creates utter confusion.

we realized the lack of original content and the early learning crisis in India

What kind of barrier does it create in early childhood education?

But instead, if you start using familiar accents, languages and characters that they have already seen and experienced around them, learning is accelerated and internalised smoothly.  From my field experience, I have seen how different it is when we ask children to process information in English versus in their mother tongues—be it for learning Science or Math.

In many pre-schools, language is actually a barrier to learning. It is important to scrutiny how we are using language. It should not be force-fed. So, we started to translate the content we initially created in English on Kutuki and without using Google translator. We had a team of native language speakers belonging from creative backgrounds to translate English content into Hindi, Kannada and Marathi among other languages.  With this translation project, our users swelled.

I strongly believe in the use of mother tongue as a catalyst for learning among pre-schoolers

How does Kutuki address the challenge of developing cognitive skills with virtual learning replacing the traditional in-person learning method?

A story on our Kutuki uses bindis to teach colours. This ‘matching and sorting’ activity amassed popularity. In another story called Shadow Animals, we created shaped of animals using Bharatnatyam mudras. Kids absolutely loved it. From parents’ feedback, we gathered that before going to bed they would turn off the lights and switch on a torch to imitate the gestures. Such activities aide in developing fine motor skills. Other stories on Kutuki inspire kids to think or experiment using simple household objects such as a bowl of water.

Why the urgent need for home schooling tools amidst the pandemic?

One of the biggest concerns of parents is the loss of learning for better part of the year and also a snag in the regular routine of their children. In this context, home schooling can support parents in navigating through the difficult journey of continuing the physical, mental and emotional development in their children.

To ensure the continuum of development, it is indispensable to sort through the confusion and focus on what really matters—something Kutuki helps parents to understand. We take care of simple things such as when to involve children in the writing process or help them spell three-lettered words. Needless to say, home schooling requires experts’ guidance—people with research and ground knowledge about pre-school learning. Also, amidst COVID, home schooling is important to prevent the feeling of disconnection from classroom and ease out the tension of getting back into the rhythm once the schools reopen.

Home schooling requires experts’ guidance—people with research and ground knowledge about pre-school learning

 

Why should pre-schools reinforce the concept of STEM education in early education?

Learning today is different and so are the ways through which kids absorb information from surroundings. Their absorption power is higher. Early education stage is extremely crucial since during this phase kids start building hypotheses—questioning things and striving to learn the ‘why’ behind things. The goal is to encourage pre-schoolers to keep alive the inquisitive spirit. Around this idea, STEM education is constructed. Kutuki aims to dive deep into the different concepts of STEM education and develop a specific content database since in India early education has received much less attention. Our curriculum is built around understanding numbers, exploring textures and grasping concept of liquid density. The concepts are taught through the medium of songs and stories.

home schooling is important to prevent the feeling of disconnection from learning and ease out the tension of getting back into the rhythm once the schools reopen

Is Kutuki presently servicing to differently abled pre-schoolers?

Although Kutuki was primarily not pivoted around the specific educational needs of differently abled children, the plan to develop the learning content in collaboration with people who have avid experience of working with these kids is on the horizon. But in pre-schools, teachers use Kutuki app to teach students with learning disabilities. Since Kutuki has embedded visual and audio tools into the stories, we could sync to an extent with the needs of these kids.

When Kutuki was launched in 2019, the online learning scenario was different. To what extent it has changed?

In my opinion, even today we are not fully equipped to synthesise virtual learning into education. We have received calls from pre-schools who are not yet completely ready to go online nonetheless open to collaborating and improvising. India is concurrently experiencing a boom in online home schooling by pre-schools.  Post pandemic, we started added new regional languages on Kutuki to cater to our expanding user base of users spanning across Assam, Srinagar, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai.

Kutuki’s latest additions are based on personal feedbacks collected from parents especially whose kids are first-generation English learners. Kutuki currently works with 130 pre-schools pan India. In a few cases, we incorporate our content into the school curriculums besides conducting live sessions for pre-schoolers of content based on songs and stories.

[Story by: Puja Sinha]

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