March 2023

How children learn: Exploring school readiness of kids from Bengaluru's waste-picking families

By Prosenjit Roy, 

Manager – Programme Impact (South), Save the Children (Bal Raksha Bharat)

Bengaluru’s informal waste management sector, which supplements the work done by the civic body Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), is an easy entry point for people migrating to the city as it requires a negligible upfront investment while providing immediate earning potential.

However, despite their contribution to the collecting, sorting, and recycling of waste, waste pickers continue to remain among the most marginalized groups in the city, largely ‘invisible’ to the general population. 

Their children face additional challenges, including a lack of awareness of education, poor access to educational institutions in their mother tongues, a lack of role models, dropout rates and malnutrition, among other things. 

What we do

Save the Children, as a Saamuhika Shakti partner, has been working over the past three years to strengthen teaching and learning processes at Anganwadi Centres (AWC) and schools attended by children from waste-picking communities. This is done by providing teacher training and other basic infrastructure, with an aim to improve the quality of early learning opportunities in 25 AWCs (preschools) in urban Bengaluru that serve the waste-picking community. 

The intervention prioritized making the preschool and school environments free of abuse, bullying, and corporal punishment, ensuring children have access to clean water, toilets, and adequate recreation facilities.

Assessing and learning

Over 2022 and early 2023, Save the Children used the International Development and Learning Assessment (IDELA) tool – a widely used, rigorous assessment tool designed by Save the Children, US  – to measure early learning and development in children and understand what skills they bring to their first day of school.

To date, IDELA has been used by more than 120 actors in 78 countries.1

The assessment in Bengaluru involved two tools: the IDELA assessment and the  Home Environment Assessment for children aged 3.5 years to 6.5 years, and focused on gross and fine motor skills, emergent literacy, emergent numeracy, socio-emotional development and approaches to learning.

In January 2022, the team conducted the school readiness assessment, which provided a baseline, since most children the team was working with had just joined the preschool program. The team then did a follow-up assessment in January 2023, giving a chance to understand the progress made in a year with regular preschool education and interventions under the Saamuhika Shakti project.

IDELA was used to measure the status of children’s early learning and development, with direct observations through a series of games and activities that were conducted by trained project team members. 

The assessment was conducted for 281 randomly selected children enrolled in 25 AWCs in 2022, and 248 children enrolled in AWCs in 2023. 

The children’s parents were assessed for the home environment. The team ensured a similar sex composition of children, educational level of parents, average family size, and percentage of children at home across the two assessments so as to compare results.

What we found

Our school readiness assessment in 2022 clearly indicated that existing levels of child learning and development required support. While the availability of learning resources was improving, children’s participation in AWCs remained limited owing to pandemic-related restrictions in the preceding months. 

The assessment also found that all learning activities for the children studied were mostly led by mothers and this contributed to improving the IDELA score. 

Save the Children has also been working with AWCs to improve teaching practices and learning processes and strengthen Anganwadi Development Committees. This has had a positive influence on the average IDELA score.

Findings from the 2023 assessment helped us compare the results and assess our work in the communities. 

Key results: 
  • The average score for motor skills has increased by 17.8% compared to 2022
  • The average score for emergent literacy skills rose by 17.7%
  • The average score for emergent numeracy skills increased by 20.4%
  • The average score for socio-emotional skills rose by 28.3% 
  • The average total IDELA score also rose by 18.2%.

The 2022 assessment found that girls lagged behind boys in early literacy and numeracy, but this disparity was not seen in the 2023 assessment. 

The availability of learning materials, such as picture books and play-learning toys – which contributes to the IDELA score – improved from the 2022 assessment. This is important as the availability of play materials is found to contribute towards both socio-emotional and literacy and numeracy development.

Parental support to help children learn more and learn better also improved significantly between the 2022 and 2023 assessments, particularly with respect to reading books, singing songs, drawing things to teach the child, and taking the child outside.

The assessments help us understand the impact of our interventions on the field, and the ways in which we can tailor them to better serve children from such underserved communities. 

Way forward

Focus on learning activities: We should continue to support parents, older siblings, and other family members to increase learning activities for children at home, prioritizing early literacy and numeracy. Further, we need to find ways to work with older siblings of children aged 3 to 6 years to further enhance learning levels.

Play materials for learning: More playful learning resources are to be made available to children, combined with teaching parents and other caregivers on how best to use them. Also, to make such materials available in the local/vernacular languages. 

Regular parent meetings at AWCs: Such meetings can focus on behaviour change, so parents understand the importance of early childhood care and education (ECCE) 

Continuing good practices adopted during the pandemic: COVID-19 necessitated a  re-imagination and re-alignment of education. The Early Childhood Development curriculum was adapted for home-based learning, Anganwadi workers were mandated to connect with parents regularly through calls and WhatsApp groups, learning videos, photos, and audio files were created and shared with parents.  Continuing these practices will strengthen parent involvement and ECCE outcomes

Language of learning: In urban slums specifically, the language spoken at home and the medium of instruction at Anganwadi Centres may be different, and this poses a threat to learning and retention in young children. Attention to be paid to promoting learning in a language that children understand. This could include special initiatives to prepare children to understand the medium of instruction at Anganwadi Centres.

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