Arohi is in Grade 5 studying at an International School in Mumbai. She loves her Art Classes and excels in Extempore & Elocution. While her grades in language and social studies are good, her struggle with mathematics is a huge concern. Poor scores in mathematics affect her aggregate scores and in spite of being a bright child otherwise, she lags behind in her overall academic performance. In India, you will find 15 to 18 Arohi's in a classroom of 40. These students are good at one subject, better at the other or struggling in something else. The problem here is that Arohi and other students like her have a different learning style. However, the age-old ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ approach makes learning challenging for them.
Arohi is not learning disabled and therefore does not receive any extra help in the area she needs support with. In India, about 25 to 30% of students exhibit at least one form of learning problem, which is not a learning disability. The conservative approach in both Quality Education and Special Education disallows children to receive any kind of remedial support unless they are certified as “Learning Disabled” while the fact remains that if there is a learning lag then it has to be complemented with relevant and corresponding support.
Back in 2012, I learned about the ‘Response To Intervention’ (RTI) Framework, a US-generated capsule, a schoolwide initiative designed to facilitate a systemic change in addressing the achievement gap between students from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds (Fuchs & Fuchs,2006). The RTI framework has all the necessary components to advance education as a Sustainable Developmental Goal (SDG) including increasing educational access and attainment of education, improving quality of education and inspiring transformative learning in different education contexts (Didham & Ofei-Manu, 2013.) This came as an antidote to the prevalent system that prevented students from receiving support in just the areas that they needed. Response To Intervention states that the school’s goal should be to intervene; step-in and start helping before a child falls far behind. It is often difficult for a teacher to point out why a certain student struggles or why certain students do not perform at a grade-appropriate level, RTI aims to identify these struggling students early on and give them the relevant support they need to be successful in their scholastic journey.
Response To Intervention helps or enables the schools to understand which students need Instructional Intervention which in turn suggests what the teachers and the school can do differently to help a child improve in a specific area and him or her to acquire a certain specific skill set. These interventions can be a part of classroom-wide instructions where the teacher can put children into smaller groups as per their learning styles and not as per their weaknesses.
In my experience over the last 8 years with Mimaansa, a Non-Governmental Organization, that propounds the Response To Intervention framework on mainstream government-run schools in Thane, I have realized that the RTI framework model leverages on differentiated instruction and puts the onus on the teaching fraternity, allowing children to learn the way they can without tagging them and giving them a new identity of their disability or their limitations. Teachers are encouraged to use research-based interventions to facilitate student’s reading, arithmetic, visual perception and writing skills, etc. This can be achieved even without isolating them and keeping them in the mainstream bracket of students with a clear focus on improving their learning outcomes.
The Response To Intervention framework entails the involvement of several people such as classroom teachers, specific subject teachers, specialized education assistants, remedial teachers, special educators, counselors and parents. The framework contains components such as relevant formative assessments, validated informal assessments based on the curriculum and principles of curriculum-based measurements. It is a long drawn process that takes a minimum of 1 to 2 years to see a significant impact or shift in the student’s learning outcomes and, more so, their learning experience.
The good news here is that this framework has been used within India on a controlled group population (Group i) and the results have been astounding. It shows that students who entered the RTI system earlier demonstrated the most significant improvements in all subjects. In some cases, the academic skills of students grew faster than the ones outside of Group i. The results also revealed that our current core curriculum has not been meeting the needs of a large percentage of the student population. It further concluded that all students in a mainstream classroom will perform better if Response To Intervention blends within the classroom.
It shall, therefore, be safe to say that with the right teaching methods, appropriate teaching attitude and a whole lot of research-based techniques these students can make progress without getting accommodations and that there can be an increase in the number of students who are meaningful additions to our Indian mainstream classrooms. Every ‘Can do better’ and ‘Has better potential’ remark must be accompanied by a better teaching strategy, personalized teaching assistance and an appropriate teaching-learning approach.
I have seen this framework come to life on the premises of under-resourced government schools and therefore I am beyond confident that all schools and, more importantly, all students will benefit from this framework, irrespective of their ability. Another thing I can be certain of is that this will reduce the number of Arohi’s in Indian classrooms.