How Sister Cyril Put RTE In To Practice At Loreto School | Exclusive extracts from Not Just Grades

Editor’s note: Rajeev Sharma’s Not Just Grades (Penguin Random House India) is a must-read for all who care for a future generation of Indians who would have the right tools to pursue a prosperous and peaceful lives in our land.

Excerpts from the book. Copyright @ Penguin Random House India

Loreto Day School, Sealdah

In 1979, ninety students among 700 in Loreto School in Sealdah, Kolkata, were unable to pay their fees. These students were from poor families and were part of a free primary school, which had been merged with the main school several years earlier. As the academic performance of the students wasn’t on a par with the rest of the school—failure percentage was high—most dropped out of school. Any child who failed in Class V was removed from school by most parents. During this time, the management appointed a new principal, Sister Cyril. Disturbed by the existing situation, Sister Cyril decided to address these problems. First of all, the teachers were guided to help the academically weak students by using alternative teaching methods or remedials. Secondly, parents were helped to understand that failure in examinations did not mean that children should discontinue their education.

Due to concerted efforts of the principal and the teachers, the parents’ attitude changed and the dropout rate fell and student performance gradually improved.

Sister Cyril had moved to India in 1956. Whatever she knew about our country was informed by her experiences during her college days at Lucknow University, from where she did PhD in Zoology. She then worked at Loreto House, Lucknow, from 1964–79 before coming to Sealdah. While in Lucknow, she often travelled with student teams to villages for conducting child-to-child activities. During such visits, she observed that children in villages had limited exposure to the outside world; she realized that a glaring disparity existed between rural and urban children.

She also tried to get some experience in working with slum children. Based on her observations, she was keen on starting a movement to make urban children aware about the real social scenario. It was at Loreto, Sealdah, that she got an opportunity to start her movement.

As principal, she wanted the school to have a balanced student population. To achieve this, a policy of 50 per cent reservation for children from poor families was implemented and a lottery system introduced for admission to the school.



The ideology and goals of Loreto, Sealdah, were motivated by two things: firstly, the concern over the failure of the school in catering to the needs of the poor, and secondly, faith in students and teachers as valuable resources. The then school system catered only to the needs of urban middle-class students.

According to Sister Cyril, ‘Parents of this class [middle class] constantly reassure the authorities that the school is doing a good job, and they also provide funding, materials and other help, for example, sponsors for school fests, company resources for school outings and so forth. Such “positive” feedback from well-off parents, their high expectations in regard to academic results, and their increasing demands for admission exert a pressure on the principal to maintain the prestige of the school at all costs, thereby creating a strongly competitive atmosphere in which the poorest child often gets pushed out.’

The school had tremendous faith in the students’ potential to work for the collective welfare of all children—rich and poor.

The long-term goal was to make students aware of the existing disparities in society and teach them to be responsible in bringing= about a change. This would also help in the all-round development of children as human beings.

According to the principal, ‘For creating such a system, a principal has to learn to attend to the intangible aspects of education such as interpersonal relations between individuals in school, their value systems, their code of conduct, their level of care for people, respect for mutual dignity, etc. That is, schools should not only be full of “rituals” arising from too much of attention on tangibles such as class work, exams, corrections, lesson plans and similar things; rather, it should be a way of life that shines out to others by its openness.’


School Structure

The school had fifty teachers and 1149 students from nursery to Class XII. There were two sections for each class up to Class V.

From Class VI onwards, there was one special section in each class. This section was for children with learning difficulties and those who needed special attention. On reaching Class VIII, these students were helped to appear for the examination conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) instead of appearing for the Madhyamik examination conducted by the state board. In classes XI and XII, there were three sections, one each for humanities, science and commerce. Classes XI and XII were introduced in 1986. Each section of a class was identified by the name of a colour as it was believed that this kind of naming did not attach any value judgement to a classification done mainly for administrative purposes. The average strength of students in a class, across all the sections, was 100.


School Fee

Students from nursery to Class X were required to pay a monthly fee of Rs 2750. If any student was unable to afford the school fee, their case could be considered for assistance. All the children were aware that concessions were made in the area of fees but they did not know whether their classmates were able to pay the fee or not.


Teacher Recruitment

Teachers were recruited on the basis of their professional qualification, training and attitude. For primary teachers, the school gave preference to those who had a Teachers Training Certificate (TTC). To teach the senior classes, a BEd degree was necessary. Those recruited usually stayed with the school for many years. Apart from that, their attitude towards the school’s innovative programmes was judged. The idea was to ensure that teachers (once recruited) should involve themselves in the school’s programmes not out of compulsion but because of a core belief and conviction that they were doing the right thing.

At the time when this case study was made, sixty-one teachers were working in the school. Apart from this, there were various personnel working in different capacities, such as social workers or coordinators, for different programmes that were not built into the school timetable of eight or nine periods but involved students on a voluntary basis. Usually these people would be ex-students of the school.


Admission Procedure

On average, 100 students were admitted into nursery. Parents usually submitted their applications on a blank paper a year prior to the academic year in which admission was sought. The school admitted nearly 50 per cent of the children belonging to economically poor backgrounds, who would be unable to pay their school fees. Many parents of these children were illiterate or semi-literate and were unable to write an application. In these cases, the teachers helped them in writing the applications and filling up the forms.

There was no admission test for the children. Rather, parents’ attitudes were reviewed. Their concern for the all-round development of their children, as reflected by their views—mostly on the children’s future involvement in sports, co-curricular activities, social services—were taken into consideration. Here, the emphasis was on judging the parents’willingness to allow their child to develop ‘as a good and responsible human being’.

The focus was on finding out how parents prioritized these dimensions as compared with academic achievements and what kind of a person they wanted their child to be.

The other aspect considered for admission was the readiness of the parents to realistically judge and accept the pace of learning of the child. There were several reasons for judging this particular aspect. The school did not approve of extra coaching or private tuitions arranged by parents to push students academically. If a student could not cope with the academic load and needed extra time, she was retained in the same class and the school had provision for a special class in Class VI for academically weak students. Hence, at the time of admission itself, parents’ awareness and acceptance of their child’s ability were considered.

Finally, the parents’ treated their children at home—the manner and extent to which they fulfilled their child’s demands—as well as their readiness to be involved in the education of their children were assessed. This was important as the willingness of the parents to let their children participate in various programmes would enable them to have a variety of experiences. We interactedwith the parents of classes V, VIII and IX to know their views on the positive and negative aspects of the school. A sample of their responses is provided in Annexure 2.


Teaching Methodology

As mentioned earlier, more than 50 per cent of the children admitted to Class I were from economically weaker sections.

This posed a special challenge for the teachers from the point of view of the integration of the children from two different socioeconomic backgrounds. Special care was taken to ensure that the self-esteem of all the children developed positively, along with the expected cognitive and psychomotor skills. The curriculum was taught using a thematic and integrated approach for which teachers developed relevant worksheets. Group work was followed for most of the learning modules and the children were seated accordingly. Groups were changed periodically to provide them with the opportunity to interact with the maximum number of children in the class. In addition, teachers made special efforts to help children be cooperative, empathetic and mutually accepting of each other.

In the primary classes, children were not given any homework. Instead of conducting an examination at the end of the academic year, teachers conducted ongoing assessments and provided feedback to the children. In case someone faced any problems in learning, the reasons were ascertained and appropriate support provided. Parents were also encouraged to provide support to their children for creative expression and learning.


Science Teaching

In primary classes, children learned through activity-based methods of teaching. Thereafter, since the scope of learning became wider and more theoretical, the need to maintain a balance between theory and ‘learning by doing’ led to the decision of introducing project-based teaching for science subjects.

Theories and principles of science were demonstrated to children through simple experiments that they conducted themselves under the supervision of teachers. The focus on learning science through experiments was introduced more than ten years ago and every year new experiments were done. As a result, a large number of experiments were now available for children. Instructions for conducting the experiments were written clearly on cards that were laminated and well preserved. Low-cost tools were developed out of waste material or locally available resources for conducting the experiments.

Here again, groups with children of varying abilities were formed so that mutual learning could take place. At the end of the experiment, the teachers posed questions to the group. The designated leader in each group was responsible for ensuring that the children who had to respond to the question were able to do so. Necessary support was provided by the other team members.


Evaluation of Children

The evaluation of the primary school and senior schoolchildren was based on the following criteria. At the primary level, children were evaluated on the following three aspects:

  1. Academic Development. A child’s learning was judged with respect to mastery achieved in certain skills. For language, speaking, reading and writing skills were assessed. For each of these skills, indicators were prepared for various levels of

a child’s ability to express clearly, follow spoken instructions, ask questions whenever necessary, and in the development of vocabulary. Similarly, indicators for mathematics, environmental studies and science were provided in the report and teachers rated each child on a five-point scale.

  1. Maturity and Cultural Development of Children. These were assessed on eleven aspects—initiative, perseverance, originality, self-confidence, responsibility, relationships, neatness, arts and crafts, drawing, recitation and physical education. The evaluation was based on the teacher’s observations.
  2. General Evaluation. This provided an assessment of a child’s potential and achievements.

For children in senior school, the same report card was maintained through Class V to Class X. Here children were judged on four aspects:

  1. Academic Progress. Grades on regular tests and terminal examinations were given for each subject for both semesters.

Specifically, the child was judged based on the effort made by her in learning a particular subject as well as the achievement in tests or examinations.

  1. Co-curricular Activities. Children’s performance in activities such as drama, debating, art, quiz, dancing and games was evaluated on a five-point scale.
  2. Maturity Development. This was measured in the same way as in the junior classes. Children were ranked on a fivepoint scale on eleven dimensions—initiative, perseverance, originality, concentration, power of observation, curiosity, self-confidence, responsibility, relationships, participation in group work and neatness. This assessment was carried out by all the teachers who had taught the child, through mutual discussion and consultation.
  3. General Evaluation. This was done for both academic and non-academic performance. Within each category, children were judged for their potential as well as achievement.

Loreto believes that evaluation should be skill or quality based and not merely information based. Heavy reliance was placed on a teacher’s daily observations rather than an objective and information-oriented testing system. The school instituted a system of ranking that allowed most children to receive rewards for one or the other activity in which they had participated during the academic year. The school’s reward system for performance encouraged children’s motivations and aspirations.

If a child had failed in one or two subjects, then she was promoted to the next class but if she failed in more than two subject, she was retained in the same class. A significant number of children appeared for the NIOS examination—as many as sixty students had taken it in 2001 and most had performed exceptionally well, scoring above 70 per cent. This system was found to be flexible and was adapted to their needs since many were EWS (economically weaker sections) students. Class VI also had a special section for slow learners, children with disability, including those with Down’s syndrome. In case they could not cope with the regular curriculum in Class VIII, they were placed in the special section and helped to prepare for the NIOS examination.


Work Education

All children from Class V onwards participated in the work education (WE) class once a week, which was conducted through two periods. Approximately 50 per cent weightage was given for needlework, 30 per cent for physical education, 10 per cent for social service and 10 per cent for traffic control. As a part of WE, children also participated in the rainbow programme, described in detail in the following section.


Value Education

All classes had value education periods once a week. The objective of including this aspect in the curriculum was to improve students’ moral values, vision and patience, develop their power of judging right from wrong and their ability to choose the right path.

In all, there were five steps in the value education class.

Students were provided with a topic or a theme that was explained by the teacher orally or through pictorial  representations. The first step involved individual work by the students wherein they thought about and made a note of their personal views; the second involved group discussion and preparation for presentation of the group work using creative methods of communication; the third aimed at getting feedback based on group activity; the fourth step involved analysis that was guided by the teachers; the fifth or last step was of taking a decision or making a commitment

towards that value. Here, children accepted the responsibility of inculcating a value under consideration and provided a time frame within which they would follow/inculcate a particular value. In this entire process, a teacher’s role was that of a facilitator.

Guidelines for each lesson were provided in the value education books titled We Are the World that was especially developed by the school. Special seating arrangements were devised for the sessions. One lesson could stretch over three periods. Teachers of the school also conducted workshops for other schools. For this, four teachers of the school acted as resource persons. As a result of this experience, many children had taken on independent projects.


Outreach Programme

This programme was conceived and designed in 1979 to reach out to disadvantaged children in the villages. Every Thursday,

150 children visited the villages in Amgachia area in Bishnupur block, at a distance of about 25 km (an hour’s journey) from South Calcutta, to teach science and mathematics to village schoolchildren. They worked with 2500 children in different schools, teaching them these subjects through experiments, games and tangrams. Work cards were planned by the coordinator of the outreach programme. The schedule of visits, including specific details of each class, was planned at the beginning of the academic year.

Children of classes V to X were divided into four batches, each batch including children from all classes. Each batch visited the villages once a month. The topics to be taught were predecided with some scope for flexibility so as to accommodate the uncertainties of regular work. Every year, a needs analysis for each of the ten villages was done. Accordingly, batches of students were formed to ensure an optimum student–teacher ratio for each class in each village.

The curriculum for the programme was based on textbooks. The coordinator did the analysis and decided the major themes for the village children. For each theme, activities were identified from various sources and some were designed by the coordinator.

They were presented on a card. These were then classified as per their appropriateness for different age levels. Lesson plans were prepared for the students in a manner that facilitated development of conceptual clarity on the themes covered.

Over the years, it was realized that as the students visited the villages only once a week, the impact of their efforts was limited.

Training government schoolteachers in the villages in the usage of new methods and effective teaching aids were initiated by the school in an effort to facilitate the incorporation of the desired styles of teaching into the formal system. These teachers also participated in refresher courses to enrich their knowledge conducted by the school and were then ready to implement the new methods. They also planned on using teaching aids that they had developed.

Responding to the objections of those who thought that the programme ought to be optional, the school argued that just like subjects such as mathematics and science were considered compulsory, so should this be. Not only did such programmes equip students with skills that no other compulsory subjects could provide, but they also helped increase their sensitivity to social issues.

Through the programme, students got an opportunity to interact with children from different walks of life, which broadened their outlook, apart from also inculcating teaching skills. Also, village teachers got access to different teaching–learning materials.


Rainbow Programme

The various measures adopted by the school to integrate children from different backgrounds had a gradual impact on girls’ sensitivity towards each other’s needs and conditions. In 1985, students of Class IX expressed a need to reach out to local street children as well. This led to the rainbow programme that focused on providing security, love and positive experiences to street children. The programme was for children who could not attend school since they had to work to survive. The school believed firmly that these children could not join the school system due to various socio-economic factors and not because of their low intellectual ability or lack of motivation to study.

A tent was erected on the roof of the school building and used as a classroom for the street children. They could come at any time of the day. Provision was made for them to wash and bathe; some food was also made available, which they could eat when they wanted to. During school hours, based on the philosophy of the child-to-child approach, regular school students (who were referred to as ‘didis’ by the schoolchildren) came and taught the street children on a one-on-one basis. Apart from the flexibility of the class hours, these children had the freedom to learn at their own pace and did not have to adhere to fixed school timings.

Teachers of the junior school trained students who developed their own methodology of teaching through games, experiments and other fun activities. Science experiments such as the ones described in the earlier sections were also part of the curriculum.

The one-on-one teaching removed the fear of making mistakes from the children’s minds, identified areas of difficulties, and catered to their individual needs. Working with the didis, and frequent group activities such as singing rhymes and drama provided a different kind of social interaction than what was experienced on the streets. In terms of academic benefits, the informal and flexible atmosphere benefited these children whose lives did not allow adherence to the rules of time and formal structures. Each rainbow child’s ‘individual identity’ as a student was recorded in a separate file.

The programme was implemented by a team that included a rainbow coordinator, a social worker, regular school children and a work education teacher.

The syllabus for the programme was divided in four groups: Red: This group comprised beginners. Initially they were introduced to psychomotor activities so they could hold a pen or a pencil properly.

Orange: This group knew some letters of the English alphabet and numbers. They were taught the usage of numbers, all the letters of the English alphabet, etc.

Green: Children of this group knew certain mathematical ideas and could frame short sentences. They were taught reading with the help of books.

Blue: This was an advanced group and the children were taught accordingly. At the very beginning, a child’s knowledge of letters and simple arithmetic was assessed and they were placed in an appropriate group. The daily progress of each rainbow child was maintained by the coordinator. The social worker prepared a case study of the rainbow children by visiting their homes and also provided counselling if required.

Many of these children stayed back at night in the space earmarked for them at Loreto. Every Saturday, a meeting was held with such children. During school holidays, they were taught general vocational activities such as tie and dye, crafts and art.

Many of these children, who stabilized and showed an interest in studies, joined mainstream schools. Even after being admitted to regular schools, many of them continued to come to Loreto to get additional coaching from the didis before their school hours.

Loreto children of Classes XI and XII often came before school started to help these kids. Informal feedback provided by the local police authorities indicated a reduction in the crime rate in the area where these children came from after the programme was started. It had also been able to ensure community participation through parent– teacher meetings, dialogues and awareness-building programmes for parents of regular students. As a result, they would show a great deal of interest and readily provided monetary assistance and food.


Hidden Domestic Child Labour

Initiated in January 2001, this programme was meant for children working as domestic help. Clubs of such children in different areas were formed, and Loreto students from classes V–VII supported them. Working children were anywhere between eight and eighteen years of age. The aim was to provide these children with recreational activities and an opportunity to interact with a similar age group. Generally, these children stayed in their employer’s house and as a result remained unnoticed. Students of Loreto who were interested in this programme identified such working children in their localities, talked to their employers and persuaded them to let them join the club. Once the club was formed, the Loreto students organized a meeting at some place. This depended upon the willingness of the employer. In a club meeting, the Loreto students conducted various activities. A social worker coordinated and provided necessary support to the Loreto students in conducting the programme.

Platform Children Programme

Loreto students of classes VIII–X of NIOS were involved in this programme. Students went to the nearest railway platform and taught children who loitered around or worked in the railways stations. These children were of a mixed age group. The programme was conducted thrice a week, for one and a half hours daily. It was initially started in 1992 at two centres but later continued only at Sealdah Railway Station.


Barefoot Teacher Training Programme

This training programme aimed at preparing teachers to work in small local communities or slums. Boys and girls who were unable to complete their schooling and were the only literate members of their communities were provided a crash course in primary school teaching so they could educate children of their communities. The course focused heavily on practical content and provided intensive exposure to teaching methodologies through observing classes, trying out teaching methods and developing and trying out teaching aids.

The word ‘barefoot’ had been used in the context of the training. We only need our feet to walk; our shoes are not that essential. In much the same way, the barefoot training programme had been stripped of its unnecessary theory and made intensively practical. The training programme was held and conducted by a team of seven trainers as per the demand from other organizations that wanted training. Schoolteachers and other resource persons contributed to the training. The selection of teachers was started a year before the commencement of the programme. Besides catering to demands from within West Bengal, the programme was also extended to other states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and the northeastern states. The follow-up of trainees was done through field visits by various members of the training team and by calling the trainees for further training.



This was a four-year training programme for teachers teaching in slums. It covered about 140 wards. The identification of localities and teachers—generally the youth in the surrounding areas who could teach there—was done by two NGOs that were Loreto’s partners in this work. Loreto’s main job was to train teachers to enable them to teach through child-centred pedagogy. They were trained in activity-based teaching methods. After training, they would go to an identified area to educate the children. The follow-up of the trainees was done by trainers.


The Feeding Programme

The school provided complete meals to its students. Generally, the rainbow programme children and even regular students would have their lunch at school. Although there was a cook, the kitchen was maintained to a large extent by the children. They followed strict discipline, ensured cleanliness, kept a check on each other and helped in chopping vegetables and making chapatis. The rainbow programme children also took their breakfast and dinner in the same kitchen.


School Funds and Other Financial Help

The school had its own fund, which was utilized for conducting various activities and school programmes. The school authorityaccepted donations from citizens, NRIs and other sources.


Background Information on the Principal

The day starts at 8 a.m. for the principal of the school. No sooner does she arrive than she is surrounded by children staying on the campus. It is breakfast time for them and even day scholars are free to share it. She meets them informally and spends some time with them before going to her office. Many of them try to make conversation with her even if they can only speak Bangla.

The principal responds in English and non-verbal gestures; the expressions on the children’s faces indicate whether they have understood her or not. This brief interaction not only makes the child happy as she was listened to, but also probably helps her in learning a new word or sound in the English language. This could be one reason why many street children studying in Loreto can communicate partially in English. This interaction continues even with day boarders as they walk into school. Thereafter, regular work begins with prayer and other routine activities— the difference in this case being that many other activities, as narrated in the draft report, are also conducted simultaneously during regular school hours. The principal spends a considerable amount of time on those activities and for her the day ends at around 1 a.m.–2 a.m.

Her office, a relatively small room, is often cluttered with papers, books and toys. Some cupboards are packed with several items for children such as toys, charts, books, etc., which lends an ‘informal’ look to the room. Children can move around freely in this room and are seen taking out and putting things back inside the cupboard.

The school is aided by the state government. There are about 1149 students and fifty teachers. All the students are selected by a lottery system irrespective of whether they can pay the tuition fee or not. Those who pay the fee usually belong to middle-class families. Their parents are fully aware of the various activities of the school. In fact, as noted by the principal, initially there were reservations about permitting street children to come and stay on campus. In fact, some teachers suggested that the street children should wear the school uniform. But the principal argued against it as she felt that unless these children were accepted for who they were, the school would not be able to sustain its effort.

The principal also shared that while some parents may have reservations about sending their daughters to this school, as was evident from the volume of applicants, many chose Loreto over other schools mainly because of the quality of education and the values that it instilled in children.

The teachers in her team have varied interests and each of them not only participated/coordinated in the school activities but also facilitated others to do the same. For instance, four of the teachers, interested in the value education programme are helping in conducting a training programme for this course for other schools. Likewise, the teacher in charge of the outreach programme also helps other teachers in conducting science activities.


Feedback from Parents about the School

Positive Aspects

The school administration and teachers were respected by the students’ parents. They also appreciated the cooperative and understanding nature of the staff members.

Parents said the education at Loreto was real-life oriented and not bookish, which helped children later in life and in knowing themselves better.

The village programme provided an opportunity to the children to develop their personality and become more self-confident.

All the parents expressed appreciation for the rainbow programme. One of the parents stated that because her daughter had been studying with the rainbow programme children since childhood, it had taught her concern for the poor and underprivileged.

The freedom given to students was also pointed out as one of the positive aspects of the school. The effort to provide students in need with food, clothes and books was also lauded.

The co-curricular activities conducted in the school were seen as another strong point. Parents thought that activities like drama, debate, quiz, games and art helped children in developing their self-expression.

The fact that the school insisted that children should not attend tuition classes was greatly regarded by the parents. The objective behind this was to prepare a girl who learned by herself and thus became more self-confident. Parents appreciated the

fact that children were encouraged to learn on their own and rote learning was discouraged. Home tasks were minimal and education was not a burden, and most importantly, there was no fear of examination.

Another good part about the school was that the principal told the parents that the children could not be allowed to stay at home for petty reasons. They were expected to attend school even if they got late.

Mostly parents were happy that the school ensured all-round development of their children.

Loreto aimed to develop all students to be responsible citizens by involving them in various activities, without discriminating on socio-economic grounds.

Aspects Not Appreciated by the Parents

Most parents felt there should be some kind of interaction between parents and the teachers/school in the form of gettogethers or meetings. The need for a fortnightly or a monthly meeting was expressed by many parents.

Some parents felt that the school needed to pay more attention to secondary and senior secondary examinations. One parent mentioned that the performance of the school hadn’t improved as much as it had in some other schools in the district.

Some parents felt that more attention should be given to the weaker students.

Parents of Class V students were not satisfied with the transportation facilities for village work. Some of them stated that in summer it becomes difficult when children have to walk around 2 km to reach the village allotted to them. Sports facilities were also not satisfactory, according to some.

Parents of students studying in the senior classes wanted the school to be more competitive in terms of academics.

Many of them were not satisfied with the school campus. Some felt that the school campus should be bigger with a green arena.

Some parents felt the need for more strict discipline.

Concerns were also expressed over students often speaking in Bangla. According to them, in an English-medium convent school children should only be speaking in English. Most of the negative feedback was about the infrastructure or physical facilities in the school. Parents felt the classrooms were not properly ventilated and toilets not well maintained. Some parents of Class V students felt that the teachers should be friendlier with the children.

Note:  Case prepared by Professor Rajeev Sharma, Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, and Geeta Choudhary as a basis for class discussion. Authors are grateful to Sister Cyril, teachers and children of the school and several parents for sharing information and their experiences about the school. Cases of Indian Institute of Management are prepared as a basis for class discussion. They are not designed to present either correct or incorrect handling of administrative problems.

© Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad 2015

Copyright @ Penguin Random House India

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