Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Teaching/learning process

An old student (let me call her K) paid us a call last week saying that she planned to join a post graduate course and needed to apply for a college leaving certificate. It was actually 10 years since she passed out and she was currently employed as a teacher in a local school. Since we had some free time and, being a Saturday, it was her day off we started discussing the scenario in schools and dealing with adolescents in senior school. Ours is an all girl’s college but the school she worked in was co-ed. We dealt with girls from the lower rung of society or those from families that had just realized the importance of educating the girl child. Many of these girls came to college because this was the only time they got to leave home on their own. K on the other hand was dealing with boys and girls from a privileged background with adequate exposure to career options and were supported by parents who would willingly see to it that they got the best opportunity available for landing in prestigious colleges in India or abroad. Despite the socio-economic disparity in the two groups it was evident that both of us were dealing with an energetic group and the teaching/learning process that we followed was getting outdated.
“No student would be interested in a monologue delivered by the teacher unless it has some application to real life situations” said K. “If you wish to tell them about the working of the brain you have to begin with an accident on the road that knocked a passerby senseless. They get involved and before long you find them eager to know about nerve cells and neurons and the messages transmitted by the brain. Alternatively, you can draw a beautiful diagram on the board and start explaining the theory straight away. You will soon have the whole lot of them yawning or throwing darts at each other.”
We dealt with girls from a less privileged background so we expected them to be more open to the age old tried and tested method of teaching and learning. The syllabus was outdated as well as the tools for communication. The chalk, blackboard and charts were still being used. The computer/internet, as an essential tool for accessing information, had only been made available to us since a year but in most departments students were not allowed to use it fearing that they may mishandle it and getting it repaired would be difficult since the college management was not sure as to where the money for its maintenance and repair would come from. Moreover most of our students did not have a computer at home so it really did not matter whether they were allowed to access it in college or not. But were we able to ensure the interest of our students in the subject by our age old methods? Unfortunately not. The number of students opting to study basic sciences has dropped and those who do take up these courses are either a highly de-motivated lot or are here because obtaining a degree is a pre requisite for admission to MBA/MCA courses. They also need to be graduates to be able to apply for entrance exams for bank jobs and administrative posts. No course is sought after unless it has some application in their lives by way of a high paying job. Education also improves the marriage prospects of a girl and a girl who has never read or appreciated Shakespeare’s work may insist on doing an Honors course in English. It would encourage the boy’s family to think that she would be able to guide her children and coach them at home better if she had a degree in English as compared to other subjects. Practical applications are important and marriage is market in itself.

What then is the solution? Who would understand it better than me that the applied aspects of a subject come later but basics are equally important? Should a system that allows a student to be promoted to the next level without having understood the previous level of a subject be called student friendly? Failing a student or making him/her repeat a year may not be the solution. But shouldn’t the planners of a syllabus think of what ought to be done to ensure that a student who passes the 10th grade knows the basics of a subject that he/she opts for in college? Why not make teachers accountable? No one questions a child’s right to education but is our education translating into knowledge of the right kind?

I would like to know from those dealing with young minds either as parents or teachers to let me know their perception of the education that is being imparted to their children. My opinion in the matter may be outdated. However, I am willing to learn and would be glad to take a lesson or two from anyone willing to teach me.


Arundhati said...

Long comment but I feel you won't mind

What I don't want as a parent:
An education/school/teachers that stifle my child, his thinking, individuality and creativity. All children are born creative, it is our methods that kill it in later years.

What I want:
Him to enjoy his childhood, of which a considerable part is spent at school.

I want my child to love his teachers not fear them, look forward to school not dread it. To feel free to speak out and know that he will be heard and understood.

Inspired, passionate teachers not bored ones.

Access to books and ideas, and a playground for all sorts of sport and games. Not a sprawling campus with air-conditioned classrooms.

Learning should be fun for anything to be retained. Not just for the sake of exams. Concepts should be taught in way that they can be related to, comprehended and remembered for life.

Your article has given me an idea for a post, will send you a link once I complete it.

Rooma said...

You must really have a look at:

I am working here in singapore and we employ this method called as PBL (Problem based learning) Its quite like what you described in your post. :)

Anonymous said...

oA simple process to engage any mind (young or old) is to understand, appreciate, acknowledge and action on the fact that there are different learning styles and there is a preponderance for a style in each of us. VAK model or the theorists, pragmatists, realists model etc of even applying a simple approach of making objectives for a classroom session based on Bloom's taxonomy can go a long way.

A democratic environment where the power structures are taken goes a long way in making the learning environment fun.

Ugich Konitari said...

Perhaps this experience would be indicative.

My daughter "managed" fine within the existing system till class 8. The missing pieces in basic education started showing up once specific science ad mathematics detailed subjects like algebra , physics etc started. She lost all motivation to learn given the existing teaching methods of making smart children smarter.

For various reasons , I got her evaluated and decided to put her in the National Open School Board system. This system, besides offering a wide choice of subjects, including all those offered in a normal school, had some very wonderfully planned text books, where what you learned at each step was tested and evaluated in a non-threatening manner. Only then you went on to the next chapter. The books were actually wonderful. My daughter's English improved by leaps and bounds, and a good mix of chosen subjects ensured that she could relate things she learned to day to day life, and usage there. There was some very tough studying required (Economics, Business Studies, Home Science, Computer Applications etc), it was never easy , but she enjoyed it and was motivated. She did her 10th and Plus two there.

I also want to tell you about the highly regarded BA course at the SNDT Womens University, one of our oldest. Their BA course offers Food and Nutrition, Child Development, Womens Isuues, Changing india, History as Heritage, Sociology, Psychology, which is a million times more interesting than things like Ethics, Logic, Philosophy etc available in the standard BA course. The interesting thing was, that the Maths required was need based. They also had a mandatory computer applications requirement every year in college, as specified by the University, conducted during vacation. So there was no learning by rote. She learned because the need was clear while solving the given problem. And so there was never a "fear" of having to learn something you never understood.

Today, she is a graduate, enjoyed her college studies, and getting trained in animation, subsequent to her aptitude noticed in college.

Unfortunately, today's system is all about changing exam and admission rules. It is designed to keep out children rather than include all. Those who decide are power merchants rather than educationists, and have no respect for teaching as a profession.

It takes a lot out of you as a parent, to keep up the child's spirit, motivation, and courage in facing and learning new things. The Open Schooling Sysytem we went to had excellent teachers.

The Open Schooling System is MHRD run and countrywide, and has been there for at least last 20 years. Many children would benefit here because it is flexible, and can be geard to the childs speed. Some athletes and sportspeople also prefer this scheme.

How many know about this ? And how many rush to fancy institutes with fancy fees run by politicians ? There is no concern for he child's learning. Just money and more money. And then they do stuff like waht they are doing at your University, cancelling posts and stuff after 30 years. That's education ?

Hip Grandma said...

arundhati:that was a long wish list and I do hope you are able to find one such place for your son.looking forward to reading your post.

Rooma:welcome here and the link you've mentioned is interesting.I've forwarded it to friends who think like me. That is exactly how I would want children to learn. Not by rote but by actually striving to learn things for themselves and at their own pace so that a lesson learnt would be remembered for life. Their involvement in the learning process is crucial.

anon:the learning style that brings out the quest for knowledge in a child is ofcourse the best. Unfortunately our teachers feel threatened by students who think.

suranga:i am glad that you were able to stand up for your daughter. Most parents in your place would have never even tried to accept that there could be a fault in the existing system.They would have conveniently blamed the child. Thanks to you i got to know more about the National open school board. Oh yes, I've known a few who were admitted there when they could manage the regular syllabus and did well in life but i hadn't bothered to find out why. I think you shoul do a post elaborating all this so that many other parents/children could benefit.Also it is wonderful that she took up courses that interested her rather than intimidated her in college.unfortunately the college curriculum in our parts it outmoded and stereotype.

zephyr said...

It is true that schools are just rote factories and children who are interested in studies are bored stiff there. I had always been under the impression that Open School was meant for children who were not up to the mark in the existing system and the grades did not count in college. however, if one wants to get admitted into engineering or medical courses, one has to crack the entrance exams which are patterned on the CBSE method. Even students in ICSE schools shift to CBSE in high school for this purpose. A complete rehaul of our education system is what is needed.

A detailed post on this system would be highly informative.