Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ramblings of a living fossil.................

Teacher’s day has come and gone and I haven’t written a line regarding the profession that has given me an identity. The teaching/learning process has gone such a tremendous change and I am unable to decide if it is for the better or not. The inflated marking system and the exam oriented preparation by students have left me wondering whether my perceptions are outdated. The head tells me that it is indeed so but my heart refuses to believe what my head says. I have a feeling that all this superficiality in the learning process will phase out and very soon we will revert to a method that requires the application of knowledge acquired to be successful. Certain sore points stand out and I am going to bug you for answers.

When I was in grade III we had a Math teacher who would give a straight zero if our answers did not have a unit along with the numeral. It had to be 10 pounds or 20 miles and never 10 and 20. No consideration for the numerous steps involved to arrive at the answer. As a child I would find it unfair that one was given a zero after all the effort put in. I later understood.

Fast forward by 30 years-

A student of mine called Jennifer Wadia brought her record for correction. She had drawn a thistle funnel hanging in the air above a beaker of water to illustrate the process of osmosis. I put a big, ugly question mark on her drawing sheet and asked why she had not drawn the stand and clamp.

“It is understood ma’am” was her response.

“I don’t understand something that is not illustrated” I said. “Draw the supporting structure and submit your record”.

“I drew it from my 10th standard copy and there was no stand/clamp in the diagram”

Jennifer was a good student and the school she studied in was the same in which my daughters studied. It was a reputed school and I could not believe what she said.

“Show me your copy. And who was your biology teacher?”

She mentioned a name that sounded familiar. My daughter – then in the 8th standard – was being taught biology by the same person and she was a good teacher. My children never came to me with doubts in biology and their grades were good. What then went wrong?

The next day Jennifer brought her 10th grade biology copy and as she had said the thistle funnel was hanging in the air without a support and the diagram had been ticked as correct.

I went home and asked my daughter for her biology note book and it was the same in her book too. She was Jennifer’s junior by 5 years and the school was churning out generation after generation of students who thought that there was no need to draw a stand and clamp to support a thistle funnel.

“I am coming to your school to talk to your teacher”. I was truly upset that children were being taught in this manner. My daughter would have none of it.

“Please don’t” she wailed. “Teacher had told us that there would be a stand and clamp to hold the thistle funnel. I thought it was understood. She will not like it if you point out”

At the risk of being labeled a living fossil I still insist that a scientific drawing need not be a piece of art but it has to be properly illustrated. And the teacher who cannot be told that she was instilling a wrong concept and/or accept it when pointed is doing a disservice to society. However, knowing the teacher personally and having met her on quite a few occasions I don't think she would have had any hesitation in admitting her lapse and rectified it. I only mean to say that as teachers we do tend to take our student's intelligence and analytical skills for granted. In this case she must have told them that the thistle funnel had to be held with the help of a stand and clamp but since she did not illustrate it, it was not registered in their minds. Believe me, I have no intention of finding fault with the school that has groomed my children. I just wish to point out that such lapses have far reaching effects.

Correct me if I am wrong but I feel that the marking system in our board exams need to be re-assessed. I have to give another example here.

My daughter had answered her 10th boards. She showed me her Biology question paper. It had a drawing that illustrated a biological process. The students had to label the diagram and draw an inference as to what the process might have been. My daughter’s inference was wrong. The question carried 4 marks. I would have given her a zero. But she said that marks were split and she would only lose 1 mark for the inference. She had labeled the diagram correctly and written out the procedure and all that carried marks. I later confirmed her claim and it was true.

Those among you with young children ought to tell me whether the present system where marks are awarded rather than deducted - when the basic concept is wrong – is helping or harming your children. I would rather have my children learning their basics the hard way. Marks to my mind are not important.

I would ask teachers in the making and those that have just taken it up as well as parents with school going children to pay attention to whether your ward is understanding the concept/lesson that is being taught because ultimately that is what is going to help them in their career.

It is not that I want to criticize the present system. I just wonder if it can be improved


Ugich Konitari said...


Education has become a farce. When my son did his 10th boards, in the early 90's, I was often puzzled by how he would lose marks despite writing the right answer. Apparently, there were marks for underlining things, keeping margins, and all kinds of stuff. Which he didnt do . But those that wrote wrong answers , and did all this got marks !

And then there was the son of a friend, a brilliant chap, who solved a maths problem in his Plus 2 Boards, very innovatively , but got a zero, (because he used a "non approved method" ) and lost out on topping the Board. His parents appealed, and the Board had to bring in an eminent mathematician who judged that the boy should have full marks and even more :-). He went on to top the JEE, and is an excellent teacher himself today, but in the US, where the Universities competed to hire him.

What more can one say !

The Brown Vagabond said...


I do not think the present system is going to change in any way. It is going to be an IT and MBA oriented world and pure science is going to take a back seat. Not that there are any path breaking discoveries in Indian Universities.

I studied in the 70's and 80's and we had good teachers then. I studied in a small town and then moved to Chennai. I found that there was not much of a mark oriented culture in the small town, unlike in Chennai.

I can so relate to Ugich Konitari's example of the boy solving a mathematics problem in a way other than the prescribed one. Where is the place for students to think and analyse? Even mathematics has been reduced to rote learning.

WhatsInAName said...

You are so right, HHG! My daughter passed her class X boards 2 yrs back with 96% and class XII this year with 94%. I was thrilled no doubt, but got a jolt oards 2 yrs back with 96% and class XII this year with 94%. I was thrilled no doubt, but got a jolt when she couldn't clear JEE or BITS. It was then that I realised that the marking system of boards churns out over confident children and parents. I would have been happier had she got in 80s but had her concept strong

R's Mom said...

Oh I can so understand your daughter's mom once came to my school and when I had got 50/50 in my SS paper in class 4, she made the teacher CUT 2 marks for all the spelling mistakes I had made...The teacher tried reasoning that in SS its not required..but ma said, if you give full marks the paper needs to be perfect...I found out 4 spellos on the first page itself...and there I was upset that my mom is a teacher :)

now I do realise what she did was right..but try reasoning that with an 9 year old who was all excited about scoring full marks!

Smita Tatake said...


I am regular reader... but had not commented so far...

Good Teacher is so important... I remember my Class 1 teacher insisted that there should be one finger distance between 2 words... but look at all her students now... they all have very legible handwriting...

One more incident which I will never forget... when I was in class in IX... my lowercase "d" used to look like "cl"... if my german teacher deducted marks for spelling mistake in the class test for all the der/die/dass... i would have got a big fat zero... but since it was class test (and makrs did not matter), she asked to redo the whole test in the lunch break with "d" correctly and then marked it.... I dont think I ever made that mistake again...

I think such teachers are needed in everybody's life

Hip Grandma said...

Hi all,
down with viral flu so not able to respond to your comments. Thanks for your input.

R's mom:I can understand your mother's view the way you can relate to my daughters. Please give her a handshake from me.

Ape said...

The parents are mark oriented. Thats the problem. If parents understand the point then evrything is OK.

passerby55 said...

How are you, dear preeta?

take care and get well soon


tys said...

i think the drawing without the stand is fine. The answer to the question is understood, which i believe is the point of education. The other details seems to be decorative.