Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Are we out of focus?

The Nov.27, 2006 edition of India Today carries the report of an exclusive survey of top schools in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Bangalore. It claims to have exposed ‘the alarming gaps in student learning, with performance falling way below International levels’. I grabbed the magazine and took it home and to be frank I was not prepared for the findings which stared into my face. In the following week we were to take a group of students on a tour to Orissa. I took the magazine along to either try involving our Honors students in a group discussion or at least get the opinion of my colleagues. Unfortunately I could do neither for want of time. The summary of what I understood is as follows-

1. Learning seems to be taking place in watertight compartments with little relation to real life.
2. Class VIII students consistently faltered even on concepts they had learnt in junior school.
3. Only 37% of the students were able make a two step reasoning that water is H2O and it evaporates to form steam. Therefore the chemical formula for water and steam is the same.
4. Class VI Indian students were outdone by international students of class IV in some tests.
5. Class VI students know that whales are mammals and mammal breathe through their lungs but many fail to make the connection.
6. Students fare well in rote questions but trip up on those needing interpretation and analysis.

I suggest that those of you with school going kids, go through the article, and, get first hand information of the outcome of the survey and come up with a strategy best suited to your child to make learning a pleasure. Do incorporate the practical application of book knowledge in their day to day life. Let their analytical skills develop to the maximum. On the one hand we send our wards to school even before they overcome stranger anxiety and pressurize them to come out in flying colors and on the other side is an education, that when imparted, is not even encouraging them to think logically. Do we have the right to force such methods down their throats? Could this be a reason for the spurt in teen age suicides and depression? I read with a heavy heart the news of a father who was so ambitious that he would beat up his son for every wrong shot he played while practicing Table Tennis. One day he hit him with some hard object for refusing to practice. The boy collapsed and died even before reaching the hospital. Would it not have been better if the father had tried to find out why the child did not want to practice? The world is in the grip of terrorists. Let us no alienate our children by setting unrealistic goals for them. It takes just one step in the wrong direction for us to lose them forever.


Cee Kay said...

You touched a raw nerve there. I strongly believe that Indian School system, while providing a good curriculum, implements it in absolutely the wrong way. The emphasis is on getting good grades and not on UNDERSTANDING what is being taught. Students are encouraged to just memorize the answers to get good grades. Parents focus only on how many "marks" their kids are getting in a subject and no one is concerned about whether the students are UNDERSTANDING these concepts that they are cramming.

I grew up in India and was a part of this system. It wasn't until I was doing my Master's that I really got the concept of "studying" - understand the subject matter, then memorize it and then rephrase it in your own words to see how well you understood it. It is not a one-shot process. it takes time to understand the meaning of what you are learning, to rephrase it and put it in your own words but it is the most effective for remembering subject matter for long-term. Needless to say, i did WAY better in the Master's program than I had in Bachelor's and high school.

Here, in the US, I see my daughter going through a different school system. I agree the system here could be a little more aggressive BUT here the emphasis is on UNDERSTANDING and not on just memorizing the right answers. This pressure-free strategy of teaching makes better students, i believe. Plus, hands-on teaching method (my daughter's school follows Bank-street curriculum) promotes better understanding of a subject. A child has more chances of remembering the parts of a seedling if he or she watches it grow and takes notes than when it is just taught with the help of textbooks and charts. We needs to rethink our teaching startegy here.

Sorry, this turned into such a big comment.

starry said...

Was touched by this post.Took me back to when I was a student in middle school in India.I really think we were taught to memorize facts without understanding what we were learning.I think the multiple choice questions which the kids here have on almost all the exams makes them think,it is better than just memorizing an essay type answer.I think parents can help their children by not putting a guilt trip on them.Not all children are able to go on to college and excel.sometimes as parents we have to accept some limitations.

Usha said...

I was equally upset when i read the report in the magazine. The irony is that these children are supposed to have the advantages of going to better equipped schools and more educated parents than the earlier generation.
Children are not encouraged to think, be original or find the answers on their own through analysis. Everything is spoon fed and originality is discouraged by forcing them to give acceptable answers that will fetch them assured marks.
It was inhuman - the case of the child who paid with his life for his father's ambitions. I hope such parents will see sense at least now.

Anonymous said...

Will always be careful not to overwork my little one despite all the peer pressure

Mahadevan said...

The emphasis today is more more on
gathering information and not on understanding concepts and their application in day to day life. In the IIT JEE, if you do not understand the concepts, you will not be able to solve a single problem. IITans stand out because they understand and think. In the IIMs too, they do plenty of case studies.

Many parents, instead of wishing their children to score good marks, rather prefer their children doing better than other children. The emphasis is only on rank.

Hip Grandma said...

gettingtherenow:Your comment was most welcome and you are very right.

lalitha:The american system helps students to learn with a relaxed mental frame.We Indians would do well to learn from them.


artnavy:I couldn't agree more with you.Please be very patient with Anush.

mahadevan;I do wish we had more colleges like the IITs and IIMs but most institutions only torment the children with tests and the like which encourage learning by rote.

the mad momma said...

I blame the schools as well as the parents... as well as the govt.. we need the entire system to change. I don't push my child at all... he plays around happy all day in the sun... and I dont know whether he will be able to face the world someday because he is so unused to pressure at home!