Saturday, April 28, 2012

Teaching and Learning

The Hindustan Times has launched a year long program ‘You Read and They learn’ with an intention of contributing 5 paise from every edition sold in Delhi Metro - NAC towards providing study material for 10,00,000 underprivileged children in Delhi. While I welcome the initiative I cannot help wondering whether children will derive any benefit by the initiative. No, I am not being cynical or pessimistic. I do not for a moment doubt the intention of those who thought of the scheme. My take on the matter is different. A lot of ground work needs to be done and the outcome of these findings need to be considered while planning such initiatives.

I’ve been in touch with teenagers for the past 32 years and I see a marked difference in the quality of students we get as finished goods from secondary school as compared to the time when I started my career. Earlier I’d begin my first class with intermediate students with an understanding that their school had taken care of the basics of the subject. Today I have to introduce the good ones to the different parts of a flower. The mediocre and below average students are not regular anyway so I am not including them at all.

The first thing that our school going children need are dedicated teachers. Teachers who can create a love for learning and exploring for themselves the joy of learning. They say schools have to promote students to the next class irrespective of their performance in the present class. Failing them and making them repeat a year may not be a solution but is promoting them a better alternative. If a student who has passed his 10th standard has to be taught the basics of science and/or the construction of a simple sentence who takes the responsibility? And how were students different 20 or even 15 years back?

I really wish the at least a few of my students had taken up teaching. I am sure they would have made good teachers and their students would have carried the torch forward. We’ve had students who would question the accuracy of the diagram in my record and point out that the specimen appeared different to them. I would have to explain that minor variation in shape was acceptable as part of the evolutionary process and parameters like leaf size varied according to the environmental factors like availability of sunlight and water. It was a pleasure teaching them. I wish we have more students questioning me and thinking for themselves.

That said, I must add that parents too are to blame. We did not have college educated mothers but they would not accept our excuses for poor performance. I remember an instance when I fared badly in a chemistry test and told my dad that I had trouble following the lesson. My dad came to school and met my teacher to discuss my problem area. The teacher did not take offence and took extra care for the next few weeks and left me alone only after making sure that I got my basics right and could manage on my own. I am not sure but from what I understand teachers are not as approachable these days.

The attitude of students is also a cause for concern. Soon after board results are announced we hear of teen age suicides, depression among students for not fulfilling parental ambition and what not. There is a need for open communication with children and an assurance that they will not be judged on the basis of board results or the better performance of a class mate or cousin.

These are just a few points I wish to make and start a healthy discussion on how our youngsters may be helped so that programs such as the one initiated by Hindustan Times may succeed. I will be coming up with more of my observations. Please feel free to join me.



Dear Hop Hop Grandmom
Thank you for a thoughtful blog. Wish we could have more discussions and debates and work towards building strong teaching-learning skills. Even in classes 1-6,the syllabus is exam-oriented. As a primary-school teacher, I wish we could introduce the children to 'learning by doing' and encourage love for learning and reading. That would need a dynamic School Management, not business enterprises!

R's Mom said...

Super post HHG! My Amma is going to love reading this one! I dont think I can comment on the dedication of teachers, but Amma definitely believes that in her school (no generalisation here) the new teachers who came in were hardly bothered about correcting the classwork or homework books or even encouraging the kids to do extra reading or anything..we dont get paid so much was their only excuse...

Hip Grandma said...

Kadmanivasi: It is unfortunate that people do not wish to identify problem areas in our education system. Teachers in private schools feel that they are poorly paid and over worked which is true to a great extent. Government school teachers are deputed to count cattle or carry out census related work. They ask students to mug up answers without understanding the subject.As a result children from both schools suffer.

R's Mom: Hindustan Times carried a report that government school teachers could not answer questions from the lesson they were teaching. That indicates the kind of preparation they put in before teaching a lesson. The teacher has to be constantly updating her knowledge of the subject she teaches and be open to new methodologies to ensure receptiveness among students. The lukewarm response to this post speaks volumes of society's apathy towards the improvement of our education system. colleges are no better. At least 80% of our graduates are unemployable. Companies that come for campus selection see if the students are trainable. that's all.

Sandhya said...

Very thoughtful post! Am going to follow the comments keenly as I watch my daughter stepping into primary school next year.

I recall my teachers whom we used to call as 'three gems'. I used to respect and admire three teachers in my school who used to make sure that everyone in the class understood the basics and concepts clearly. Soon, private tutorials sprung everywhere and students paid less attention to lessons taught in classes. "We will learn in tutorials anyways" was their answer. I realized that slowly the three teachers had to come in terms with this indifferent attitude and had to adjust to the demands of the new education system. I could see that the enthusisam and zeal was slowly replaced with mechanical way of teaching and being careful not to scold students, lest the parents made fuss about the scolding. I still see them whenever I visit my hometown and wonder if they make teachers like them anymore!

No generalization here, but I see that parents have become quite demanding and there are teachers who do not bother about whether or not the child does homework, speaks well or learns well.

But there are exceptions and we still come across parents with reasonable expectations and dedicated teachers who still believe in imparting quality education. The concern is the number of such parents and teachers is dwindling rapidly.

Asmita Sinha said...

There are many many issues that need to be attended in the educational system. Primary malady is the fact that for school management it is a business. The way one approaches a business is very different from the way one approaches a passion and desire to create value.

Today, the teaching staff has explicit instruction to ensure best 'marks' from her classroom. It does not matter to management if the students actually understand concepts or not. Most teachers also take the easy route of 'advising' (read ordering) the parents to get the students enrolled in tuition classes. Parents in their need to ensure high marks of their ward send kids for tuitions. They don't question the teacher as to why s/he is not able to teach the students adequately. At most tuition classes, teachers are not bothered in creating fundamental understanding of the subject. They just prepare the students for best way to answer the examination paper so that they can score good marks. And like Sandhya said, students don't pay attention in the classroom as they would be attention tuition. Trying to teach a bunch of insolent, inattentive kids on a daily basis is highly demotivating for best of teachers.

If we really want to see a difference in the educational system, we will have to first snatch it out of hands of businessmen. How that can be done is a question that I don't have an answer to. But unless we have highly motivated, passionate educationists at helm of educational institutes, we are not likely to see any change. Only such people will be able to see the value in training teachers in different teaching methodologies, in empowering teachers to create their own system of teaching, to evaluate teachers not just on academic result produced by her students but growth of their learning attitude, experimentation with various subjects and others.

Debate and discussions are good but who will be willing to bell the cat?

Hip Grandma said...

sandhya: true teachers need to be worthy of emulation and an inspiration to students. i know that mine were. i do not wish to generalize. We still have very dedicated teachers for whom teaching is a passion. But many want the easy way out and expect parents to do the teaching or to send them for private tuitions.

Asmita:As far as I can see values in the family are reflected as values in society. A child sees the father accessing easy money by accepting bribes or seeking the easy way out by bribing those in authority. Why then would he not want to have it easy while preparing for his exams? A teacher who hands out question papers to students in her tuition class is the answer. He/she sees nothing wrong in getting to know questions before hand. After all his/her dad is paying the teacher a tidy sum as tuition fees.

Earlier money was earned only on sweating it out. One thought ten times before spending it. Flaunting money has become a trend these days. I do not imply that all those who spend money on tuitions or those that buy motorized vehicles for teen agers get it by dubious means. For every person who gets money by illegal means there are four others who want to copy their lavish life style.Then things like questioning a teacher for not doing justice to his/her profession are not important. It is much easier to send one's child for private tuitions to the very same teacher.