You are hereIt’s time we go back to the black board
It’s time we go back to the black board
DNA 15th August Special Issue)
- Azim Premji
The importance of schooling and education and its significance can not be understated. A child’s experiences in the formative years determine the understanding of the world that she gains, the capabilities she develops and the kind of human being she becomes.
In India with the diverse schooling options and the varied opportunities children can get , it could be said that it is difficult to generalize a child’s experience. But I see an underlying commonality in the experience a typical school going child in India goes through, irrespective of the background or the type of school.
I would like to focus on 3 critical aspects of the school experience which influence the kind of person a child grows up to become – the child’s experience as a human being, the teachinglearning process and the connection of school with the world as perceived by the child. Let me attempt to summarize, of what is possibly the reality in a large majority of our schools.
The school environment
A child is expected to be in school for a stipulated part of the day. Typically school is a concrete structure with neatly arranged rooms and desk and benches arranged in a row one behind the other. The less fortunate children go to schools that may not have the same infrastructure, but space design and usage even there follows the same logic.
The part of the day that she is in school is divided into periods. Each period is meant for a specific academic subject and in a week there might be a period or two where she gets to indulge in sports or activities predefined and engineered for her benefit. She is expected to dress in a prescribed fashion. For almost all the time, she is told where she can be, what she is expected to do and how she may do it.
For any reason if she wants to do something else, be it conversing with her neighbour, or leaving the class or being out of school for a day, it involves seeking permission. Depending on the kind of school, any transgression of norm is dealt with by the teacher through punishment, either corporal, a severe reprimand, a kind rebuke or atleast a note to the parent. In short, for a child, school is an engagement with strongly imposed discipline, regimen and deference to authority.
This is one of the first learnings she gets about the world – there is a set of rules that control the world and she is expected to unquestioningly abide by them at risk of punishme nt if she violates any of them. You are successful if you are able to abide by all the rules and not get yourself into trouble.
The teaching-learning process
During class children are expected to focus and learn the particular subject meant to be studied in that class. The teacher is always in charge and she uses a certain set of texbooks mandated by school management. Textbooks are considered a repository of facts and data that the teacher transmits to the children. The teaching-learning process doesn’t necessarily engage questions beyond clarification of facts shared, and those too are restricted to the scope of the subject being discussed.
The definition of what a child has learnt is restricted to the mastery of tools and techniques, memorization of facts and figures and the teacher and the timetable determine what a child can learn at a given point in time. And being a good student means acquiring the ability to deal with as many facts and pieces of information as possible.
This is the second learning a child gets from school – the teacher and the textbook are always right. Being a successful student means being able to remember a lot of information and reproduce it at will.
The context of education
Lastly, where and how is all the learning used? What a child learns in school is mainly used only within the school, either to demonstrate it in class by replying to quizzes or in examinations at the end of a term or the year. The real world and her experiences there are largely independent of what she learns from the textbooks. She never learns to relate realities outside school to what she learns within. The learnings mainly fulfil the one need – that of passing examinations that determine her ability to get a good job.
This is the third learning – education is meant to get us a degree. Beyond this the purpose it serves in real life is limited if there is any at all.
So it seems the education system we have designed will create individuals who grow up with a fear for authority, largely unquestioning followers of the norms of the world and tentative and unsure of themselves in most real-life situations.
What do we want from education?
Needless to say this does read like a dismal picture and a major cause for worry. As a society our needs from education are far removed from the above. To understand this better, we need to rearticulate what the aims of education are and what we mean by good education.
I think education has two primary aims
- to enable one to learn and understand the larger world we reside in and to give us the ability to engage with it.
- to empower an individual and make one capable of questioning and challenging the world we live in and contribute to changing it.
As a society we need our citizens to be independent thinkers with the capability to lead, individuals who are sensitive to larger social realities and people who feel responsible towards the larger community. Every individual needs to feel empowered to participate and question norms. This strength and confidence in an individual needs to be discovered, nurtured and strengthened over time. The experiences that a child goes through in school play a significant role towards the development of these strengths.
A good school
A school needs to be a location where the right experiences for learning are created. The environment in school both infrastructure and the value system need to be revisited. We need to provide a non-intimidating and interesting space for children. We need to proactively identify and eradicate any element of physical, mental or emotional threat that stifles learning and growth. Rather than enforcing rules that are not fully understood by children with threats of punishment, it is easier to ensure discipline through participation of children in formulating the rules of engagement. We need to empower them and give them the space to participate in the schooling process.
The classroom should be a democratic space where the interaction with children is dialogic and not didactic. Children should be treated as equals and pedagogic methods based on interaction, dialogue and experience will be more effective and ensure learning. Focus should be on the learning of concepts and this can happen only if the child is an active participant in the learning process. Every child needs to be allowed the space to construct her own knowledge and allowed the flexibility to do so at her own pace.
I think it is imperative that we situate education in the larger social context. Our children need to be able to relate to their learnings in schools to the real world. Children come from various backgrounds and from various social contexts. Unless they can relate to education and derive meaning of what they learn in school for themselves, education does not become useful or interesting to them. We need to understand that learning comes from real experiences and unless the classroom transaction is connected to reality in some form, education will just remain words and text for our children.
Today we as a society are in better position to take significant steps towards change than we were ever before. Many schools and institutions across the country are exemplifying that it is indeed possible to break what we have known as norm and strive for good education. Rather than being one-off incidents, such stories abound. The Bandhyali school in Jaipur run by Digantar, the Centre For Learning in Bangalore, or Vikramshila’s Bigha School in Burdhwan exemplify the kind of education we aspire for. Social organisations such as Eklavya, Digantar, Vidya Bhawan, CEMD and Neev and businesses with a social purpose, such as iDiscoveri, EZ Vidya and Educational Initiatives are all part of this progressive movement across the country. Each of these organisations has begun to impact the mainstream of schooling in various ways.
As citizens we need to realize and not only welcome this change but participate in and catalyze it. We need to break ourselves from the status quo and influence the building of a system that will create better human beings. Human beings who help take today’s societal aspirations further and also strive for the creation of a new and better society. A society that will continuously learn, reinvent and recreate itself.
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