Following the age-old education system is not the need of the hour. While transformation is on the way and happening, is there enough focus on a creative makeover for the education system too. Making learning interesting is key to engaging students actively.
Have you ever wondered why children and college students admit themselves to coaching classes while they are still studying in school or college? Coaching classes help them get good marks and prepare for entrance tests. It is a huge business. You will also find a professor in an engineering college or school running private tuition classes. Parents are sending their children to these and paying huge amounts.
Why are coaching classes needed? One possibility is that a school or college has a 40-minute period and the teacher/professor has to teach 40-70 children. The teacher-student ratio is not correct. It is natural that the teacher cannot give individual attention and consequently children don’t learn. Many costly schools in India have therefore reduced the size of the class to 15-20 students and pay their teachers very high salaries so that they are not enticed to hold coaching classes to earn money. The salaries of the teaching community are low compared to those working in industries. This needs correction.
The second problem is the pedagogy of instruction. For example, in a school, one may teach English in the first period, mathematics in the second, geography in the third, Hindi in the fourth, moral science in the fifth, and so on till it goes to the eighth period. In eight periods, about six different subjects are taught.
Just reflect, is it possible for a child to remember what was taught in the first or second period after the whole day? The school administration knows this and therefore gives homework to reinforce what was taught.
Contrast the method of teaching in a school to a coaching class. The instructor in the coaching class teaches one subject, for example mathematics or physics, for three hours, makes children solve hundreds of past questions so they are programmed to know the answer. In this case too, the children may not have internalised the learning, but they are surely prepared for the examination. Parents want their children to get good marks because without excellent scores they will not get admission to higher learning.
In ancient India, a mantra or a shloka was told to be repeated thousands of times so that people learnt it by heart. A student in the gurukul system, after learning the mantra, was then explained the essence of it part by part, so that he/she could absorb it and learn how to implement it in one’s life.
The guru-shishya parampara was based on the teacher giving instruction, the student introspecting on what was taught, which led to questions arising in the mind. The guru then answered those questions and mentored the student to implement it in one’s life. The coaching class, to a certain extent, is implementing this ancient methodology in a different way.
Our present pedagogy of instruction was developed by the British in India as they wanted to produce people who would follow their orders without questioning and they in turn would promise them a good life. They deliberately advocated teaching to be done in English so that it was easier for them to govern. Those who knew English well were considered by the British as aristocratic, sophisticated, elegant and cultured. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore believed that a child can learn much more effectively in the mother tongue than in a foreign language. He set up Shanti Niketan, a unique school in West Bengal that has now evolved into Vishwa Bharati University. He kept the medium of instruction as Bengali, the mother tongue.
Tagore believed that holistic education required students to learn not just subjects, but arts, craft, literature, music, performing arts, ecology, etc., so that the entire personality of the child could develop. He stressed on being with nature and learning in an open atmosphere.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made an announcement that he has decided to start one university in each state where the language of instruction will be in the mother tongue. It is a tragedy that Tagore’s great and unique experimental model of education in Shanti Niketan is being adopted only now, after 73 years.
Another important construct in internalisation of learning is the pedagogy of instruction. In the last 16 years in corporate training, we at Sri Ramakrishna International Institute of Management have used different experiential workshop methodologies to engage the participant in learning using case studies, role plays, films, simulations, etc., to help him/her internalise the learning. Industries are very pleased with this method of learning. However, in the education sector till date, teachers still predominantly use lectures as a teaching strategy.
There is an acute need to train the teachers to use experiential training methods to teach. That will improve internalisation of learning and students will start to love the subjects.
(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in The New Indian Express. The original article can be found at https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2021/feb/18/transform-education-make-students-love-learning-2265559.html )