“I believe that the school must represent present life- life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or in the playground.” -John Dewey
Schools are an inevitable and significant platform for any child to learn how to grow in the society at a practical, emotional and social level. From getting up in the morning to facing academic and co-curricular challenges, we can observe children learning by making choices and taking decisions. They are given a chance to think, create, analyze and use their skills. Therefore, learning by doing is an integral part of school education. It refers to a theory of education expounded by American Philosopher John Dewey. He postulated that learning should be relevant and practical not passive and theoretical. Piggy Hickman emphasizes on the same, “…The teachers were to present real life problems to the children and then guide the students to solve the problem by providing them with a hands on activity to learn the solution…”
This concept has been in our education system since the Vedic times when education was provided at home and Gurukuls through Vedas and Scriptures. Our Vedas explicitly portray the importance of learning by doing and they are themselves an example of our rich knowledge. This was way before technology had overpowered lives as it has now. Renowned scientists, mathematician, writers and philosophers like Sushruta, Aryabhata, Einstein, Galileo, Beulah Louise, Sarah E Goode and Jane Austen reached heights without much or any help from technology. Many of the great inventors rather contributed in the invention of many technical types of equipment. What I am trying to convey here is that technology wasn’t a necessary part of education in ancient times but now it is an inevitable part of education system. And it is definitely so because technology has made life easy and education approachable and accessible.
We cannot imagine education without technology in the 21st century. Not only education but our daily lives have been greatly affected and shaped by its spread all around us. Whether it’s electricity, gadgets or internet, we cannot imagine life sans technology. It is acceptable and rather helpful till the time it contributes in the smooth functioning of our lives but today we are facing many problems and discomforts as we have allowed technology to overpower us. With various search engines and GPS available we have started depending on technology recklessly thereby curbing our ability to think, speculate and most importantly research. The same is happening in the field of education. If all the answers are a click away, how would we expect our children to “learn by doing”? This problem could only be solved if technology is channelized positively by teachers and parents among students, as it has become a part and parcel of our lives and we cannot do away with it. We just have to teach our kids to use it appropriately because when used correctly it can work wonders.
But the real problem doesn’t lie in some artificial invention, it lies in our attitudes. What is holding back our kids from doing things on their own? The problem is “helicopter parenting” or “over parenting”. This parenting style is characterized by a helicopter-like tendency to hover over children and swoop to rescue them at the first sign of trouble. This kind of behaviour can result into a child growing up with low levels of confidence, anxiety and depression at the wake of any problem or difficulty, lack of competence and hesitation in taking initiative. This starts very early with the parents “showering love” in the form of tying the lace, making the bed, doing the basic household chores for the child that he must do for himself, going out to bring stuff for the kids even if they are capable of doing it themselves. We develop a tendency that everything can be served to the child in a platter so that he/she doesn’t face any inconvenience. This is how parents hinder their kids from learning by doing things themselves. Therefore they do not learn how to take risks and accept failures and rejections. The same kind of spoon feeding is generally followed in academics too where parents believe in making the kids sit and study with them, prepare a routine for them, set their goals and decide their future to such an extent that children stop deciding for themselves.
This is the age and time where parents have to practice “free-range parenting” and teachers have to become “gurus” and facilitators who show the pathway and not build one for the kids, teaching them crucial life lessons through play-way methods. We have to teach the kids to take responsibilities and own up to their choices and decisions instead of being cocooned all their life and later blaming the parents if things do not turn around as they wanted. For example, if a child is given a school project or a class test is coming up, let the child figure out how he would proceed with the preparation and manage his schedule. Even if he gets C grade, it will be the outcome of his efforts and sincerity. No matter what the result will be, it would he the outcome of his efforts. He would not be able to put it on someone else. As a consequence, he will have to analyze it and decide what went wrong and how the performance can be improved. I request the parents not to fall in the category of those who proudly say that their child has passed with flying colours because they sat with him/her for hours. Do not take pride in making the child dependent on you. Let them put their own efforts and fight their battles themselves. As in this case, even if he loses, he will figure out how to stand back on his feet and move on. The teachers will also have to allow the kids to try and solve a problem 10 times before telling them the answer. Let them learn from their mistakes because if they learn by committing those mistakes, they would definitely not repeat them.
Setting an example for us the schools in Japan have taken learning by doing to another level. “The 45 minute lunch period in Japanese school is considered as an educational period, same as math or reading”, said the principal of a school in Saitama. The sixth graders grow and harvest vegetables. The meals are cooked in the school kitchen. They set their table and eat in their own classes. Everyday some kids have their lunch duty. They have to wash their hands properly and wear smock. The kids on duty take the lunch from the cart room with their class teachers and serve it to their classmates. After the lunch all the kids wash their utensils and clean the desks, classroom and hallway in the cleaning period as per the duties assigned to them. This is a beautiful example of preparing kids for life and teaching them humility.
I know it is difficult to let go and allow our children to take risks and face failures and challenges but trust me this the best way to let them grow freely and responsibly with a better understanding of the world. I would end this article with Khalil Gibran’s On Children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.