Thursday, March 29, 2018

Let Children Learn by Doing

“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.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Life Of Every Child is Precious

Yet another unfortunate incident has jolted the school education system. A class 9 student ended her life at her home in Noida on 20 March, 2018. The 15-year-old's family has filed a case against two of her teachers. The First Investigation Report (FIR) names two teachers, who taught her at a private school in capital of the country. The girl’s father alleged that she had complained of the two teachers harassing her, and that they would deliberately fail her in the exams. "She told me two of her teachers had behaved with her inappropriately but I said, since I am also a teacher, I can say they cannot do it. It may have been a mistake but she said, she's scared of them and no matter how well she writes, they'll fail her,” said the devastated father. (Source: NDTV)
We must stand by the family during these tormenting hours of pain and grief and help them try to come out of the trauma of losing an innocent child. As usual, the news channels have got an opportunity to make random claims and conclusions without considering that the investigation is still going on. They are most certainly blaming the school teachers without even waiting for the probe to end. No can definitely raise questions at the claim of the parents but one should refrain from making any comments at least till the time the investigation is going on. Some of the news channels have yet again hit a new low by continuously focusing on how the suicide must have taken place by enactment and dramatization. They aren’t showing any consideration to the fact that so many students are appearing in their board exams and it is the time of great stress for some kids and not every child is able to perform well. Therefore, explicitly showing the way in which the traumatic incident must have taken place is quite dangerous and irresponsible on the part of the some section of the media. Should they not be more careful? This explicit portrayal might give ideas to the kids who are distressed, emotionally or otherwise.
When I think about the sad course of events, I feel that we have yet again failed as parents and teachers to make the students realize that failure isn’t the end of life and they do not have to be scared of failing. Life isn’t about just passing an exam and your worth isn’t measured with certain grades and scores. Children are much more important than the marks or any pass or fail. I have discussed this issue in my previous articles and would reiterate the fact that we have to make our children strong enough to face any negativity with courage and overcome it with strong will power. Even though the government is taking various measures, the constant fear of failure is still engulfing the spirits of students. For making students feel comfortable and stress free the syllabus is being cut short and the question papers are being simplified. On the contrary, these measures are making the students incompetent and incapable of facing any kind of genuine problem or difficulty. As a result, they panic in the times of struggle and easily fall a prey to depression and acute stress.
According to the news channels, the deceased child was good in dance and other co-curricular activities. Then why was she suffering the harassment, so scared of failure that she had to take such an extreme step? My heart aches to think of the trauma she might have gone through before taking such a grave step. As parents and teachers, why aren’t we able to curb this fear and make our kids confident and strong enough so that they don’t succumb to it when it haunts them in the guise of failure? It’s the need of the hour that our kids learn to face and tackle any kind of situation with courage and reason. Most importantly a strong bond of trust between the kids and parents is required so that they can freely open up about their problems and dilemmas and expect a solution without hesitation and fear of being scolded and judged. Why isn’t a teenager being treated as an individual who should be made self-sufficient to face the good and evil existing in the real world? Why they are still cocooned and kept away from relevant issues and discussions?  Well, the safety net that we are striving so hard to provide them has its own demerits.
The first problem is the need for instant gratification. Everybody in the present times is running after quick and easy success (defined in their own terms). Everything from shopping to food is becoming instant and apparently a click away. Once kids get into the habit of acquiring everything ‘asap’ any kind of delay or shortage causes anxiety and stress. The youth wants immediate replies, likes, appreciation and acknowledgement and what not? And when this doesn’t happen, they feel empty and defeated. They don’t realize the importance of patience and hard work and the success achieved through the same.  Kids are being provided with those things that they don’t even need at this age. They are actually devoid of the experiencing not possessing something and acquiring it after a lot of effort. For example, years ago we used to wait for one week for the telecast of the next episode of our favourite soap operas. Now-a-days, anything can be streamed live or downloaded in bulk from Netflix, Amazon Prime etc. This kills the sense of inquisitiveness and builds up restlessness. Psychologists will agree with me when I say that this is the way habits are formed and they become a part of our personality. Other problems that the kids are constantly facing are digital extravaganza, peer pressure, lack of parental support and understanding, impatience, intolerance, anxiety due to bad food habits, stress, over-eating and lack of physical activities due to time spent on phones and coaching centres. All this decreases a child’s self –esteem and easily makes him/her vulnerable and prone to negativities.
An innocent child has lost her life. This also puts a question mark on the law and order system of our country. The cases of molestation and physical abuse are piling up as the laws are not being strictly implemented. Such heinous crimes are taking place every day but there isn’t any concrete survey to suggest that appropriate measures are being taken so as to curb the increasing rate of such crimes. Law and order is important and citizens must abide by the laws and have faith in the judicial system. But at the same time society needs to come together and be more vigilant in order to curb such heinous crimes.
This brings me to analyze the other side of the story. While the parents are demanding strict action against the accused, which is totally justified; the news channels are trying to gain TRP by bringing the entire education system under a question mark. There can be bad elements in any profession; this doesn’t mean that we start questioning the piousness of a respectable profession like teaching.
I worry that this kind of portrayal by media has created problems for committed and dedicated teachers who worship their profession. How many teachers would ask the students to work hard and study in such a situation? This country already faces a scarcity of well qualified and dedicated teachers not only in schools but universities as well. Why can’t the committed teachers and vigilant parents come together and make the kids confident about themselves and rule out the fear of failing from their minds? I always tell the teachers that their role has become more crucial and significant than ever. The responsibility of the future citizens lies on their shoulders.  As parents and teachers we will have to speculate how to make our kids strong, tolerant, patient and brave. If parents, kids and teachers have constant communication and trust on each other, then many such problems will be taken care of easily.  Parents must also be aware of their child’s emotional state so that corrective measures could be taken on time and safety of their kids is insured.
In the end, I call out to all the teachers that the times are gloomy but certain evil elements existing in your pious profession cannot take away the commitment and dedication with which you have given your everything to your job. These are the times when you will have to stand more determined, love your jobs more than ever and speak out loud to the world, “We will come back here and do it again. Teaching and leading can be hard and emotionally draining but we will come back tomorrow, that is what we will do because our students need us.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Sports Inspire Us: If You Can Believe It, the Mind Can Achieve It

In my last article, I expressed my views against the idea of reduction of the syllabus for school students. But I share the worry of the HRD minister and understand the reason behind this idea and why it was proposed. Children these days are not getting enough exercise. Only a few schools are well equipped in providing proper sports and games facilities to the kids. So, I feel that instead of worrying about the reduction of the syllabus the parents and schools should be enlightened with the importance of physical exercise and sports.
“Sports teaches you character, it teaches you to play by the rules, it teaches you to know what it feels like to win and lose-it teaches you about life.” In the times we are living, sports aren’t confined to just a part of a child’s development, rather some parents are supportive enough to let their children follow sports as their career. We have so many examples like Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Saina Nehwal, Virat Kohli, Geeta Phogat and so on, who have made our country proud by choosing sports as their career. Although, “We live in a world where sports have the potential to bridge the gap between racism, sexism and discrimination”; but getting kids involved in a regular sports activity is not an easy task for parents.
There are a lot of obstacles. Major hindrances are: the gruesome law and order situation of the country, traffic and transportation becomes a problem as traffic rules are being neglected resulting in increasing toll of accidents, our girls are already unsafe due to so many anti-social elements prevailing in the country and even the safety of boys is questionable these days. Other than this, the sports quota is only 3% to get admission in a college which is quite discouraging. There are no proper facilities for sports activities in many residential areas and many of them do not even have proper parks and playgrounds. Students aren’t overburdened with homework anymore, as per the instructions of CBSE and therefore they get sufficient time to play at home but this opportunity is also marred by parents who prefer to send their students to coaching centers for 4-6 hours after school. This increases stress and fatigue and as there isn’t any outlet to release it, the consequences are aggression and unsatisfactory academic performance. Another major obstacle is the unhealthy dependence on gadgets. It is unfortunate to see so many kids busy with mobile phones in social gatherings and instead of spending quality time in the playground every evening they are busy spending 5-6 hours on various technical gadgets and mobiles. The schools these days have also become digital. With the introduction of smart classes students are forced to use more and more technology on a daily basis. This digitalization has many negative impacts on the kids. According to daily mail, “Touchscreen generation of children ‘don’t have the STRENGTH to grip a pencil, as specialists warn 'swiping' is replacing traditional skills like drawing and handwriting.” Toddlers are struggling to grip pencils due to their overuse of touchscreens; iPads and smartphones leave the muscles in their hands weak and by the time they start school they cannot hold a pencil to learn to draw or write. Previous generations spent their early years practicing more traditional skills such as arts and crafts which boost fine motor skills. Smart phones and tablets also allow a kid to get whatever they want at the click of a button. It does not teach them moderation, impulse-control, or how to challenge themselves, which are traits of an addictive personality. It is estimated that 60 percent of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage; 75 percent of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms. Because of this, 75 percent of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades go down, according to Boston College. Sports and games on the other hand, teach us to be patient and work in a team thereby inculcating positive emotions. Our policy makers and parents need to realize that- “Sports are a metaphor for overcoming obstacles and achieving against great odds. They play a very important role in consolidating the national strength, adding lustre to the country's prestige and honour, inspiring people with national dignity and pride, and imbuing the whole society with revolutionary mettle.”
We need to come together to overcome these obstacles and involve kids in various sports activities. The government will have to make sure that the law and order conditions are such that parents feel free to send their kids to sports complexes and playgrounds. More parks should be maintained within the colonies for easy access and thereby helping the kids to develop a daily routine to play. The reservations based on sports quota should be increased to encourage more students to take sports seriously and it will be a ray of hope for those students who aren’t as good in academics but are doing great in sports. There should also be a significant sports quota to acquire various jobs. The leaders of technology and digital world- Microsoft, is ensuring that their employees keep their kids away from gadgets during their initial school years and they should be encouraged to read as many books as possible and indulge in sports activities. This is being done to help them be creative and energetic. Kids spend a quality time of their day in the school with their classmates. Therefore, it should be made mandatory for every school to have one hour dedicated to sports every day. If it isn’t possible during the school hours then there should be an afternoon or evening sports session on daily basis. Parents should not allow their 14-15 year old kids to coaching centers and rather make it compulsory for them to play outside for a couple of hours, away from television and other gadgets. I t should be made compulsory that all parents take their children for 5-6 hours of physical activity be it games or otherwise. Until the parents and school would do away with marks and grades obsession this problem cannot be tackled by reducing syllabus. Children will; definitely like to play if they are provided with opportunities.  
Sports and games rejuvenate and develop confidence while keeping one fit and healthy. Students should not be pressurized about getting higher grades and cracking competitions which are beyond their potential as it is harmful for their mental health and confidence. Daily indulgence in sports activities will relieve the stress and help them prepare themselves better for the challenges in life. I also request the concerned authorities to make sure that sports are kept away from politics so that more kids are encouraged to keep aspiring and working hard to be great sportsperson.
To conclude, I would say that if games and sports become a part of student’s daily life then they will have no problem with the present curriculum because sports will help them to be confident, put forth their best efforts, manage their nerves, play by the rules in life, take risks, set up goals and achieve them, win and lose with grace, be committed and competent and take competition healthily.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Reduction Of School Syllabus By 50%: A Bane To Education System

In a bid to provide relief to school students, the NCERT syllabus will be reduced by half from the 2019 academic session, as announced by the HRD Minister Mr Prakash Javadekar.
He said, the school syllabus was more than that of B.A and B.Com courses, and it needed to be reduced by half so that students get time for other activities, for their all-round development. 
"At the stage of development of cognitive skills, students need to be given full freedom. I have asked NCERT to reduce the syllabus by half and it will be effective from the 2019 academic session," he told Rajya Sabha TV in an interview.  (Source: India Times)
The question arises that is it because of the syllabus that students are getting deprived of physical activities? Are the kids stressed and depressed due to the quantum of the course? Aren’t the kids more depressed because of the pressure of scoring more and attending various coaching/tuition classes? Is it the first time in the history of education that kids are covering this amount of course for their board examination? Wasn’t the course more vast and lengthy in the past decades? In the earlier times under UP, Rajasthan and other Boards, students were required to cover the course of IX and X for Secondary Board Exams and the course of Senior Secondary Board Exams included both XI and XII.
In the last 30 years the course of Board examination has only been reduced in the name of reforms and reduction of pressure. I strongly feel that those who are trying to be the champions of the interests of students are in a way making them less competent to face future challenges. Aren’t we also trying to reduce the quality of the course by reducing the quantity by 50% and diluting the standards of the question papers?
Learning is the key to education. There is a standard quantity of knowledge which a child should acquire at a certain age. Let us look at the course and curriculum of other countries.
Many high schools in the United States offer a choice of vocational or college prep curriculum. Schools that offer vocational programs include a very high level of technical specialization, e.g., auto mechanics or carpentry, with a half-day instruction/approved work program in senior year as the purpose of the program is to prepare students for gainful employment without a college degree. The majority of high schools require four English credits to graduate. Generally, three science courses are required. BiologyChemistry, and Physics are usually offered. Courses such as physical and life science serve as introductory alternatives to those classes. Other science studies include geologyanatomyastronomyhealth, scienceenvironmental science, and forensic science. High school mathematics courses typically include pre-algebraalgebra Igeometryalgebra II w/trigonometry classes. English/Language classes are usually required for four years of high school, although many schools count journalism, public speaking/debate, foreign language, literature, drama, and writing (both technical and creative) classes as English/Language classes. Social science classes include world historyU.S. historygovernment, and economics. Government and economics classes are sometimes combined as two semesters of a year-long course. Additional study options can include classes in law (constitutional, criminal, or international), criminal justicesociology, and psychology. (Source:Wikipedia)
In England, full-time education is compulsory for all children aged 5 to 18. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 are entitled to 600 hours per year of optional, state-funded, pre-school education. This can be provided in "playgroups", community childcare centres or nursery classes in schools. At high school level, there are separate stages of vocational education and grammar classes too. A lot of focus is given on literature and drama as well. (Source: Wikipedia)
The syllabus of Singapore is worth emulating. Other countries are also following its curriculum, especially in mathematics. The syllabus is in no way less in quantity thereby maintaining its quality.
Looking at the curriculum of these countries we realize that extracurricular activities are included within the prescribed course and yet the basic course is not reduced. Aren’t we planning to harm the normal classroom teaching and learning process by reduction of the course? Let me talk about another reform which was introduced by CBSE which was the inclusion of value based questions. Was this step successful? Were required values imbibed in the students or was it a futile exercise? Should values be tested or can they at all be tested? This raises a question on the so called reforms which are endlessly taking place in the field of education.
Well, the major question is- Will the government reduce the course of the various entrance tests like AIIMS, NEET, IIT, NLU etc. as per the reduction in the school curriculum? If not, then will this not encourage the students to turn towards the coaching classes? The business of coaching centres is already luring the students away in the name of “extra course”. Will this not be a setback to the overall education system and culture of teaching and learning? When CCE was introduced, students from class 6 onwards started going to coaching centres for NTSE, KVPY, and Science Olympiads etc. Now, with this “reform” at hand won’t the students as well as parents be more inclined towards coaching centres to cover up the “extra” course for various entrance tests? Will this not encourage the vicious business of coaching classes?
 If the problem and issue is the lack of time students get for physical activities then we need to find a solution by involving more physical activities in the daily time table of the child instead of cutting the course into half. It should be made sure that every school has playground facility and it should be made mandatory for the schools both private and government to maintain a playground and give sufficient opportunities to students to use it. Even the parents should be asked to encourage their kids to participate in physical activities and sports, leaving behind the vice of modern gadgets.
Quantity of the course wouldn’t even be an issue if we look at the number of holidays given to the students. Most of the schools work for nearly 200 days only. Some of them work for even less than that. These 200 days include the days of the exams too. If students attend the school for around 260-280 days, the problem of a lengthy course won’t even exist. As per RTE, the minimum time students are required to spend in the school is seven hours. But unfortunately, even this criterion is rarely met in schools. If the number of working days and teaching hours are increased then the balance between the quality and quantity of education will be effectively maintained.
The government should realize that if kids will be taught less in terms of the course then they will head to coaching classes and this will in turn increase the stress. What is required in these times is the upliftment of the quality of teacher’s training so that kids can be taught using stress free methods. To ensure quality learning, attendance should also be given utmost importance. If it is not maintained then the child might miss on important topics thereby facing tension and stress. With better physical activities and balanced routine the present course would never be a burden for our students. The deduction in the quantum of the course isn’t a solution for a more active and stress free future generation. Rather the ways stated above which can enhance the competence of the young minds, is the way to go. Also, I would like to suggest that we should go back to course A and course B in Science and Mathematics as it used to be before. Those students who had aptitude for science and maths were taught and examined from different syllabus than the ones in the other course. We should not try to bring down the quality just in the name of making every one equal.
To conclude, I would like to say that parents, teachers and students need to come together and work in unison to make teaching and learning more effective in schools. For, if they work together, then the successful completion of the present curriculum won’t be a far-fetched dream as it is being projected.