Friday, November 30, 2018

FOCUS ON BASIC CONCEPTS WILL TRANSFORM EDUCATION


       
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Education aims at imparting knowledge, understanding and skills that can help one use the same for acquiring a better standing in life. But these life skills and knowledge often bear the brunt of stagnant syllabus that the teachers are forced to complete in a given time period and students are forced to learn, memorize and earn grades based on it. Martinus Hendrikus Benders observes that our school systems are focussed on a single objective: to produce model citizens for society in order to feed this machine and prevent its breakdown. That’s why our school systems have no interest in developing models that actually require and stimulate useful values in people, such as courage, imagination or inventiveness. “In the twenty-first century, we use a nineteenth-century school model with twentieth-century values. There’s clearly something wrong with this picture.” 
The system fails to focus on the significance of basics in any subject. Whether it is Mathematics or English language (grammar), a particular concept is introduced under a given topic but rarely the students are able to use the concept when required in the higher classes. They often fail to solve basic arithmetic questions. They remember the structure and formula but when it comes to application they seem confused. During an interaction with one of the sections of class X, I asked them a basic mathematical question, “Which of the given numbers is greater: 2/3 or 3/5?” Only three students were able to give the correct answer and out of them only two were able to logically justify their answer. Recently, some students were asked about Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi. A few of them weren’t aware of his achievements. I wonder why such important information cannot be integrated in classroom teaching. It is also quite noticeable that CBSE affiliated schools have been conducting some or the other significant event on a weekly basis (National Unity Day and Cleanliness Drive to mention a few). Certain activities are organized and reports are submitted. Although I appreciate the initiative, I still doubt the impact of these events. I feel if such information is incorporated in the syllabus the impression on the students would be long lasting. Students are not able to recall and remember basic information because it is not interconnected or related with other information they have already acquired. Effective learning cannot take place if basics are taught in isolation.
“No subject is ever well understood and no art is intelligently practiced, if the light which the other studies are able to throw upon it is deliberately shut out.” For example, Statistical Methods are used to calculate and to know the Volume of Trade, Trend of Import and Exports, Economic Forecasts, Trade Cycles. All these calculations are only possible with the help of Mathematics which therefore, becomes an integral part of Economics. To read about a civilization in History you need language; when you trace a scientific achievement, you automatically become acquainted about its history; to measure the amount of rainfall in Geography you need Mathematics. There could be endless examples to prove that no subject can be taught in isolation.
Giving credit where it’s due I would appreciate the inclusion of the chapter ‘Adventure’ in class XI English course by CBSE. The chapter interestingly deals with Catastrophe Theory and Quantum Physics and helps language teaching connect with Physics. It becomes the responsibility of the teachers to reach out and try to bring in General Knowledge, General Science, basic calculations and correct usage of language in every subject they teach.
A book titled “Mission High” explicitly talks about the loopholes in education system. Mission High is an organization in USA which caters to the needs of students from different nationalities and ethnicities. The aim of this organization is to prepare the students (the immigrants seeking admission in renowned schools/universities in USA) in every field whether it is sports, performing arts or debates. Discussing a particular case of a Chinese student, the book elaborates that this child scored 12th rank all over China in class VIII. Aspiring to get admission in one of the renowned institutes, he came to USA. He was taken aback when he failed in one of the language papers conducted for the admission test. It is interesting to note that he had always been a top scorer in English language in his country. Due to this he couldn’t get through any renowned school. Although he was overcome by utter despair, he got a chance to get enrolled in Mission High. There he wasn’t just taught, what happened with him was a holistic grooming. He played basketball and took part in extracurricular activities. His language teacher made sure that he passes his exam in flying colours. Learning became a process of exploring himself by getting involved in a myriad of activities.
In the present times, information is just a “click” away. Memory and calculations suffer due to this facility. Not allowing the kids to use the advanced means wouldn’t be the right way to go but we need to make sure that students do not completely rely on technology and search engines. There is a wealth of data at society’s fingertips and students should have a strong focus on learning how to research and parse this information. Memory and practice can never become outdated. The chapter titled ‘शीक्षावल्ली’ of the ‘तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत्’ gives an idea of the methodology, premise & context of Gurukul system of education. It approached knowledge based on area of study, rather than based on books. The system emphasized on discussion, on acquired information and consistent practice of basic concepts through their practical usage. Students were taught to learn from their mistakes. These days “We stigmatize mistakes and we're now running national educational systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make -- and the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities.” 
The question arises, if we know what the problem is, then why we aren’t finding a solution. The reason is that the education system revolves round marks and grades. A resume needs good scores and high percentage to be considered authentic. Can you imagine what would have been the scenario of education system without grades and scores? “Grades really cover up failure to teach. A bad instructor can go through an entire quarter leaving absolutely nothing memorable in the minds of his class, curve out the scores on an irrelevant test, and leave the impression that some have learned and some have not. But if the grades are removed the class is forced to wonder each day what it’s really learning. The questions like: What’s being taught? What’s the goal? How do the lectures and assignments accomplish the goal? , become ominous. The removal of grades exposes a huge and frightening vacuum.” Running after the grades students have stopped focusing on the basics, whether it is basic science, general knowledge of language.
What becomes important and inevitable here is the role of the teachers. It is the aura and panache of a teacher that works wonder on the students. They can bring changes in the existing system by moulding the classroom teaching based on correlation and integration of various subjects, general knowledge and basic information. Interestingly, cinema has brought up these real life stories of teachers dealing with the system in their own ways. Whether it is October Sky, Goodwill Hunting, Hitchki or Rough Book; these movies showcased the power a committed teacher possesses.  Inspired by Brad Cohen’sFront of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had, (co-authored by Lisa Wysocky), ‘Hitchki’ tells us a tale of a teacher who makes learning practical, and simple to the students who lacked facilities and resources, by teaching them basic concepts in ways full of fun.
Rough Book is a hard look at the education system in India. Though, one of the finest systems in the world, the lacunae in the system has created issues that are threatening and clogging the channels of learning in contemporary India. The story revolves around the division among students on the basis of their grade. It is based on actual experiences of parents, teachers and students told through the eyes of a teacher, Santoshi Kumari, a teacher of Physics. Her pupils are in the D division — "D" sarcastically refers to Duffers in the school by students and teachers. How Santoshi tackles a system to set her own terms for her students forms the bulk of a simply told, thought-provoking and urgent film. The rebellion of the teacher and her students are internalized to question the stereotypical system of education.
It gives me great pleasure to mention that I recently met a few IIT pass-outs who served as teachers for a significant period of their life. Perturbed by the monotonous course that disregards the value of basic concepts and focused on grades they decided to come up with such apps that will encourage students to solve basic mathematical questions with ease and interest. They are planning to develop more such apps which will involve the basic knowledge related to other subjects and language too. Teachers all over the country must realize that the main purpose of learning is acquiring life skills and this could only happen if every subject is approached with a keen focus on basics and correlation with other subjects and life itself.
So, the responsibility and power lie in the hands of the teachers. They need to ensure that basics are not only inculcated but also embedded in the system so that they keep on strengthening with every class the child passes. Teachers know that the system has given them a class of multiple intelligence, varied interests, and diverse set of IQs, SQs and EQs. A teacher with a heart filled with love, a mind keen and pragmatic and a soul dynamic and dedicated can set straight any flaw in the system.