Dr Ali Khwaja makes a critical evaluation of what learning is, what it ought to be, and how it should be measured.
Recent media reports highlighted the plight of some parents who were told in the beginning of the academic year that their child was not fit to continue in the school, and may either have to take TC or be retained in the same class. It is commonly known that some schools who want to maintain their hundred percent results in board exams often refuse to promote children in Class IX, and subtly pressurize them to go away to another school. But unfortunately we are now coming across more and more schools refusing to tolerate a child in lower classes, either because he is a slow learner, is hyper-active, or is not taking sufficient interest in studies.
Since the advent of the McCaulay system of education, introduced by the British in India, some educators have gotten away with an attitude of “I am teaching well, what can I do if the child does not want to learn?” I often pose a question to teachers, “Imagine if instead of being a teacher, you had been a marketing professional. If you came back and told your manager that you were doing a splendid job of marketing, explaining your products well, meeting all potential buyers, but the stupid customers were just not interested in buying the product – what would be your fate?” Yet this is what some insensitive teachers have been doing since a long time.
A faulty system
The fault is not with the teachers – it is with the system. Teachers have been indoctrinated to cover “portions” at any cost, and handle large number of students thus depriving them of time to deal with children who need greater attention. And once portions have been covered, the examination system takes over, with devastating results for the under-achievers. I have seen teachers commenting on students’ report cards – First Term: 45% “can do better”, Second Term: 53% “can do better”, Third Term: 61% “can do better”, as though the child is a marks-producing machine – with no encouragement or recognition of his progress (when he has actually gone up by 33% on his performance from the first to the third term!). Another unfortunate factor is the anxiety of some insecure parents, who put pressure on schools that their child should somehow secure highest marks at the end of the year, whether any learning takes place or not.
With a paradigm shift globally, the education system has to become more student-centric than teacher-centric. The chalk-talk method has been replaced by experiential and involved learning. This is essential if the 21st century child is to be made competent to handle challenges of life. Recent regulations and court orders make it mandatory on all stake holders that every child should have the right to education, and there should be no discrimination against students who are physically or mentally different. This has been taken in the right spirit by some schools who have established resource rooms to give additional and personal inputs to children with special needs. Many other schools network with special educators, consultants, and even reputed institutions like NIMHANS to guide them and provide the right methods of teaching that can reach students who do not conform to traditional methods. In large cities like Bangalore there are many special educators and child psychologists who conduct detailed assessments of children of all ages, and provide practical tips to classroom teachers and parents on how to overcome the limitations of individual children.
Is it not possible for schools to devise a system of continuous evaluation (and more important – progress of learning) so that there is no year-end shock or trauma to the child and parents? CBSE has made a good beginning with the CCE (Comprehensive and Cumulative Evaluation), but even that is going through many teething troubles, and is currently only for higher classes. Assessment of life skills has been included in this pattern, and more significance should be given to aspects such as the child’s ability to understand his own, and others’ emotions, build inter-personal relations, handle stress, do critical and creative thinking, sharpen decision making and problem solving abilities.
Progress assessment should not be through a one-time exam – it should be a record of the improvements and learning that the child has made from time to time. Due to the advent of technology, the teacher no longer has to spend too much time memorizing lessons, reading out from text books or writing on the board. Though tools such as the interactive smart boards have had their hiccups, they are likely to improve over time, thus allowing the teacher to focus more on helping the child learn, rather than just passing on information. Similarly, to make the task of continuous evaluation on CBSE pattern, private players like iPoint have evolved fairly effective technology-based tools, cutting down writing work and even making the task of the teacher easier in assessing tricky areas like emotional intelligence.
It is also necessary that parents get more involved in the learning process of the child, and work in partnership with schools. Attending PTA meetings or collecting report cards a couple of times a year is definitely not enough. Here again technology can be used for overcoming hassles of traveling to school, sacrificing work-day time etc by interacting on-line. Constant feedback on what the child has learnt, rather than how much he has scored, can and should be exchanged freely between teacher and parent. For example, instead of saying that a child scored 12/20 in the unit test, one could assess that the child “can now do addition of three-digit numbers, compared to only 2-digit numbers that he could do last month.” This may be supplemented with what the system expects from a child of his age, so that awareness is created whether he needs to put in more efforts. Assessing poor performance
Another factor that is rarely taken into account is to assess the reason for poor performance. Some of the common ones are; * Loss of interest in a subject when he dislikes the new teacher in higher class. * Fundamentals are weak from earlier year, hence he is unable to catch up with what is being taught. * Disturbances at home, dysfunctional families, and emotional trauma *Specific learning disability (dyslexia, dyscalculia etc.) * Scolding by teacher or teasing by classmates causing de-motivation *Greater interest in sports and extra-curricular activities * Low IQ due to which the student cannot learn at the pace lessons are being taught.
Enabling children to learn
Efficient teachers can instinctively identify students who are unable to keep up with the progress of teaching. They should be encouraged to freely give their opinion to school authorities as well as parents, and then timely action can be taken to supplement learning or increase motivation of the child, as required.
Teachers of two sections can be inter-changed for the assessment periodically, to get a broader perspective. In fact parents who are willing to volunteer their time can also be called in periodically to identify progress (and limitations) of students. Since this assessment will be done on concrete and qualitative aspects of learning, and not on marks, there is not much scope of bias or wrong reporting.
It is high time that children are slowly freed from the monster of exams and competition so that they can get down to real learning, which is going to be their passport for a good career as well as life.
A child’s plea: “If I cannot learn the way you teach me, please teach me the way I can learn.”