Reject rote

There is much that India can learn from a World Bank study comparing Indian school curriculums with international syllabi. The study draws attention to excessive reliance on rote learning of textbook content in Indian school curriculums. In contrast to international curriculums like the Geneva-based International Baccalaureate (IB) and the British International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE), which focus on creative thinking and provide students with real life communication-oriented exercises, Indian curriculums encourage memorisation and reproduction of texts, the study says. In the process, schools fail to develop higher-order thinking or meta-cognitive skills during the learning process. What the World Bank study says is not new. Students are expected to ‘mug up’ the syllabus and regurgitate what is in their textbooks. This has made schooling a drudgery and learning a burden, rather than the exciting exploration and adventure it should be. For the sake of short-term information that helps students pass examinations and score good grades, long-term analytical and reasoning skills are being bartered.

The National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has been taking steps to move school education away from textbooks and rote learning to include interactive teaching methods and learning through doing and understanding. But change has been slow in coming. This is not surprising, given the problems that teachers confront in implementing new teaching and learning strategies. Children enjoy learning through field trips where they are encouraged to observe, draw on their experiences and reach conclusions. But most schools do not have the funds for such exploratory methods. There is also the problem of the capability of teachers.

For generations, teachers have been expected to lecture, to impart knowledge in a top-down fashion. That has to change. They need to be open to encouraging, not limiting, the child’s inquisitiveness, her capacity to question and challenge. Without teachers leading the way in bringing change in classrooms, students will continue to stagnate in outmoded ways of learning. They will need to be equipped with new skills.

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