In the 1940s, the American Air Force had a serious problem. There had been a spate of non-combat mishaps. Their best pilots were not able to control the aircraft. The officials tried to find out the cause of these mishaps. They finally zeroed in on the design of the cockpit.
When the cockpit was originally designed in the late 1920s, the army engineers measured the physical dimensions of hundreds of pilots and created the cockpit to conform to the average of these aspects. Now, the US Air Force was of the opinion that these dimensions might no longer be appropriate.
So, they assigned the task of measuring the physical dimensions of the pilots to Lt Gilbert S Daniels. He measured 4,063 pilots on 10 physical dimensions to arrive at the average dimensions of a pilot. He then compared each pilot to the 'average pilot'. The outcome surprised everyone: out of 4,063 pilots, not even one was fit within the average range.
The solution was astonishingly cheap and straightforward: adjustable seats, adjustable foot pedals, adjustable helmet straps and flight suits. The operating principle was 'adjustable.' Isn't it the same with children at school? Isn't it true that no two students are the same and yet the teaching is designed for the class, much like the average cockpit?
Learning is still under the shadow of the Industrial Age - where children are not treated as individuals but part of an assembly line. The teacher still broadcasts the information. The students then learn by rote and then get labelled as weak or strong based on a test. Add to this the emphasis on uniformity and standardisation of curriculum and testing, and we have a recipe that fails to prepare the child for the world she or he will have to live in a decade later.
Hence, there is an urgent need for learning that is customised for the child. This may sound far-fetched but we have all experienced this while shopping online or even when order for food. We appreciated it when our individual needs were met. Customised learning in the classroom can be done efficiently through a credible assessmentâ€“feedback-remedial loop. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) stresses that impactful learning takes place when the teacher, through assessments, provides timely feedback to the learners. It also emphasises on corrective action based on the feedback.
This has been easier with the help of technology. For instance, Carl Weiman, a Noble Prize winner, used the wireless 'clicker' system. The process was fairly simple. The teachers would repeatedly ask multiple-choice questions during class, and students can reply immediately by using the 'clicker' devices. Depending on the nature of the wrong answer, the teacher would correct the students. If a large proportion of the class chose a wrong answer, students discussed among themselves and replied again. This 'clicker' mechanism ensured that the feedback was live and the remediation was immediate. Teachers experienced higher classroom engagement and better performance on the final tests.
Isn't it time that the systems be made for the child? It's one thing to say 'no two students are the same', it's another thing to put that into practice. Turning this picture into reality would require practical tools to ensure that every child is treated as an individual and not as a cog in the wheel. Teachers may shy away from customising learning only because they find the feedback loop both time taking and cumbersome. Just imagine the possibilities if we can digitise the feedback loop and put it in the hands of every teacher in the form of a tablet.
The schools and teachers are more than willing to help every child reach his or her potential; they only need tools - the right tools.
(The author is academic director, IMAX Academy, Benglauru)