Education: How to make tough subjects interesting

Parents and teachers should work alongside students to help them develop interest in subjects they find difficult to study

Periodic revision can help students become more confident in subjects that they find difficult.

I often ask groups of students to raise their hands if they have at least one subject that they just cannot connect with, comprehend or find any interest in. I have to look around to see a small minority of children who do not raise their hands.

We are aware that every child has different capabilities and a unique thinking pattern. There are those who can think very logically, and there are those who if you give the numbers ‘2’ and ‘2’ and ask what they add up to, they will put the two twos together and say, “why not 22?” On the other hand, our education system is designed to make every child literate in all relevant subjects for all-round learning.

Hence, at least till Class 10, barring a few education Boards who do give choices, every child has to learn two or three languages, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies. It is obvious that we cannot expect all students to be proficient in such a wide variety of subjects. So, children, particularly as they move towards high school, tend to have favourite and boring subjects.

Motivate the student

Unfortunately, many parents resort to pushing their children to study the ‘difficult’ subjects more and more. They send them for rigorous tuition, extending the hours to study the subjects they detest and as a result, making them more averse to these subjects. At times, some teachers target children scoring low marks and scold them publicly, further adding to the loss of motivation. When these methods don’t get results, the child is labelled as lazy and irresponsible. This is obviously not the right way of getting a child to learn the subject.

The issue can be resolved if parents and teachers spend some time working on improving study techniques, enhancing interest, reviewing progress or lack of it periodically, and work as a team to increase the child’s motivation and interest in that subject. Here are some methods that can get visible results:  

  • Explain to the student that all subjects put together lead to holistic and all-round development. The subjects have been evolved based on years of research, constant monitoring, and evaluation of outcomes of the learning. Tell the student that, sometimes, a difficult journey has to be undergone and tolerated if one wishes to reach a goal.
  • Explain that every subject will be useful in some way in the future. For example, many students who aspire to become pilots do not realise that Geography is as important as Maths or Physics in their success. A student who wishes to become a doctor can be assured that after some time she need not study Maths which she does not like. At the same time, bring to her notice that basic Maths will be needed even in the medical profession.
  • Identify the subject the student dislikes and work out its utility in different aspects of life. Do a joint exploration to find out the most unusual ways in which a subject can be useful to a person in adult life. For example, a student of mine who was keen to study in Germany found that he could pick up German very easily because he learnt Sanskrit and found that the grammatical structure of both the languages are very similar!
  • To help a child succeed in a subject he or she finds difficult, instead of pushing to study more, check his or her study methodology, and see what improvements can be brought about. If the child can overcome initial fears through proven techniques such as mind mapping, and starts scoring even marginally higher marks, he or she will overcome the aversion towards the subject.
  • It is ideal if the student is made to study the boring subject at time of peak energy levels, even if it is for a very short time every now and then.
  • Mind Mapping is a simple but effective way to prevent a child from getting overwhelmed or demotivated from studying a subject. This is a graphical way to represent what you have learned. So, take a large chart paper and write the name of the subject in a circle in the centre. Then, draw lines in all directions to make circles of various topics and sub-topics. With a pencil, classify each sub-topic into areas like ‘I know everything’, ‘I know something’, and ‘I know nothing’. Doing this can help them see which topics need more attention and work on improving them one by one.
  • Periodic revision plays an important part in the retention of boring topics. When starting to study and when winding up a study session, the student should be asked to revise the difficult or boring portions. This prevents the common problem of children going ‘blank’ at the time of exams.
  • Parents and teachers should acknowledge and appreciate even an incremental progress made by the student, and at times, even for just putting in some effort. Such encouragement is especially important when a student feels pressured to do well. Putting them down and scolding them can have a very bad impact and the child might be unable to do well in the subject at any stage later on.
  • Finally, teachers and parents need to take a humane approach to the fact that a student not doing well in a particular subject may be due to his or her intelligence being in other areas, hence even hard work does not yield expected results. Accept and acknowledge very slow progress, and stand by the student to show him or her that you are working as a team. Doing so will enable students to overcome the hurdles they face to whatever extent possible, and eventually move on to other subjects, courses and career which he or she is good at and enjoys.

(The author is founder, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)

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