A silver lining in the clouds of schools...

Technology helps teachers cater to different learning abilities of the students.

Very often, newspapers contribute effectively to drawing room conversations, mainly by helping them be less laconic and more urgent and focused. There was one such article recently on government schools. It captured the current views of classrooms beautifully, traversing from single teacher schools to under-resourced primary schools to multi-tasking teachers. (In fact, can teachers be anything else but multitasking?)

If I could be so bold as to shine some hope into this conversation, government schools are in the unique position of having all the right impetus to improve. They have good teachers on their rolls. They have multi-age classrooms and, in the rest of the world, new pedagogy says that this is what all classrooms should be.

Common wisdom says that if schools do not change at all, then they are actually sliding backwards. Schools should change if they want to survive, more so for our government ones.

And yet, governments are standing on the edge of this decision, wondering if they should change. Meanwhile, in the country, students are leaving free education at public school classrooms in droves, forcing many government schools to shut down. This will put more teachers out of their jobs, and this is the last thing we need. Teachers are already in short supply, and nudging them out of their jobs is extremely counter-productive.

Needless to say, it is the education of the children at the bottom of the pyramid that will suffer. If education suffers, civic sense of the adults of the future will be impacted. Cities will sink in the urban filth that will gather around them, but more importantly, people will tend not to be educated into maintaining a strong democratic government in place. The wrong people could get elected. With really poor teaching, the government will not be able to generate jobs because they will not have workers of skill. It is clear that governments that are ineffectual in delivering education will eventually fall. Why is it that this obvious path of a downward spiral not apparent to everyone in government circles?

Let us now assume that the government actually begins to see that they have to change the education of their states. What then? Let us look at the logistics of the solution. The style of education that is used in schools today was introduced about 200 years ago. Let us start by assuming, against our better senses, that this is a good way to teach students in these times. 

A further look into the solution throws up some disturbing numbers. India has about 400 million students to be taught. Let us assume that we are going to need about 10 million classrooms, if we stuff 40 students in each classroom. Each classroom will, or should, have a teacher. This generates a need of about 10 million teachers.

At least 10 million teachers need professors of education and pedagogy and child psychology and history and physics and so on. If we can have 100 teachers per year, studying with one professor, we need 100,000 professors to educate the educators. Clearly, the logistics that we use today do not work in the face of these numbers.

This calls for a change of vision. If we bring in an intelligent technology, this huge training problem moves to a place that smells like a great solution. Every teacher can use technology in classrooms as an aide, and learn about how a certain lesson structure solves a learning problem for one student while helping another student have a learning moment. Every student in the classroom is captivated and captivated students learn. Was this not what learning spaces were designed for? Why have we cut out the teacher from being a learner in the same classroom where she teaches other students to learn? This can be a truly exciting place to be in.

Notice, however, that this is a package of two things, a process and a person working together. The technology is the accelerator of the process, but the teacher is the ‘everything else’. After all, all the learning moments in all our lives come from people. Yes, enabled by some activities like experiments and music, or discussions and planning. But the teacher is the song, the colour, the plan, the dance, the hope and the joy.

(The author is with Meghshala Trust, Bengaluru)

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A silver lining in the clouds of schools...

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