Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Seven Myths of Highly Ineffective Education Systems – Myth # 2 of 7

The Seven Myths That Make Education Difficult To Improve

See Myth # 1 of 7 here.

Myth # 2 – All children must attend school every day
If you’re from a poor family, there’s a lot more to life than just attending school! Siblings and domestic animals have to be cared for, parents have to be helped, essentials such as water or firewood have to be fetched, birds and animals kept away from the farm, you may need to migrate with your parents…. It’s not necessary that all this is a waste – in fact, despite the shadow child labour, a lot of this is also learning for life.  Children who are in a position to attend daily too might learn a lot if they spent a day or two every week doing things other than school – such as tending to gardens, pursuing a passion, trying to earn something by putting their learning to use, solving a neigbhourhood problem, helping their siblings and parents, making things…. Or helping their underprivileged classmates so that they can spend more time in school.

The kind of focused (and therefore limited) scholastic learning our ‘advanced’ children end up doing has resulted in several luminaries pointing out that (even from institutions such as the IITs) our graduates are ‘unemployable’. One might add they haven’t developed many other aspects of their personality – including civic consciousness.

However, what this requirement of daily attendance does is to marginalize great numbers of children, since the teaching-learning process tends to be sequential (rather than re-iterative). If you miss out an earlier part, you can’t ‘keep up with the class’ and slowly head for being left out or pushed out or dropping out. Effectively, the school is saying: if you are poor and cannot attend regularly (as the we require), you shall not learn. Instead of: attend when you can, we’ll find a way to support you and make sure you learn (which is what the business of the school really is).

There are a few walk-in centres in the country (though of course only for poor and/or working children) and some of them do manage to attract and keep children for a long time even though there is no compulsion to attend. That kind of flexibility is perhaps too much to hope for in the school system. Enabling the school to be more responsive to children’s real living situations, though – that’s both possible and desirable. It needs a spiraling rather than linear flow, a variety and range of materials, and providing children engaging activities in many of which they will work on their own, and the use of a tracking system to keep record of progress. This gels with every provision of the RTE, with expectations put forward in our National Curriculum Framework, and much that contemporary understanding of pedagogy tells us. However, to make it happen what we need is not methods and materials but a way to get rid of this myth and the fear that everything will fall apart if the school seeks to respond (by adapting to children’s needs) rather than coerce (by making children adjust to its needs).

Any suggestions?

Tomorrow, Myth # 3 of 7

PS - Here's a response to a reader that might be of use.

  • Sundara Velavan Could you please elaborate on the origins of this myth, sir and the underlying attitudes and beliefs from which this myth stems forth?
  • Subir Shukla Sundara Velavan, I'm not really a historian of education, but from what little I know, for centuries formal learning took place in terms of the school room or gurukul. These were places where children of different ages came together, the teacher set the curriculum (i.e. decided who would learn what and how much, and when they had completed their studies), different students did different things, and sometimes advanced students were in charge of those beginning. 

    It was in the military schools of Prussia that the notion of dividing children into year-wise 'class' came about - it was a means of 'disciplined' learning leading to later military discipline, and offered a predictable means to knowing when a certain number of soldiers/officers would be available. 

    By putting all the children of the same age together and making them all learn the same thing over given periods, it seemed so organised, appealing, and management-friendly that the idea spread like wildfire. The practice is not very old, having originated (I think, but can't be sure at this time) in early 19th century. In about 120 years, it became so widely established that the it appears to most of us as the only valid mode of teaching children. It was also widely adopted by the church, which set up the earliest schools in most part of the world, in the wake of colonial powers. In some ways, the way the church was education - as preparation for later life of a certain kind - it was not very different form the military view. 

    In the military academy, the focus was not so much on education as on training. Conformity, cooperation, being at the same level as others was obviously highly needed for the kind of military that was emerging. With the growth of industrialization, this way of organising children into learning groups naturally became more common, as most of them were being prepared for certain limited forms of professions, where following instructions given the industrialist was the key expectation. The later use of assembly-line as a means of 'efficiency' served to re-inforce this further. People still talk proudly of themselves as being 'products' of certain institutions. (In the elite schools such as Eton or the Doon School in India, the real differentiation was - and is - outside the class in the range of activities to choose from, as well as the variety of subjects students could choose - such choice not being available to their less privileged peers. The tutorial system they use also provides a way to address the diversity of needs.)

    Not surprisingly, this same-size-fits-all approach has carried over in the name of preparing children to be citizens (following orders, being 'disciplined'), being social (listening to elders, obeying rules, not being different from others), and seeing themselves as the vehicles for fulfilling their 'superior's' wishes (which is why 'yours obediently' and 'please tell me what to do sir and I will do it' are considered highly desirable traits). Because this is convenient to adults/elders and those in positions of power, the myth continues


Anjali Noronha said...

Hi Subir ,
Just to add - the graded classroom was also a product of the industrial revolution with assembly line production where atomising holistic work was seen as more efficient . An American education supervisor visiting Germany was impressed with this and took it back to the States with him. Your timing is about right. Multiagency group self paced learning situations are definitely qualitatively better than mono grade systems and instead of capitalising on the phenomena of small schools as they exist in India today and using them to our advantage - we think it's a disadvantage. The problem is not with the multiagegroup multi grade class situation but the technology of class wise textbooks and curriculum which constrain the teacher. Can we develop a movement for more flexible learning systems?

Rakesh Nvndsr said...

Totally agree! And have always the feel that why all thechildren must learn something and a same things in a time bound... !