Why do we see, most of us, schools or educational institutions as the only place where we can learn or gain knowledge or as most people would call educate? And what does education mean? Is it teaching syllabus prescribed information? Is it teaching how one must behave when one steps out of their house or as people call it civility?
Merriam Webster defines educate as “to develop mentally, morally, or aesthetically especially by instruction.” While I partly agree with the initial half of the definition, I detest the emphasis placed on “instruction.”
I partly agree because, to an extent, educating constitutes of mental, moral, and aesthetical aspects, but at the same time, I don’t hold the view that educating can be categorized. We cannot delineate the boundaries as to what mental, moral, or aesthetical is? These aspects exist without distinct boundaries. To state an analogy, Oceans do not have a distinct boundary, but we compartmentalized it to understand geography better. Events like La Ninia or El Ninio prove that oceans are anything but a separated mass of water.
I detest the emphasis placed on instruction because it represents our societies’ obsession with the teaching methods prevalent in schools. And why instruction must be the most preferred way to educate. One can learn through self-education- reading, watching videos, observing etc. And that is why learning never stops. Although educational institutions teach through instruction, it is not the only method to educate oneself.
For example, schools instruct students to behave in a certain manner. But, let us be honest, still, may students misbehave, hate to study and don’t care about these instructions.
Who will consider the distracting factors in class? Factors like:
Urge to talk
Schools impose on students to conform to a specific learning method. Students are doomed. What works for one student will not work for another. And we label students who don’t score well as dull/low I.Q. and demean them. We judge the students based on their scores of exams that are biased towards a particular group of students- who can memorize and vomit the stuff in the exam.
Learning was supposed to be fun. I read it somewhere that you learn best when you don’t know you are learning. But we are more concerned with scores rather than whether the student has understood or grasped the subject concepts.
From Kindergarten to Grade 8, I restrict myself to India because I have grown up here, many students score high-90’s or 100’s. It’s not difficult because rote learning can fetch you high scores in different subjects. And I am not talking about a few students who understand the concepts and score high.
Come Grade 9 and the students’ world is upended. Students, who were scoring a perfect 100, struggle to pass. Scores plummet. Why students falter in Grade 9? They have the same brain that they had in Grade 8.
Rote learning. While in earlier grades, rote learning works like a charm; it becomes useless when questions test concepts and require the students to apply interrelated concepts. The questions, particularly in science and math, are more numerical and the syllabus expands- rubber stretched to its maximum length.
The students are like unaware passengers of an aeroplane bound to crash because of its poor maintenance. These students have been doing what schools instructed them to do since Kindergarten. Parents are startled. They fail to come to terms with their children’s low scores.
Tuitions/Coaching centres thrive on this student-parent’s plight. Parents view coaching centres as saviours who can turn low scores into high scores as if they possess a magic wand. But even with the coaching centre’s help, students are helpless.
When will this change? Deep down, school authorities- teachers and principals- know that rote learning will not get the students far in their learning quest. Despite the authorities knowing the futility of rote learning, the authorities ignore the situation. Year after year, the story is repeated. The only difference is that it happens with different batch-students.
Why are educational institutions not changing their pedagogy? Have they become too comfortable with the status quo and don’t want to disrupt the norm or our teachers, not all of them, lack the requisite skills to teach in a way where students understand the concepts and can interrelate them?
50 students in a class. The ratio 50:1: 1 teacher teaching 50 students. I understand that the number is skewed against teachers. Having said that, when someone has signed-up for teaching that someone must understand that they are responsible for shaping a student’s future. One must not take up a teaching job as a last resort or a resting point while planning to switch career paths.
Critical thinking or asking whys’, hows’, whats’, must be the norm at school- it should become the second nature of students. And it can only happen when teachers trust their skills to answer any questions asked by students or even if teachers can’t answer the question right away, they can always research on the point and get back later. In the long run, I think what will help the students more is inculcating the habit of asking questions.
Beyond teachers and pedagogy what we must understand is no one method of learning exists. Just because schools or educational institutions teach through instruction, it does not transform into the most effective method. Learning never was, is or will be confined within the boundaries of any educational institution. My role model Benjamin Franklin was a self-educated man.
The bigger challenge is how do we instil in students an attitude of learning that transcends school boundaries. Many students-including me (used to)- hate books. How do we make learning a fun experience for them?