Saturday, 20 October 2012

Why don’t they want to study in school?

Toying with Education

Just the other day, an ex-colleague of mine was lamenting about how difficult it had become to teach a bunch of kids in classes nine and tenth and how they just didn’t seem to be interested in any lesson being taught. He went on to say that his students wanted to do just about anything but learn! I couldn’t help but smile at him seeing how worked up he was, and it showed that he was really concerned about the situation! He went so far as to say that he was determined to so something about the whole situation! When I asked him what he had planned out, he replied that he had thought of talking to his students to drum up some words of advice to his students.
After a few days, I called my friend and asked him if he had had any progress with the students, and he told me that had talked to his students about the Guru–Shishya tradition. He went further and told me that his students accepted that they were not paying attention in class because their minds were not in studies, they were just not interested in studies, they did not want to write anything, and they wanted the home work to be posted on the net. The situation had become rather uncontrollable, what with one of the boys taking up to whistling in class and making noises of barking dogs, and another rather creative bellow of a buffalo! It was interesting to note that there was a rather effective synergy between the students when it came to creating noise, probably with the express purpose of showing that they were in charge of the class and that teaching could progress only if they wished to learn! My ex-colleague later told me that no day passed without complaints from other teachers. The complaint was common, the boys did not let any teaching take place, they went to the wash room frequently, suckled on their water bottles all the time like little babies feeding from milk bottles, when they laughed, they laughed for no reason at all, and their laughter was like no other laughter, it sounded like a forced laughter, and often sounded like a bark or a cry of despair! He went on to state that the teachers had become fed up, and that some of the lady teachers were even close to tears!
During this period, I had begun reading a rather fascinating book titles Divasvapna by Gijubhai Badheka (the famous Gujarati teacher and educationist) in which the principal character happens to be an enterprising teacher who wishes to undertake experiments in Education. After getting the required permission from the Education Officer, he takes  up the teaching of one section of class four in a primary school.  The book describes the various disappointments and embarrassments he had to face at the hands of his pupils. The descriptions about the mischief of those boys studying in class four seemed to find an exact match in the descriptions that my ex-colleague had given me about his students who were studying in class ten. The only difference was that they were classes apart, Gijubhai wrote about students studying in an elementary class while my colleague was complaining about students studying in class tenth. I wonder if students of class tenth, (that he was teaching) had not perhaps regressed to an earlier age as was evinced by the type of mischief they resorted to! After all students of class tenth are much older than students studying in class four, so what then was making these students of class ten behave like students of class four? I told my ex-colleague to read Divasvapna  which I gladly leant to him although it was the English version, and he was a teacher of Sanskrit!
The next time we met was after one week, my ex-colleague told me that he had read the book in a couple of hours, and he came to the conclusion that education had become rather dry and uninteresting. He advocated the concept of joyful learning, but then expressed his apprehensions about experimenting too much at the senior levels especially because of the amount of syllabus that had to be covered. Story-telling could help ease stress and perhaps created the right atmosphere for the lesson, but then it should have to be done in such a manner so as not to distract the students from the lesson in hand! Moreover, the comprehensive continuous  formative evaluation or C.C.E. would have to be taken into account before launching an experiment in teaching methods!When students reach class tenth, then grades give way to marks, and C.C.E. gives way to paper and pen modes of evaluation. This is a rather abrupt transition for students of class eleven which leads to a sense of confusion. However, to get back to class tenth and the difficulties my ex-colleague was facing, after he did some in-depth study he came to the conclusion that there were many factors contributing to the rather disruptive behaviour of the students in his class. One major factor was that some of the children had a very bad schedule for the whole day. One student was allowed by his parents to stay awake till 3:00 a.m to “study” according to them. Another student had to go for coaching and had no time for rest. Yet another issue dealt with the fact that very few students played with friends at home because of their hectic coaching schedules, so they liked to catch up with their social activities at school , where their classmates were their “friends!” One student played with the two pet dogs at home, and the parents thought that was all the company he needed at home! The advent of formative assessments, in which most children got good marks with the least of study and preparation had made the students rather confident about passing on to the next class! Some of the students even confessed that they came to school to have fun and socialise with their friends, because they studied at home, and their parents had hired tutors to teach them at home! Unfortunately, in spite of C.C.E., parents are forcing their children into a rat-race, and though formative assessments have reduced the burden of paper and pen tests, what happens at home however is that the child continues to go to coaching institutes, and the child continues to attend tuitions. This has resulted in the chid becoming  a victim of stress of studies and so he tends to resort to disruptive behaviour in class. This is aided by the fact that most of the students feel the same way, they are tired, exhausted, stressed out, and cannot take in any more studies! Although our policies try to take away the stress from learning, the pressure that parents put on their children to get better marks, and to aim for premium careers has meant that the rat-race is still on! My ex-colleague commented that  “joyful learning can only be achieved when there is a partnership between parents and the school, where parents trust that the teachers are doing their best and not resort to the excessive burden of coaching and tuitions.
An in depth study of various innovative techniques for making class room teaching more effective lead to the identification of the story-telling method, simulations, use of toys, showing of movies, and experiments. These however are subject specific. While experiments are done mostly in pure sciences, simulations can be used in sciences, computer education and social sciences. Story telling, and roll-playing can be used in languages and almost any subject! While, no doubt, these methods are interesting and innovative, there is a danger that they might lead the student away from the topic, they might make the student over-enthusiastic in the method itself and not the topic of study. While experiments can be conducted  in the lower classes till fifth or sixth, we tend to adopt the more traditional methods of teaching or pedagogy as we progress towards the senior classes because of the time bound syllabus, and the need to clear concepts within a specific period. By the time students reach twelfth class, the penultimate class at the school level, they have to be equipped with skills to fend  for themselves in  the wider world, the world of competitions and the world of marks. To be successful their concepts should be clear, they should be confident about taking challenges, they should have enough awareness and knowledge in their respective subject areas. It is expected that they should be able to spell correctly, do mathematical calculations, and know about the world they live in!

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