Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Musings of a Facilitator-Is it Dementia or just Stress?

On the way to another class I was accosted by one of my senior most students in the school, he was rather worried when he asked me, “Sir, do I look like a junkie?” The question surprised me naturally, and taking a moment to answer I said, “ No, not at all!” Relieved, he returned to the class lighter than he had been. On yet another occasion, I was interrupted at work by another of my junior students in my faculty. He incidentally wanted to talk to me privately, and not in front of the other teacher. Noticing his insistence I reluctantly got up and accompanied him to the corridor where he asked me a question which again surprised me. He first asked me, “Sir, what is dementia?” Taken aback, I took a moment to think and then said, “Well, it is a mental ailment, why are you asking me such a question?” He replied, “Sir, I have problems in recalling things, especially things that have just occurred.” Smiling, since I knew him to be one of my brilliant students, I said to him, (with all honesty) “you are an intelligent student and you will do very well in life, don’t worry!” Trusting me he went  back to his class with a lighter mind.
It is strange how impressionable  students are and how their peers use half baked knowledge to put them down. I remember my elders telling me that half knowledge is dangerous knowledge. It is exactly this half knowledge that peers use to put down their friends. It is a kind of psychological or emotional bullying which is as harmful as physical bullying. I have observed how even the most promising of all students have deteriorated down the months because of the need to blend in with the rest of the group and laugh just for the heck of it, even if you were not on to the joke itself! The latest trend doing the rounds in the senior classes especially the science students is that it is not done to study English, because in any case you only require a minimum of 65% marks to be eligible for a competition for admission to Engineering or Medicine. This is a fallacy, and I constantly remind them that a sound knowledge of English, (not limited to use of slangs, like, “thingy” and the most unique of accents ever heard) is a must for everyone, including Engineers and Doctors. In a recently conducted Entrance exam for Engineering, I observed how some students were literally struggling with the questions because they couldn’t understand the questions. So poor was their comprehension of the questions that they had missed quite a few questions! Unfortunately, students who can do well are swayed by the half baked knowledge of their fellow students who convince them that at the class twelfth Grade level, there is no need to really spend time in studying English because what counts ultimately is the marks they get in Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Maths.
Unfortunately, the English Syllabus in India has undergone numerous changes down the year, with the C.B.S.E. introducing new lessons and removing existing ones. The shift from teaching of Formal Grammar to the teaching of Communicative or Interactive Grammar and the deviation from the teaching of  of  formal Grammar has resulted in  confused students whose concepts are not very clear. Similarly, a shift from subjective type of questions to more objective type of questions like multiple choice type of questions has lead to students becoming overconfident and  careless while studying languages! So, whether it is doubts about dementia, or whether someone looks like a junkie, it is all about a confusion that might somehow be the result of too much experimentation and changes in the syllabus. The subsequent changes in the syllabus has resulted in the need to change the Pedagogy so that there is optimal delivery of content. The reality is that Pedagogy has not matched pace with the changes in the syllabus and introduction of new lessons. The student who asked me whether  thought he had dementia, was probably only suffering from stress and confusion resulting from having to prepare for the changed pattern of evaluation in grade eleven with more stress being put on concept clarification and recall. The student was not able to remember a few things because suddenly after coming form grade ten he realised that the formative assessments had been replaced by paper and pen Summative Assessments!
By the time a student comes to grade Twelve, he is more confused than he ever was, this is because now he has to appear for his first board exams. The transition from the system of Continuous Assessments with a component of four Formative assessments and two Summative Assessments to a system of terminal exams in grade eleventh, and the Single Board exam in Grade twelve is too sudden, probably driving students into a confused state, making some of them look like “Junkies”.
If we really want to make our educational system even more progressive, we should go all the way and not stop at all! Take for example the choice of subjects which the student appears for in the grade eleven exams and the twelfth Board exams should require a re-think. English which today is a compulsory subject should be made optional at the Board level. If finally students of Science are not going to pay attention to a subject which they think has no relevance, then the Board had better do a re-think about retaining the subject as compulsory at the twelfth Board level! Students have often asked me about the relevance of reading a novel in class. If the novel had been introduced by the Board simply for self-study, then the marks allotment to the novel (15 marks) should be reduced! Similarly, if the objective of the Board is not Specialization at the twelfth board level, late though it would be, then we might as well do away with board exams at the twelfth grade level. At least then the students will be able to focus more on preparation for entrance exams like JEE, AIPMT, B.Tech. Cat, ISET, AIEEE…etc.

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