Sunday, September 2, 2018

Learning challenges of three ages

In today’s constantly changing world of work, if there is one ability that determines the child's capacity to deal with future, it is his capability to learn effectively. This is called Learning Coefficient – LCF. Just like we develop any skill with practice, child’s LCF also increases when the child utilises his/her existing capacity more efficiently. Unfortunately, schools and coaching classes practice rote learning – memorization technique based on repetition. Hence it becomes parent's responsibility to help child in enhancing his/her LCF by practicing meaningful learning i.e. learning by understanding the meaning.

Good thing is that child learns through his natural urge of understanding the world. Jean Piaget, the first Swiss psychologist to study cognitive development in child, suggests that child learns by constructing his mind-map brick by brick. This is called theory of constructivism. If parents understand this theory well, they can contribute to child’s learning ability.


While constructing his/her mind map, a child develops certain ability and faces a specific hurdle according to his/her age. The three distinct stages are: Preschool (up to age 6), Elementary School (Class I to V) and Secondary School (Class VIth to Xth). Parent's response to child’s achievements and challenges at every stage influences childs learning ability.

If parents wants to help his/her child develop his LCF, they must understand cognitive and emotional hurdles of every stage and respond accordingly.

Preschool stage (up to age six)

Until age of six, child constructs his mind-map by using extensive motor coordination (hand and eye coordination), language-learning (use of mother tongue to communicate), and sensorial development (use of five senses in understanding the world). All these three developments help the child to construct his mind-map 'unconsciously'. At this stage, parents face two hurdles in helping the child to increase his Learning Coefficient (LCF).

One hurdle is to abstract. Building intelligence of child is helping him to abstract or differentiate essence from non-essence. To 'learn' numbers, child must learn to abstract 'quantity' in the number symbol. For instance, in the number symbol of 36, he must learn to abstract the quantity of three tens and six units or understand that 36 is larger than 26. For a child below six, it is very difficult to abstract because he can only see and relate to concrete 'items' like number symbols.

But the second hurdle of 'emotions' is much bigger for a preschool child. Due to emotions, preschool-child is highly distracted and experiences huge stress of failing whenever he takes up a new thinking challenge. Without helping child to negotiate his emotions (or increasing his EQ) parent cannot help child in developing his IQ.

Dr Maria Montessori, an Italian born physician and educator, discovered unique method of negotiating these two hurdles which is why her education method is so popular in the world. Parents, with some expert guidance, can use this method now to help their preschool child.

Elementary school group (class I to V)

If you have missed helping your child at Preschool stage, your child has to develop his/her 'thinking' mind from scratch.

On the one hand, child's 'thinking' engine is ready to negotiate the challenge at this age. But, on the other hand, her 'emotional' engine is yet to start 'ticking'. These children therefore require extensive help in coordinating the emotional development (which is EQ) with the development of thinking mind, which is IQ. Increasing LCF is like climbing on two ladders: IQ and EQ. One cannot go too much ahead on one ladder. One has to coordinate both. Learning coefficient increases when the child coordinates this climbing of two ladders.

At this age, the child can understand instructions. Parents mistakenly therefore believe that 'teaching' is equivalent to 'learning'. They overuse 'instructions'; they bombard the child with explanations which the child cannot understand. Unable to understand, the child feels inadequate. Either he accepts it as his 'fault', or he blames his parents for being too domineering. In both situations, child becomes defensive and stops learning.

Parents have to understand the child psychology and respond differently. They have to wait for the right 'moments' that emerge in the daily encounters with child. In order to spot these moments, parents first must become keen observers of child. But observation is the first step. They must also learn to channelize their 'advice' that suits a given moment. This is the skill of facilitation. Parents therefore must be keen observers and facilitators to help their Elementary stage child.

This stage is important for another reason. At the end of this stage, the child makes a subconscious 'conclusion' in dealing with his life. Alfred Alder, founder of the school of individual psychology, calls it 'lifestyle' conclusion. This conclusion hinders or helps the learning of next stage: Am I capable to make my own mind-maps? Can I negotiate the hurdle of my emotional mind? Can I use challenges to develop my thinking mind? Are friends to help or hinder? Are elders to guide or instruct?

Secondary School stage (Class VI to X)

At this stage, the child's thinking mind is better prepared to abstract. He starts learning algebra, physics and other abstract subjects. Because he has started learning to think, he has also started explaining his emotions, which helps his EQ development.

If the child's lifestyle conclusion at the end of earlier stage is dysfunctional, the child will not listen to parental advice in this age even if the parent has honest intentions and well developed skills.

In this stage, parents also must understand the process of abstraction in details. Without understanding this, a parent cannot find ideas to help his child utilise his learning capacity further. For instance, without understanding the abstraction involved in numbers, the parent cannot help the child unfold the mystery involved in unraveling prime numbers. Without understanding the abstraction involved in using language, he cannot help the child in telling a compelling story. Without understanding abstraction, Parents also cannot increase child's learning capacity. They are stuck.

But the bigger hurdle that Parent has to overcome is to help the child process his emotions. Like a preschool child, Secondary school child is flooded with emotions due to his hormonal changes. Adolescent child also identifies more with his peers in this age. If parents understand these changes in his emotional make-up, they help construct a resilient and strong child. But when parents fail to understand, they unwittingly construct their child as emotionally-fragile and diffident. And without processing emotions parents cannot help their child in finding their sources of motivation.


By understanding the principles of learning and child psychology, parent can make a huge difference in their child's learning ability, LCF. Even if they fail to help the child in earlier stage, they can catch up in the next stage by investing more effort. But when parents try to help their child without understanding these principles, despite their good intentions, they unknowingly obstruct their child’s learning ability.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Learning is not pushing the child in the water....

Today, I was sitting near a swimming pool. It was painful for me to watch fathers trying to teach 'swimming' their 5 year old children. I watched three examples which should never be followed if you want your child to learn anything.

  • One father was constantly urging his child to do different things to expose him to different challenges of swimming. " Jump in the pool. I will catch you". " Catch me on the back and we will swim". The child was howling in a very big voice and constantly saying "No".
  • Second father was over-helping the child. Child went to jump. Father was telling him  "Come slowly or you will slip". Or when the child was using 'life jacket' to swim, father was constantly 'ensuring' that his buckles are strapped properly. 
  • Third father was too impatient with his child. Even when the child was swimming well with his life jacket, his father was urging the child to take up new activities such as " Close your mouth and go in the water". The child did it, but gulped lot of water when he went inside. 

Three principles of learning are

  • Learning is voluntary. Child volunteers when he learns to overcome his 'fear of failing'. Child slowly learns to 'overcome' this fear by 'expressing' his fear honestly without hiding it under the mask of " I am superman". But when we do not 'acknowledge' his fear, he is stuck. He stops volunteering for new activities.   
  • Learning happens when the child gets 'minimum help'. Do not help the child beyond what is necessary. Second father was doing this. When the child 'discovers' his way, he cherishes the learning and wants to repeat it again. By helping him too much, we rob the child of this joy. And also indirectly stop him from 'relying on his own capacity'
  • Learning happens when the child is just stretching beyond his 'zone'. Third father was constantly forcing the child to go above his challenge zone. It is true that the child will not learn if he does not cross the challenge zone. But pushing him too high above his challenge , when he is not ready, is inviting trouble. One has to strike a fine balance between 'too high' and 'just high' challenge.  Today's modern parents make this mistake a lot. They buy too many 'kits' for which the child is not ready. This only makes the child doubt his own capacity.  

Swimming is perhaps a best activity for the parent to help the child learn because swimming has a 'short' feedback loop of learning. But it is important to remind ourselves that Learning is always done by the child. We can only 'enable' the environment around the child to help him learn. Patience, planning and right help are needed for our children to learn. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Use Lesson study method to improve teacher-centric method of education

If you want your student to learn, Teacher-centric method is inherently more difficult method because it is focused on the delivery of content, not on the student's understanding of content. We have earlier seen how the Swedish method of getting feedback from the student after the content is delivered in the class is one way of improving teacher-centric method of education. 

Here is another method. It is called Lesson study practice in Japan. Read this link to understand more about it. It is basically a method that is aligned with inquiry-based teaching. 

Lesson study can be bifurcated in six steps and should be done by a group of teachers together. Here are the steps in short. For more detailed steps, go through this pdf.

Step 1: Identify the teaching problem one wants to solve. The problem could be 'teaching fractions', or teaching division with remainders, or teaching subtraction where one has to carry forward the 'ten' like 31 minus 13. The problem could also be of retention. For instance, students, after being taught a subject in Physics, say a Lesson on measuring Reflection of Light , do not remember the content while writing the answer sheet.

Step 2: Teachers should discuss and dialogue with each other and find out the 'exact problem' that the teachers are facing. Talk with teachers outside the school to understand the difficulties that student face. That will help the teacher 'scope' the problem in a better way. 

Step 3: Do some 'research' to understand the issues in more detail and specifically how other teachers have 'solved' the difficulties identified in the problem, if any. This step may require an 'outside consultant' to locate the research papers so that the third-person objective analysis can be done. 

Step 4: Design a Lesson plan that will help the students to 'understand' the lesson in a more effective manner. Teachers will also list down the different 'measurements' that will help the teacher to 'measure' the effectiveness of teaching plan. Will it be a test after the lesson? Or will it be a specific question which is indirect? 

Step 5: Teach the 'lesson' according to the lesson-plan to one class. While teaching, one teacher will teach, while rest of the teachers will observe. The observers should focus on the student's learning, not on the teacher's teaching. 

Step 6: Incorporate the feedback of the observers and improve the lesson plan. Use the new Lesson plan to deliver the lesson. 


Lesson study method is meant to improve 'teaching', not the 'teachers'. This method is more difficult to implement because the teachers have to sit together and openly accept their problems to find better solutions. Teachers often do not like doing this.

This is not a quick-fix method. Schools often send teachers for 'training' and hope that the training will directly help the students, or they will call an "Expert teacher" to give ideas and tips of good teaching. In this method of Lesson study, the teachers are forced to think, take feedback from others, and improve teaching. 

As you would have guessed, a big benefit of this method is that the relationship between the teachers also change: they become more collaborative, invite feedback on their teaching method from other teachers, and more importantly focus on the student on how they learn.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Which rope ladder design should we use to enable learning of child?

Here is a beautiful symbol of teacher-centric education. Watch this rope ladder put in a school. Do you think the child will learn to climb the ladder? At the end of six months, how many children do you think must have climbed this ladder?

Teacher-centric design: Rope ladder with granite flooring

Answer: This design almost guarantees that no child will learn to climb the rope ladder. In six months, not a single child could climb the rope ladder. Why ? 

One, because the floor is granite, the teacher wants to help the child to climb the ladder every time so that the fall may not hurt him so much. This dependency cripples the child in choosing his own time to climb. Two, because the teacher is helping ( we call it teaching ) the child to climb, the child never learns when to leave the rope with his hand or when to push his legs to climb the next rung even though the teacher may instruct him. Three, until he does it repetitively, the child will never build enough 'muscle strength' to balance his body. But the child cannot do this repetitively, because he has to depend on you every time to attempt it. Four, the child even if he had initial confidence, slowly loses his confidence that he can do it on his own and then becomes over-dependent on you while climbing. This is the final nail in the coffin of learning.  

Now, let us change the design a bit. The ground is of sand. 

Student-centric design: Rope ladder with sand flooring

Now the child can climb on his own. With no help from teacher, the child can learn to coordinate his hands and legs faster.  More importantly, the child can do this repetitively as many times as she wishes. This helps the child to build her muscle strength making it more and more easier to climb. At the end of six months, more than 50% of the child were climbing the rope ladder upto 5 steps. Some were climbing upto 2 steps. (By the way, this is the real record of a school where this was installed) 

Lesson : Design the ' education system' to enable learning

In education, the design is the most important element, not teachers, nor curriculum ( SSC, CBSE, ICSE or...) nor infrastructure ( e-learning, computers), nor extra curricular activities ( like horse riding, swimming or). All these elements are 'tools' to achieve the final end-objective of enabling learning of the child.

Take the 4 design elements of new rope ladder design. 1>You simply must give 'freedom' to the child to climb as many times as he/she wishes. You do not need a 'class of rope climbing' at fixed time and of fixed interval. 2> You need 'fail-safe' method to ensure that even failed trials will not physically harm the child. More importantly, you need a system of not punishing the child after his failed attempts. Because, if you punish his mistakes, he will stop trying. 3> You need to give freedom to repeat it as long as the child masters the climbing. Not when you want him to stop climbing 4> And you do not need 'grading' system to find who climbed how many steps. Only when the child wants to become an expert climber, you may set up a 'grading' system to measure his progress. Or you may hire 'experts' to train him. In other words, the system should be 'customisable' for a student. In short, student-centric.

Where are the designers of education system please? Schools do not need smart teachers, or sophisticated technology, or brilliant infrastructure to help the child. We want designers who can 'put' all this elements - teachers, technology, infrastructure -  together in enabling learning of the child, and not to perform better teaching. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Ideas for injecting student centricness in teacher-centric schools

Teacher centric schools, the most popular format of schools in India, often suffer from one big disadvantage. As teacher teaches students in a group, he cannot customise his 'instructions' for each student to ensure that student 'gets' it. Some student learn, some do not. Child-centric schools like Montessori do not face this problem, because each student is 'addressed' separately by a teacher.

Can teacher-centric schools do something about this? For instance, the best teacher-centric schools in the world, the schools in Finland, have one of the best system to counter one of the central weakness of teacher-centric system. They assess every student immediately after the lesson, spot the lagging student, and then do immediate correction through an alternate teacher.

Another BIG idea that can help a school is to guide student based on his/her strengths and preferences. How can schools do this?

Schools can use Student Guide to help them.

Role of Student Guide : His primary role should be to help the student 'discover' his potential abilities, nurture it using different support systems, and use corrections in the nurturing by monitoring the student's progress. Many schools currently have Psychological counselors, who counsel 'mentally sick' students. Student Guide however should coach 'mentally healthy' students and help him prevent sickness instead of correcting after getting sickness.

Tasks of Student Guide: Student Guide will have 4 main tasks:

1. Profile every student in the school : Profile every student to understand his/her strengths, preferences, study habits, learning blindspots and challenges. More importantly, this should not be done through standard psychometric testing, because these 'snapshot photos' are too static and do not capture the dynamic changes of a child ( at least in India). Instead, this should be done through 'interactive sessions', meaningful engagements, and multiple observational inputs from teachers, students friends. This profiling can be done only for students beyond 7th/8th  class to ensure that students guidance can be focused and deep enough to yield results.

2. Guide students and their parents to unfold their abilities : Use the profiling information to guide student on a path to nurture those strengths. Because a student is too young, he also needs support from his 'family support' system. This includes enabling the student to gain the three core skills of self-starter: planning, communication and self-management. Ideally, this should be incorporated in the basic method of teaching. But , if it is not possible, external 'crucible' interventions can be used.

3. Utilise subject teachers in nurturing these strengths : Enable subject teachers , like physics, maths, language and History to nurture the student's strengths. For instance, helping the teachers to understand the development of three 3 key abilities and what can teachers do to build them in their given subject. The two connections that teachers can help the student are building real life connection of a topic and showing how the topic connects with other subjects. Not every school may be able to utilise teachers due to readiness of the teachers. In that scenario, external teachers can be used to support the school teachers. Many schools use Maths Lab and Science Lab to help their student nurture their specific logical abilities.

4. Fine tune the guidance by monitoring the students progress ( or lack of progress) so that the student gains self confidence in his own abilities. A student whose abilities are rewarded by the school, such as in Science and Maths, do not face this problem. But student with 'different abilities' often suffers from poor self confidence. Such students often need to see the 'ideal path' as well as the 'possible destinations' that their abilities will help them reach. More than anything, student must become a self-starter, who can chose his own direction when the time comes and then has the 'necessary skills' to execute those decisions.


Having worked in 'Talent identification and nurturing' for last 10 years, i have found that the role of schools is not in identifying or nurturing talent, but in exploring cognitive abilities in different domains (arts, science, history, language ) and ensure that the requisite abilities are learnt. Therefore the suggested role of Student guide is not 'talent identification', but 'abilities exploration'.

School should also take sufficient time to find the right Student Guide, because this field is fraught with experts who have the 'education', but lack sufficient 'experience' to work in this field.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

School education is only about achieving one central purpose

You see different methods of school education: teacher versus student centric, learning versus development oriented, practical versus theoretical focus and on and on. And there are various combinations that one can devise, depending on one's ingenuity, objective and student community. But ultimately, how should one evaluate these different practices? Is there any benchmark? Here is one 'gold' benchmark.

I think that the purpose of any school education are achieving three ends singly or together:  1>Help the child to understand the 'process' of learning. 2> Help him become a self-starter. 3> Help the child to understand the universe better. 

How far our schools help our children to achieve these end objectives? Let us look at the objectives in the reverse order. 

1. Third objective: Help the child to understand the universe better 

If you pause and look at these three end objectives, it is obvious that most of the school education systems are not meant to achieve any of these three ends. Their sole purpose is to help the student to answer the known questions in the prescribed academic content, be it mathematics, science or geography, and get better marks in the final exam. These schools do not even help the student to apply the content in understanding the universe. 

New schools, i have observed, emerge only to fulfill this objective. Some experimental schools for instance help the student to understand the content better by applying them in real schools. For instance, by helping them understand how 'sugar and charcoal' are same in chemical composition, they help understand one 'essential aspect of universe'. Or by understanding that sun takes 365 plus some hours to traverse the earth, it helps them understand why an year consist of 365 days and why there is a leap year after four years?  It is surprising that some content like accounts, taxation, and public policies are just not introduced to the child. 

2. First objective: Help the student to understand his/her process of learning

We have forgotten that the first purpose of education is help the student understand the process of learning, not the content. Content, such as mathematics, biology, or language is useful only because it helps us understand the process of learning better. That is why it is important to understand the process of finding a solution, not just get the final solution. 

Please read this interview of a school teacher which helps the student to learn the process of learning. This school, called the democratic school, employs student-centric method of learning. In this school, student drives his own learning. It is teachers job to help the student understand his process of learning, instead of learning the content. As an educator, we use the same student-centric method of learning in Montessori and it creates children who are better equipped to face the challenges of learning, than learning something by rote.

3. Second objective: Help the student become a self-starter

Becoming a self starter makes a student makes his own choices and live with those choices. Living with choices is difficult, that is why we use 'others' to make choices. It means student makes his own choices of learning, for instance. He forms his own opinions about his friends and lives by them. He strives for something and lives with its outcome, be it success or failure. He makes mistakes and does not get so much scared that he stops learning.


Traditionally, the school has always centered on the third objective: helping the student understand the universe better. Even here, the success rate of schools has been very poor. The objective of making a student a self-starter was taken over by parents and society. The objective of helping the student to understand his purpose of learning is taken up by colleges is many of the societies. 

But schools have also been very daring in their approach. Child-centric schools like Montessori have ventured and tried helping student in the first and second objective. You must read about the democratic schools like Sudbury Valley and their success in helping the student to learn the first and second objective. Their success prompts us to use these practices and suggest that we can use them innovatively and help us all the three objectives in one go. 

I feel that the most important objective of school should be to help the student to understand his process of learning. But that is my personal opinion. What is yours?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Honest intentions are not enough to create good schools

Some educators believe that good philosophy ( whether it is of Krishnamurthy or the IB school philosophy of developing global citizens) can itself help produce good schools. Some believe that attractive tools such as activity-oriented schools, experimental schools or Holistic schools itself will produce good schools. Some believe that good teachers alone can produce good schools, so we have teachers starting their own schools like Toto-Chan's teacher Sosaku Kobayashi who could run a school in a train coach. 

However, Good philosophy, Attractive tools and Good hearted teachers alone are not enough to produce good schools, because good schools have to consistently produce good results. All these three threads have to be tied together in a 'Method of teaching'. This is called Pedagogy in the language of educators. 

Without the right design of 'teaching method', even good teachers cannot produce good schools. We need a good pedagogical method to tie the three threads together. Without tying these three elements in one Strand, each individual thread does not produce good schools.

Please see this video of a brilliant pedagogical method designed by Chennai corporation schools in 2005 for primary school. ( ) Although the entire video is of an hour, you can view the video of 15 minutes ( from 6th to 21st minute) to appreciate the brilliant design of Primary school which now runs in all Chennai corporation primary schools. It was initiated by then Chennai Collector M.P. Vijaya Kumar. It synthesises the principles of Activity based school of Rishi Valley schools and Montessori child-centric method in a tightly knitted thread. 

I earnestly request you to spend 15 minutes in seeing this video to appreciate the 4 basic pedagogical principles of designing a good school:

1. Child-centric design of teaching: Child determines the sequence and pace of learning curriculum. Child-centricmethod compels a teacher to teach every child individually, not in a group. When child determines his pace of education, learning is guaranteed. In a teacher-centricdesign of teaching, where a teacher teaches a group of student at his pace, learning is guaranteed to fail.  Despite a wonderful philosophy and brilliant teachers, a school cannot succeed if the pedagogical method is not child-centric.

2. Tools and kits to impart teaching : If you have observed the video carefully, you would observe the cards and pictures for Language material as well as the 100-year old Montessori beads for teaching Mathematics. Observe the use of blackboards which are meant for children. These kits are part of good design. If you have seen any Montessori, you will see the entire set of kits which help a child choose them according to his needs. I have seen many of the wonderful brilliant schools who do not have any tools and kits to impart teaching. Without these tools and kits, the child is unable to self-learn and take guidance when needed.

3. Self-corrective design to detect and correct the mistakes : When a child is trying to learn something,  mistakes are bound to happen. Pedagogical method should be designed in such a way that these mistakes can be detected by the student himself so that he/she can also correct it. This simple principle of design is necessary to ensure that the student does not feel demotivated while making mistakes. Unfortunately, very few pedagogical methods incorporate this principle in the design. I know of one method which incorporates self correction in the design: Montessori method.  

4. Well trained teachers in the designed pedagogical method: Teachers have to be trained in the designed pedagogical method, not just be a good teacher. Although qualities of good teacher, such as self-reflectiveness and empathy, are required in a good teacher, these qualities are not enough to ensure learning. Teacher's qualities are determined by the pedagogical method. For instance, subject-wise knowledge of a subject is more important in teachers in certain pedagogical methods of teaching.


In my last 2 years, I have met many educationists, school founders and teachers. I have been surprised to observe that piece-meal thinking ( that only one element can produce good school) is popular in the world of education. Schools are supposed to produce learning, and they can do this only, if all the elements are synergised together in one strand of pedagogy. Only good teachers, beautiful infrastructure, learning aids such as computers or well articulated philosophy of teaching is not enough to make good schools.