Thursday, June 20, 2013

Can our schools overcome seven major bottlenecks of learning in the future?

Students face seven major bottlenecks in learning ( please remember the distinction of teaching and learning that we talked in the earlier blog) in a normal learning-centric school in India. Let us list them so that we can appreciate and find how we can re-dress them in the later blogs.

1. Common standardised tests that test reproduction of content are used to evaluate students : Every student is grouped together by age and grade irrespective of the pace of his or her academic learning. They are given the same standardised tests which are meant to measure the ability of the student to reproduce the content ( and not apply the content!).  Standardised tests are meant to label students  as 'average' 'below par' or 'excellent.' Excellent students feel good although they are not aware that these tests do not measure subjects or skills that are useful. Below par students however feel demotivated, because others brand them as failures.

2. No feedback system is used to measure the 'quality of delivery' of teaching content: Because  feedback is not collected on the teaching content, the teacher never knows if his 'method' of teaching is appropriate or not. As this feedback system is not taken, teacher never modifies the 'teaching method' or even tries to improve his method. Teachers are not even aware that their teaching methods may need modification ! As such, teachers do not learn from each other. Neither do they learn from their experience. Therefore, when the student is not 'learning' the content, the teacher can easily assume that the student is either inattentive, lazy or dumb.

3. Slow learners are penalised: Every student is assumed to learn at the same rate. Students who are learning slowly relative to their same-aged peers , fall behind even more in the next class, because next class builds on the concept of the earlier class. These lagging students then are asked to attend 'special coaching classes' to raise their performance on these standardized tests. In the new system where no student is failed, they are promoted till 9th class. However, if their performance is not improved even till 9th, they are dropped from the school to ensure that school has a 'clean record' of successful results in SSC board exam. The loss of motivation is a common side effect observed in these students!

4. Fast learners are not encouraged: Because every student is assumed to learn at the same rate, students who are learning too fast are also stuck up. Schools refuse to even recognize that they can do something to benefit these fast learners of a subject from accelerated learning in their interested subjects. These students are supposed to wait for next year to get demanding curriculum. If they lose motivation in the mean while and get engaged in other activities ( which typically happens at the age of adolescence), the schools are not responsible for that eventuality. Boredom arising from the lack of challenges is the common feeling among these students.

5  Non academic domains are ignored in schools: Domains such as art, music, computing or language style are considered optional. Schools assume that development of these non-academic domains ( although important to develop a person)  is not their responsibility, and therefore there is no rigor or commitment in conducting these courses. On the other hand, other domains of excellence such as entrepreneurial domain, commerce, accounts, politics, civil governance or design fields are not even considered as optional and therefore are not even introduced in the schools. Students good in these non-academic domains find themselves branded as lazy and dumb.

6. Schools do very little to develop 21st century skills ( Life Skills) : Schools avoid developing  critical skills of the future life, such as problem solving, planning, decision making, creative thinking, communication and social skills, although they profess these skills ardently. Today's students need them more urgently than our fathers did, but schools cannot impart them through classroom teaching. Unable to find time and expertise to develop them ( we have seen the elaborate and methodical steps that Montessori system takes to develop social skills), they leave today's students unprepared for 21st century global competition.

7. Personal needs are not considered as valid requirement of learning: Social and emotional needs of the students are rarely accommodated in teaching, except by good teachers. Personal goals, dreams, and aspirations of a student are not even accepted as a valid input in teaching. Many personal characteristics of a student that are bursting to express are not even noticed. In short, all the personal and individual characteristics of student are ignored by the schools. Because a students needs are not acknowledged in the schools, students motivation of learning never becomes 'internal', it remains focused on 'external' characteristics like marks and rank.

Learning, if it happens under this situation, can only occur by chance. What can schools do to address these seven bottlenecks of learning? 

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