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.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

We need only one reform in education

Almost everyone involved in education wants to be a 'reformer' to show how the current education system does not work, and how his 'reform' of education can solve the problem. Some try to nudge the system by adding 'practical ways' of teaching - like experimental education, project based schooling - while some try to shift the education system introducing standardised curriculum. Some try to follow a modern route and claim that 'technology' can transform the education by using different teaching systems.

But very few educationist are willing to admit the basic flaw in the current education system: that the education system is basically 'coercive' and one cannot learn if one is coerced to learn. You can take horse to the water, but cannot make the horse drink. Imagine helping your child to learn something, say addition of fractions. You can make him/her sit on the desk, but cannot ensure that the child learns ' addition of fraction' if you sit and teach the child. In education, one can 'enable' learning to happen, one cannot make it happen.One can teach someone, but one cannot however ensure that the person learns.

One can teach someone, but one cannot ensure that the other person learns.

In short, the current 'coercive' education system cannot work, whatever tinkering one does with it. It needs just one basic reform: Change the education system to 'non-coercive' so that the students and kids take charge of their own learning. 

If the education system is coercive, nothing will work, because we are coercing child to sit even when he is not willing or ready. Periods and sequence are fixed. Group teaching further thwarts any discussion on the subject. Without ensuring basic willingness of the child, better technology will not enable learning. Good intentions won't help. Effective learning philosophies will not be useful. Better curriculum won't ensure learning. Experimental method of teaching won't work.

On the other hand, if the education system is non-coercive, it will work, because we learn only when we want to learn. If the answer is so self-evident, then what is the basic challenge in setting up a non-coercive system of education? It faces three design challenges. 

1. Non-coercive education needs a robust design of curriculum and 'teaching tools': Coercive system is structured, systematic and ensures control. The perception of control is important for both educators and parents. Non-coercive system, because it depends on the voluntary efforts of students, cannot lend this feeling of control. Parents are worried that "if their children do not produce voluntary effort, what will happen to their lives"? Educators cannot take money from the parents for the education of their children if they cannot ensure that the child learns. What structure can offer both the benefits :control for the parents and educators, and freedom for the students? 

2. Non-coercive education also requires assessment to correct the progress of student: Because of the structured system of Coercive education, students can easily be assessed, compared, and then hopefully shown the path of correction based on their grades. We now know that we have abused this system of grading so much that it is now ruling the 'process of education'. Progress in non-coercive education is difficult to assess. Because every individual is growing at a different rate, it cannot be compared. One therefore requires a different 'benchmark' for assessing a child's progress in non-coercive education, if the system has to flourish in the current educational system.

3. Non coercive education requires active partnering from the parents : Currently, in the coercive education system, parent can outsource education to the 'school educators' and let them do whatever they deem fit. In non-coercive education, parents cannot take this approach of 'outsourcing'. They need to partner with the school, understand the progress of their child, fill the gaps themselves when the school cannot tackle the needs of their unique child. In short, parents need to participate more actively with the school educators. Both school educators and parents need to work together to create a mechanism for mutual coordination and control.


It is not difficult to design these three elements of non-coercive education system. We already know of two such systems which are well proven. Montessori system is one such design. For more information on Montessori design, see these details. Another well tested system is of Greenberg's Sudbury Valley school which started in 1968 and is therefore equally tested.

In other words, the design is available to launch a non-coercive school anywhere in the world. Do we have the educators who have the gumption to take the challenge? Or do we have enough caring parents who would walk a mile to help their children?

Update after the post

1. Here is an update of Fairhaven school which uses Sudbury valley system method ( democratic school)
2. Here is an interesting differences and similarities between democratic school and other models like Montessori and  Waldorf.