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?

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