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July 02, 2018 Monday 05:01:22 PM IST

WRITE BY ROTE

Cover Story

If we don't cram we don’t get top marks…”

They always test rote memory… there is no value for original thinking…”

Write a note on… It makes me sick. What am I supposed to write?”

Butwe should pity the teacher… she ischasing time to complete the syllabus, leaving little time for discussion or enquiry…”


 

These observations were made by students at a recent conference I was attending on education. It appears the students agonise more about the malady than the elders!

 

I. Does Our Education System Meet Its Objectives?


Education aims to develop in the scholars: (i) a command of substantive knowledge,(ii) ability to seek andfind new knowledge when needed; and, (iii) using it to solve real-life problems.

 

What to learn is decided by the contentor syllabus;howto learn by delivery or classroom interaction, lab, library, projects, and seminars; and, and how effectively, by evaluation,such as tests, assignments, oral assessments,project evaluation, and so on.

 


These three components are to be aligned as modelled below forachieving the above objectives. Any misalignment will lead to disastrous consequences.

 

II. Frequently Heard Complaints

 


1. Our educational system is badly designed.

Like in all other countries, our education system also needs reformation. As all systems are processes, thequality of the scholars, emerging out depends on the efficacy of the three components of the curriculum asdepicted above.

 

The challenge is how to align the three components: What is taught should be within thespecified limits of the content, and what is assessed should be only what is taught. By adopting a goodpedagogical model, this challenge can be met but very few institutions have the desire or resource to dothis. The rote learning model,adapted to disrupt the alignment,lets question papers decide the mode of delivery and the depth of content. It’s a case of the tail wagging the head!


 

2. Most of our Schools are Evolving as Cram Schools.

Cram schools are specialised schools that train their students to meet particular goals such as achievinggood marks or passing the entrance examinations of high schools or universities. Such schools are common in Japan. Most people in the US, Europe, or Australia haven’t even heard of them. In such countries,students prepare for standardised exams by other means.

 


Many schools in India now try to emulate Japan and encourage students to memorise contentby rote without any reflective or critical thinking. Some schools have metamorphosed into coaching institutions sothat students are ‘programmed’ to answer engineering or medical entrance examinations!

 

3.Students coming out of the present system are unemployable.

This complaint originates from recruiters, who want ‘tailor-made’ candidates, to fit into their system withoutincurring additional expenditure on training. It isn’t a sound proposition entirely.However, any education system should have the capacity to incubategood teachers, researchers, artisans, and social workers.


 

In industries like IT, where human resource is thekey asset,inspite of the advent of machine learning and artificial intelligence, employers should be willing to invest intraining freshers, just like the manufacturing industry invests money in technology and machines.

 

The companies, instead of ferreting out cognitive giants among the students, should develop a universalscreening test to measure the non-cognitiveoutcomes of education, such as flexibility of thinking, balancedjudgement, critical perception, educability, selectivity, and cultural awareness. Adopting scores ofacademic achievements will be a wrong yardstick for selecting a few out of many job aspirants.


 

4. Science is given an overriding priority over humanities.

In schools, Science and Mathematics eclipse other subjects in importance. The curriculum framers typically accord priority to the cognitive dimension of learning while ignoring multiple intelligences, visualised byHoward Gardener (Frames of Mind and Intelligence Reframed, 1999).

 


Education should foster an environment of T- Learning,where a scholar gets to learn “something ofeverything or breadth” (in school)and “everything of something” (in colleges, offering specialisation).As in China and Australia, we should offer history, political science, fine arts, and vocational skillsalso in schools. How many of our educated people nurtured on a staple diet of mathematics and physicscan survive in the world we know?

 

5. There is no system to nurture creativity in schools.

Humankind owes our progress to creativity. Can we teach/learn creativity? Research in cognitive studies andneurosciences points out that though creativity could be a partly innate quality, it can be nurtured by the quality of the learningenvironment(nature versus nurture).Consequently, a number of pedagogical models haveemerged, making classrooms more productive and participative. I have seen several schools in Australiaadopting pedagogical models like Project and Problem-Based Learning. The assessment is done notwith marks, but with a set of rubrics.Children enjoy it, for there is no forced, servile cramming.


 

6. Teachers are not properly trained to make the learning process enjoyable.

The primary need of pedagogy is to learn how to learn. As the teachers are pressured to give 100 percent results,they have no time to spare for experimenting with new pedagogical tools. The policymakers are reluctantto spend scarce resources, including time and money on upgrading teaching skills.

 


CONCLUSION

Like any other developing country, India’s education system,too, needs reformation for alignment of thethree components of curriculum. We need to ensure that assessments (tests) do not override the quality of thelearning process. Teachers are to be exposed to modern pedagogical tools, encouraging classroom interaction,fostering critical and creative thinking. Scarcity of jobs should not lead to inflation of academic scores.

 

On the other hand, students should be able to choose a job based on their aptitude and skills. Thequality of education shouldn’t be sacrificed at the altar of commerce or profit-making. After all, as Nelson Mandela said, “The collapse of education is the collapse of anation.”



Prof. Dr. V. Job Kuruvilla

Well known educationist based at Kochi
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