Introduce Contextual Learning in Schools
India's present education system is said to be a legacy of the British rule. At that time, the empire wanted to have a large army of administrative staff and hence the teaching was tailored to meet thoseneeds.Ms Hillary Hinchliff, Principal of Gems Modern Academy at Infopark, Kochihad her teacher training in UK and has over three decades of experience in teaching and 15 years of leadership in mainstream schools. She also served in special education schools in the Middle and North of England and in a British Curriculum School in Muscat, Oman. Having spent the last six months in India, she makes a comparison of British and Indian systems especially with respect to early learning in a chat with Sreekumar Raghavan, Editor Eduportal-Pallikkutam.com
1) India is following a British legacy when it comes to school and college education but there are concerns that reforms aren't fast enough. What is the situation in UK and how much have you evolved?
When it comes to schools, our education system sits somewhere in the middle of India's CBSE and IB (International Baccalaureate).Content and knowledge is still important there but the pedagogical approaches have changed. Children need to learn and apply their knowledge in context. For instance, they have to take their knowledge and understanding in science and apply it in different situations and contexts. In Mathematics, they will be given word problems and marks are given for working out even if the answer may be wrong. In CBSE, you can answer the question without any deep understanding of the problem and still get marks. From a very young age, children have to show the working of a problem and understanding of concepts.This type of approach to learning is offered even in middle schools.
At the primary level, there is lot of cross curricular or multidisciplinary teaching. We have topic based learning where the subjects are not taught discreetly but are combined or blended. Children learnto make connections, learning about the world in a cohesive way. This is to show that the world is not split into compartments but has to be seen as a whole. By grade 8, 9 and 10, more formal learning is adopted where physics, chemistry, biology and all come in.
3) In India, the government has announced a New Education Policy that will introduce 4-year BEd programs.
In UK we already have a four-year program of either 4- year BEd, or a 3-year degree and a year of postgraduation. Teaching degrees are harder and more rigorous from what I have seen compared to India where you can get a degree in 2 years. In four years in BEd, I learnt child psychology, early education, history of education as well as many other topics and also four years of teaching in school as a student teacher. It is important for children in early learning classes to be engaged and teacher needs to ensure a balance between child-initiated learning and teacher initiated learning so that children have a chance to try something for themselves. Our theory is that if children are engaged in classroom they are learning.
4)In India there is concern about quality of Kindergarten teachers. Do you agree?
In UK there is no difference between what a pre-school teacher and a high school teacher gets in terms of salary and benefits. The degrees required for both are the same.The KG training here is of a similar level of teaching assistants in UK. In UK, we have teachers and teaching assistants. Even teaching assistants need to have at least two years of training. Every educational institution has to be registered and there will be periodic inspections. This gives confidence to the parents as they can be assured that the child care providers, teaching assistants and teachers are sufficiently qualified and able to provide quality training and ensure child safety.
5) What kind of reforms had been initiated in KG level in UK?
There is an interesting split in ideology emerging there. One school of thought which feels KG learning should be more formal and the other which says it should be play based and activity based learning. The former is mainly propounded by politicians who want to show some definitive results on paper at each level of learning.However, the general feeling from the experts is that formal education should start only by 6 or 7 years of age.
6) What skills should be developed when a child leaves KG to primary class?
Social skills, communication skills-speaking and listening abilities, fine motor skills, learning to accept failure, they need to learn risk taking to make calculated risks. And more importantly the child’s body and mind should be made ready for formal learning. Don't push children to write at pre-school level as their finger and grip has not yet strengthened to hold a pencil properly. Similarly,often their core body strength is not sufficient to sit upright in a chair and table.
7) What kind of changes have you introduced in school in the past six months you are here?
We offer a personalized learning journey where child-initiated learning and self-directed learning are encouraged and supported by well trained teachers and stimulating resources and learning environments. We also engage the parents in the learning process by explaining to them the pedagogical approach, the latest research in neuroscience and how new learning or experiences work on the child's brain so that they can do such activity at home also. Still there are parents who come to us asking how we can prepare the pre-school child for the grade 10 examinations! In ten years time, we are not sure whether the paper based assessments will continue. Lot of psychometric tests, cognitive ability tests may be used where knowledge of the child will be less and less important but skills and aptitude will be more important.We provide an on-going assessment of the child in KG and give indications as to which areas of interest the child is being self directed. We work on the problem or deficit areas of the child and also promote their areas of strength.