All students are equal, and different, at the same time

No two people are similar. Everyone has a different likes and interests, different opinions and strengths. Given this reality, why do schools teach everyone the same things, in the same way?

Even something primal such as rote learning is done differently. When I was in school, I used to prepare flashcards with pointers to remember. Some friends used  intricate mnemonic devices to memorize. Others used diagrams, text and narration. The truth is that when it comes to learning there is no universal method. One size does not and cannot fit all.

For a real educator, students are equal, but it does not mean that the same learning technique will work with them, hence the same mode of instruction should not be enforced on them. Furthermore, every student has a unique learning style which he or she adopts to absorb, comprehend, process, and retain information.

Some students may be able to absorb just by reading, others might by hearing, and some may learn best by doing i.e where there is physical manipulation or project work. Schools need to acknowledge and accommodate individualized learning styles and only then would they be able to touch and empower every child.   

What are learning styles?

Learning styles refer to methods adopted by students to understand a concept, topic or subject. Every student has a unique learning style. Scientists and psychologists have identified four learning styles, known by the acronym VARK.

The styles are-

Visual- Children who prefer using pictures, graphics, infographics, and spatial understandings.
• Aural (Auditory- Musical)- Children who prefer using sound and music.
• Verbal (linguistic)- Children who prefer using words, both while speaking and writing.

• Physical (kinesthetic)- Children who prefer using their body, hands, and sense of touch.

The moot question is: are schools equipped to accommodate all these learning styles? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. Most schools complete ignore these different learning styles and do not have a methodology to craft learning in sync with these differing styles.

The problem

Amir Khan’s film ‘Taare Zameen Par’, with its tagline ‘Every Child is Special’ was a good attempt to understand the mind of a child. In the film, the protagonist, Ishan suffers from dyslexia, because of which he was neglected by his teachers, parents and peers. His teachers and parents were unable to gain his trust. The proverbial bond was never established. He was forced to follow what other students were doing despite his obvious difficulty in doing so. This neglect and rejection that he faced in his developmental years, lead to him being aloof and lonely until he found a teacher who understood him and the fact that he learnt differently.

The world’s leading child psychologists believe that no child is unintelligent, and every child is blessed with a different learning style and strength. It is the duty and responsibility of every educator to understand and empathize with children, and to curate a tailor made teaching process that suits them all. Lackadaisical approach towards teaching and the assumption that a single method would suit all, is often harmful. It affects the self-respect (and quality of learning) of children whose learning style is not aligned with some others in the class’.

The Fix

Educators need to know their audience, that is their learners, and need to equip each of them to learn best in different ways.This is also known as ‘differentiation’. Other strategies can also be deployed, of splitting learners in small groups where a team of educators can address them in different ways. A method known as Problem based learning (or PBL) is gaining popularity across the world. Learners learn by solving real world problems and by doing real world projects. As they learn by doing they use all the elements of the VARK model. They play with images, graphs and charts, and work with audiobooks as well as with videos. They research using various media – books, tablets, computers, as well as apply their learning to create and to build things. They exhibit and present their work to real world audiences. This process is a game changer, where cohorts of 5/6 educators work with a larger number of learners. However, they split this larger number in smaller groups and use various strategies to enable differentiated learning. Technology is used whereby a learning management system is deployed to measure the quality and level of learning of each and every learner.

The present scenario

Unfortunately, in most schools in India, education is still a one way process, where the teacher lectures, and students listen, or take notes. In fact most students don’t really pay attention and very little learning occurs. Since retention is a function of attention, there is very little learnt. Come exam time, tutors are deployed at a huge cost to the parent. In such a system there is no educator or learner. Instead there is only the teacher and student.

Our education system ignores a vast number of students who do not fit in these traditional classrooms and their potential remains untapped. Real development can only happen when we develop our schools. When we convert teachers into educators, who will in turn, convert students into learning. All in an environment in which real learning takes place for all.

Change is coming

Across the world, schools are transforming. As so are teaching and learning methods. In India, too some schools are learning from the best and deploying global best practices. Parents need to search and find these schools, this way they can give their children the greatest gift in the world. The gift of discovering the star within!

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