While India is taking massive strides in economic and social development, nothing much has changed in the education sector in the past decade. Our elementary and high school education refuses to move beyond the hackneyed ‘chalk and talk’ model. Hardly any effort is being made towards the overall development of the children, and any enthusiasm shown by the kids to pursue their interests beyond the framework set by their teachers and parents is curbed. It is quite ironic that while our schools discourage out of the box thinking, we are suddenly expected to churn out creative ideas using the same mind that was restricted abysmally in its formative years. In nutshell, our schools prepare us to follow the norm without questioning and challenging it. It is therefore no surprise that India remains the land of imitators and struggles to become the land of innovators.
On the other hand countries like Finland have an inspiring education system with a different approach. While in India, great schools and teachers are the exception, in Finland they are the norm.
Since the school experience is rich, the Finnish schools hardly give homework and instead focus is on meaningful activities such as reading, sports and time with family. The teachers consider these activities extremely important towards social, emotional and physical development. Students there are encouraged to pursue a well rounded life. Teachers in Finnish schools are highly qualified and considered at par with doctors and lawyers. it is close to impossible to find uninterested, incapable, under-qualified teachers in Finland. Teachers are also highly paid and well respected. They have to go through a series of rigorous and stringent tests before they can start teaching. The teachers in Finland are paid and respected as much as the doctors and engineers. This should be the aspiration in India, especially since teachers play a vital role in empowering children and in nation building. Teachers shape the future of the society, hence deserve more respect than in any other profession.
While it is difficult to replicate the Finnish model in India, because of the lack of resources and a huge population to serve, however some efforts can be made, After all, the most powerful resource in a classroom is not the stack of textbooks that the child is supposed to rote learn the moment he learns to spell. It is not the dictionary that is handed over to the child to improve his vocabulary. The most powerful resource in a classroom is the teacher. The right kind of teacher can tap into collective thought process, diversified imagination, exciting dreams, and unbridled excitement of the child. This something that we, as a society, have failed to tap into. We have not yet begun to realise this untapped power of young minds, and instead have been forcing them to the line. To follow without questioning, to not experiment and as a result, to not innovate. The learning experience also needs to be more democratic, and more in sync with the abilities and expectations of every student. Teachers who can make this happen are real educators. We need to make a distinction between teachers and educators. Educators are different from teachers.
What can schools do to fully realise the potential of every student?
Schools are not just supposed to teach how to pass an examination, but instead need to create real world skills and abilities so they can become better citizens. Policy makers and educators must appreciate that teaching the children is a huge responsibility. Children are sensitive and impressionable, educators should be careful while crafting classroom experience. Strong relationships must be built with the children and fear must be eliminated from the classroom so that they become safe and inclusive zones. Teaching must be designed by acknowledging that each child has its own strengths, characteristics and learning style. A real educator creates an environment that takes into account uniqueness so that children can reach their potential.
An important step is to ask students to give feedback on their learning. Surveys can be designed where students can voice their opinions. An unbiased, democratic platform can be created for students to rate their teachers and their learning experience. It would help students voice their concerns and the educators to improve their performance. Teaching is a two way process. Teachers can also learn from their students. Teachers can ask students for ideas and feedback. Techniques such as Problem based learning (PBL) ensure that subjects are not learnt in isolation. All the learning is build around solving real world problems and doing real world projects. Learning becomes social and participative. It becomes fun and in sync with how we work in the real world.
Research has conclusively proved that homework has little or no impact to a child’s learning. Reading, sports, spending time with family and friends are important for all round development of children. Idle time, social time and playtime fuel social and emotional development of children. Homework takes away that precious time, and the child is reduced to a test taking machine.
Students should be allowed to become responsible and to take ownership of their work. Schools should provide opportunities to children to develop their skills and to pursue their passion. Judging a child merely on test scores is totally obsolete. No test can measure a child’s true worth. Real success is a function of multiple abilities – the ability to connect with others, to be self assured, the ability to be compassionate and kind, the ability to be resilient and innovative and many other abilities that cannot be easily quantified. Therefore education and assessment have to be based on multiple parameters.
School such as Vega Schools are striving to educate for a different world. A world with a very different learning environment for the students, where individual passions and strengths are recognized without any bias or judgment. An environment without fear, where kindness and responsibility (towards one another, as well as towards the environment, the nation and the world) are as important as test scores. An environment where students will love to learn and will develop all the skills that will help them thrive in the real world.