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Opinion » Op-Ed

Published: August 19, 2011 03:01 IST | Updated: August 19, 2011 03:01 IST August 19, 2011

Transcending generations in education

Dileep Ranjekar T+&nbsp&nbsp·&nbsp&nbsp T-

A radical re-organisation of schools and classrooms and the teaching-learning process has become essential to meet the needs of the current generation of students.

It was the year 2003. As a part of my efforts to understand schools and children of all ages, I happened to visit a Bangalore school that had a pre-school section. I followed the standard strategy of being a “fly on the wall,” observing, absorbing, and when the situation was conducive, asking questions to students, teachers and administrators there.

The four-year-old in the junior kindergarten class was smart and highly communicative. She was very forthcoming with her responses. I asked her what she liked and what she did not like in general. She loved her school, her teacher, her mother, and her grandmother. She did not like it when her elder brother fought with her. She also did not like it when her grandmother told her bed-time stories!

This was rather strange, since I had believed that most children liked stories told by the elders in the family. So I was wondering why she did not like her grandmother telling her bed-time stories. Maybe the grandmother saw too many “Ramsay Brother” movies and told her some horror stories — so I thought.

After some patient interaction, the little girl told us: “When she tells me the stories, I go to sleep. But she wakes me up and asks me — the moral of the story!” I was stunned by her unexpected explanation. What struck me personally was the girl’s ability to explain her discomfort. I also began to think about several misconceptions that elders have about issues related to the next generations.

Such as that we believe the stories are told in order that they would understand the moral of the story. Or that children go to the school to learn. Or that employees go to office to work.

Is it correct to assume that children go to school only to learn? They could be going there because that is what is expected of them by their parents. Or because they like to be with their friends in school. Or for the one teacher who tells them nice stories. Or they like the playground and the sports facilities.

The children are not even at a stage to understand the “moral” of the story. They may understand it cumulatively through several stories — which would be sunk in several layers of their understanding, only to emerge later. Or their moral of the story would be different than what we understand it to be. What about the pure enjoyment of the story by itself? What about several other uses of the story — such as understanding the language, relating to the characters, imagining the ethos, the feelings, and so on?

Third-generation learners

As in many spheres of life, one of the biggest challenges in the educational system is that we have a first generation of leaders and educators that decide the education policy, the second generation of teachers that are responsible for facilitating education for the children who belong to a third generation.

Understanding third-generation children is a complex process and needs special efforts on the part of all concerned, including parents.

The third-generation children are fearless, articulate, independent, rational (capable of a high degree of analysis on “what is right and wrong” for them), impatient, non-hierarchical, and have wider methods of accessing knowledge. Therefore, what is likely to work with them is not position, age, seniority, power and experience, but strategies that promote equality, democracy, placing before them hard data for them to analyse and infer, and where required, allowing them to take charge of their own learning.

The steps needed

This requires a radically different organisation of schools and classrooms, including in terms of the seating arrangements, the teaching-learning process, methods and material, and the quality of interaction with the children. Parents and teachers must jointly understand that comparing situations with their own childhood and therefore expecting certain types of responses from the children, will not work.

The first step towards making this happen is to completely overhaul the teacher education agenda. Today’s teacher education must educate them with multiple current and future scenarios, provide ample opportunity for teachers to interact with the current generation, understand them in a more systematic way and evolve effective processes to interact with them based on this understanding.

The second big requirement is to develop excellent “Teacher Educators” who have such an understanding — since the teacher educators are even more far removed from the current generation of children and hence add to the list of challenges.

The third important step is to find a method to educate parents to accept the fact that their children are bound to respond differently to situations than what the parents did when they were children.

The fourth requirement is to sensitise the educational functionaries outside the schools to appreciate the need to transcend generations, while determining and understanding the needs of the schools, the school administration and the education system.

Children and their future must be at the heart of any decisions about curriculum, classroom practices, examination system and school management system.

(Dileep Ranjekar is chief executive officer of the Azim Premji Foundation.)

Keywords: education system, schooling

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Comments to : web.thehindu Copyright © 2011, The Hindu

On Thu, Aug 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM, Murugavel Sundararasu <sumurugavel> wrote:

India is among the few countries to have a day specially dedicated to
teachers besides a clutch of awards to recognise their good work. Yet

somehow, these gestures have failed to send out a strong message to
most teachers in our government schools — the largest provider of
school education in the country — that they are actually doing a
crucial job for the society. There’s good reason too. Poorly paid for

a long time (till the Sixth Pay Commission was implemented), teaching
has often been seen as a thankless job, many times the last resort to
grab a government job. With little motivation from the government to
excel, no mechanism to attract only those who truly want to teach and

hardly any importance given to accountability, many teachers have long
stopped performing at their optimum, marking presence only to earn
their wages. For elections, census, RTI work, etc., they are often
shunted out, in what amounts to a covert admission that there are more

important tasks to be done than just classroom transactions.
Naturally, all this affects children attending school.

What holds out hope, however, is the clear mandate of the Right to
Education (RTE) Act to ensure that all schools and their teachers meet

certain specified norms. This was long due, say experts in the field.
The challenge to arrive at success is enormous though, they point out.

“There are many training institutes but there has been a lack of
commitment to make it a success. Now with the Act, we are asked to

prepare many new teachers to tutor more children joining school
besides training the existing ones. The number runs into lakhs and it
is clearly not an easy task,” states Kuldeep Aggarwal, director,
National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), one of the agencies

earmarked by the Government to train primary school teachers under the
RTE Act. Unbelievable, but in West Bengal, many primary level teachers
are only Class 10 pass. “Such teachers will have to be taught what
education is all about. So we have a big job on hand.”

Aggarwal and his team are working on a curriculum for a two-year
training course on the lines of D.Ed which will begin by the end of
the year. “The course will put a thrust on what RTE says should be the
teachers’ role. We will also have regular workshops and face-to-face

interactions to help teachers understand the course better. States
will select teachers and send them to us for training. So far,
Jharkhand and West Bengal have sent us requests.”

But many States are yet to wake up to the call. The deadline of 2017

to implement the Act entirely looks impractical. Shanta Sinha,
chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights
(NCPCR), the nodal agency to implement the Act, calls the deadline
difficult. “The first year has been slow in achieving its target, but

I feel time is not an issue, if there is commitment from the States,”
she says.

A matter of will

Since education is a concurrent subject, a lot depends on the
willingness of the States to implement the Act successfully. Sinha

says each state has a way of responding to the Act. But hope lies in
the fact that no State can get away from it. Sinha was recently been
in news for re-opening schools in the Maoist-infested tribal belt of
Chhattisgarh. She disagrees with the common view that the poor don’t

want to educate their children. Her trip to Maoist infested areas
despite warnings from the police was to hammer home this point. “In a
Maoist area, I saw students, parents, grandparents so keen that
schools should reopen. They want their children to study. The

marginalised people have realised the importance of education and how
it can better their lives. So it’s time now to deliver.”

During public hearings as part of the Act, she has sensed the same
feeling in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. “I am going to Manipur for a

public hearing this week besides two other places in West Bengal.”
Right now, the NCPCR is in the process of looking at the entitlements
of children in schools like books, facilities, scholarships, etc. It
is yet to look at teacher training.” When time comes, we plan to

propose a dialogue between the teacher unions, parents and students
for a mutually reinforcing environment,” says Sinha.

Akshay Dixit, a teacher for 12 years in an MCD school in the
Chhattarpur area, feels teachers need to do more than just attend

training courses. “There has to be a feeling within children that the
teacher loves him. To achieve this, the teacher has to make an effort;
no training can teach you how to do it.” That is why only those who
really love to teach should come to teach, he says.

There is also the need to have a more interactive curriculum. Aggarwal
says countries like Australia don’t set a curriculum. “The teachers
sit with students and decide what to teach. That way, they both get

involved with each other.”

Within the present curriculum, Dixit tries to do something similar. “I
go to the class and ask children what I should take up. By doing that
I am making them a part of the learning.”

Kiran Bhatty, head of NCPCR’S RTE division, points out “a social
distance” between teachers and students. “It has come out in the first
public hearing we had in Delhi some months ago.”

At that hearing, organised by the NGO Josh in Trilokpuri area, many

glaring examples of teachers working at cross purposes came to the
fore. A 15-year-old girl said she left a Delhi Directorate of
Education-run school because she didn’t like her teacher.

“I loved going to school, was the class monitor, joined the Scouts

too. Yet, one incident led me to decide not to attend that school
anymore. During the exam, my classmates were openly helped by their
brothers who came into the hall with chits. The teacher looked the
other way. She knew I didn’t cheat yet I was given the lowest marks. I

was told to shut up when I pointed it out,” said the girl, Madhuri,
who has now joined the National Open School.

Then there is Ajay, a class seven student of another Delhi Government
school. “My teacher asked me to get him beer from the nearby liquor

shop. He and another retired teacher drink in school during school
hours. Many students are asked by them to buy cigarettes.” Ajay’s
mother now says, “He is being threatened by the teacher for saying all
this during the public hearing.”

Anjana, a student of a Rajakiya Vidyalaya of the area, says she was
made to pick up stones by the teacher because she forgot her homework.
“Once, I didn’t wear full uniform and the teacher made me mop the

floor. Rules are for us to follow while she keeps talking on the
mobile phone in the class.” Time has now arrived to listen more
carefully to voices like these.

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