In our Bed training course, we were thought that education meant bringing out the best in the learner and this in turn meant that the teacher needed to be only a facilitator and not a dictator. The child had to discover his true potential by careful guidance and well-planned methods of teaching.
Alas! This never happened once our days of idealism ended with convocation and we were forced to toe the line of the prevalent school system enshrined for generations by ‘money-makes-the-world-go round’ teachers and ‘I couldn’t-care-less’ administrators.
What we have now in every school is the easy-come-easy-go method of “I write, you rote”, enshrined and embalmed for all eternity. In the rote method, the teacher writes out a standard never-changing answer to each and every question likely to be part of the periodic written evaluation paper and the students have to copy it diligently (and swiftly!) from the blackboard. This answer does not vary in content, meaning or the sequence of the words and the student has to reproduce it ad verbatim at the exam or his poor teacher will have to tax her brains to understand what he is trying to convey. And even if the school does not encourage rote learning, the student has numerable other sources to get his spoon-fed answers from - guides, tutors, coaching classes, to name some. Even parents would rather do spoon-feeding than spend precious time away from their favorite soaps/matches. In the bargain, the child ends up knowing much and understanding nothing. He is forced to use his RAM a week before the exams, only to have the data DELETED a week after it is over.
And Oh! The horrors, if the student or his parents should ever question this well-established system or even point out the mistakes made by the teacher in question. Then the student pays the penalty for ‘thinking’ and the parent suffers pangs of helplessness before the ‘authority’. Just a week ago, I was checking up my son’s class work and discovered that a ‘pony’ is a baby horse. Now I am not an English teacher but my gut sense told me this could not be. So I checked the dictionary only to discover that I was right. I wanted to bring this to the teacher’s notice but innate fear of being snubbed and my child being victimized loomed large in my mind and I let it go.
Is the dictionary ever used by the students and are varied synonyms for an unfamiliar word encouraged? I believe not. What about meanings in regional languages? Is the English meaning ever conveyed to the student or are they expected to find those out by themselves? When we studied Hindi or Marathi in school (I studied in a convent school in Mumbai in the 70-80s), the English translation was given to us by the teachers so that we could follow the text. Why is this method not being followed here in Goa? It makes the text easier to understand and does not hinder mastery of the regional language at all.
Learning should be fuelled by curiosity and a sense of adventure if the student has to thirst for more. Have the schools even realized this? Every student must enjoy the teaching-learning process and not be unduly apprehensive about the end product all the time.
Learning must also take place at the student’s level and not at a standardized level set for all students of a particular age. The aptitude of the student for a subject must be seen. What is the point of teaching a budding artist advanced Mathematics? Or a sportschamp-in-the-making the intricacies of a regional language? If school began at age 6 like it does in the US and ends by age 18, the student will be able to ascertain what he is proficient at and with a myriad of choices available to him, he can choose to further his education by going to University or learn a trade and begin working. Contrary to what parents may want their protégés to become, it is the best interests of the student that the school must strive to establish. Unfortunately, even schools are going the way of the ignorant or ambitious parents and boosting only excellence in academics. Extra- curricular activities are just that; add-ons to make the school feel good about going about the job of giving all-round education to the student. Otherwise why is more time not allotted to these important subjects that most students find most enjoyable?
I do hope the Right to Education Act with its inherent Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation mandate is implemented with stringency. Otherwise, instead of stress, the student will now move on in life with the kind of susegaad attitude that has made Goa prey to unsavory elements from within and without. And that is definitely what we do not want more of!
(This was sent for the Opinionated column in Herald in May but not published.)