I have heard and seen quite a few discussions in person and on the social media on the occasion of Dr. Amdedkar’s birth anniversary. Obviously, reservation system (affirmative action) was the main topic of interest for most people. Many, even those who are least bothered about any other social issue, have an opinion on this particular topic. I don’t expect everyone to have a balanced or an unbiased view on the topic. However, people passionately discuss, debate and mislead others without checking their facts and that is worrisome.
One of the biggest sources of this problem is that the topic of reservations is not taught in schools. This is an important topic closely related to students’ higher education, their career and more importantly to their being a citizen. And yet it is not included in the school curriculum. The philosophy and thought process behind reservations, the difference between poverty eradication and reservations, the difference between political and educational reservations, the regular reviews of the reservation policy that take place, etc need to be included in the school curriculum and should be taught as part of civics course. Our school curriculums cannot abstain from the topic which plays an important role in our educational and political institutions. Since we do not provide any information on reservations, nor do we encourage any thinking or discussions on the same, we have created a generation of young adults who are misinformed on this topic. The policy, which is an example of generous social justice, is looked down upon as an example of severe injustice. Education should not only teach us the concept of social justice but also help develop a reasonable, generous perspective to comprehend it.
If you talk to any student about his/her studies, you’ll see that the only thing they are focused on is learning (rather memorizing) the answers. It is all about the answers. What about the ability to ask questions though? Asking questions is an essential element of creative and critical thinking and that seems to be missing from our education system. Children are naturally curious and want to learn more. Their curiosity can be channelized into asking questions and eventually asking ‘good’ questions. This is not the same as asking questions to get their doubts clarified on the lessons taught.
There are various ways to develop the ability to ask questions. Can we have group projects to ask meaningful questions on various topics or can we conduct brain storming sessions in the class? In the language exams we often test comprehension by asking questions on an unseen prose or a poem. Instead, we can ask students to come up with questions on a given text. Of course, the school teachers need to have enough time and skills to evaluate every student’s questions separately. This kind of evaluation is very different from marking all the papers based on a set of model answers.
As children grow up, they can learn different types of questions and what it means by asking relevant and good questions. They will know that some questions are about seeking more information whereas other questions challenge our assumptions. Some have no concrete answers whereas others can have more than one answer. Asking good questions is really a critical skill in this day and age. We need to incorporate it in our school education and the sooner the better.
Whenever kids come across a new word in the lesson, they note down the meaning of that particular word and move on. What if they could learn a few more words related to the new word? For example, the word ‘forelimbs’ would be a pretty good opportunity to teach other allied words like ‘foresee’, ‘forecast’ and ‘foreword’ (and highlight the difference between ‘foreword’ and ‘forward’ too). In future if the kids come across the word ‘foreyard’, they will be able to figure out the meaning by themselves! Not only would they enrich their vocabulary, but also realize where words come from. Learning new words can be fun.
However, with very demanding timelines to complete the syllabus, do we have enough bandwidth to explore and love the language? Moreover, why bother teaching and learning new words when such aspects of the subject are not part of any exams?
Whether it’s CBSE, ICSE or SSC; there is a text book for learning languages in India. There are stories, essays and poems in the text book. What are kids supposed to learn from these books? Are they supposed to learn only the lessons in the text book or are they supposed to learn the skill to understand, comprehend any text with the same complexity level as that of the textbook?
The way it currently works in India is either the question-answers on the lessons are dictated in the class by the teacher or they are solved at home as part of the homework (probably with the help of a parent or a tutor or a guidebook). Kids mug up (which is often referred to as “learning”) these answers and clear the tests because the same questions are asked in the test. There is no way to assess whether they have understood the lessons. Even if we assume that the lessons are understood by the kids (since the lessons are taught in the school), there is no way to assess if they have developed the capability to understand a similar kind of text on their own.
In many developed countries, right from the primary school, they don’t have a textbook to study languages. The goal is to learn the skill to comprehend the text of a certain predefined level instead of learning some predefined lessons. For example, in England they don’t have standard textbooks for learning English. Children read and discuss age-appropriate stories, poems and essays in the class. As they grow up, the complexity of the text and the comprehension expectations go up as well. In tests or as homework, children are supposed to read a completely new text and answer the questions. This ensures that children’s comprehension is tested and not their memory.
This is not to say that India should do away with the textbook concept. I understand that there is a thought process that goes in designing the textbooks. A certain level of depth and a variety of topics and genres are included in the textbooks. But why should the exam paper be based on it? Why not have the tests only on unseen prose and poems?
When children write essays, letters or any other compositions, they tend to write simple, generic words like “nice”, “good”, “happy”. Everything is nice or good. Nothing is incredible or fabulous or excellent. Kids are not sure about the spellings of the words like “excellent” or “incredible” and they know that every wrong spelling costs them half a mark. So why take chances? The policy to deduct marks for wrong spellings makes kids averse to experiment and averse to use adventurous vocabulary.
Shouldn’t writing be more about imagination, analysis and ability to express effectively? We teach them to play safe and to be scared to try something new. Instead, why not reward them for using new, different words? Why not give a mark more for using a rich vocabulary even if the spelling is wrong? Agreed, writing correct spellings is important as well. However, there could be a separate spelling test to test that aspect and we can decouple spellings from creative writing.