Old world and New world Teachers 03 May 2022 Vasavdatta Sarkar

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The saying Change is the only Constant was never truer than when during the pandemic, the world witnessed how teachers rose to the occasion and created a learning environment that retained the buoyancy in the system and kept it dynamic.

The role of teachers is ever changing. They need to adjust and adapt to the changing times . And what is interesting is that what is considered progressive today may become outdated tomorrow. In today’s landscape, students need more than academic knowledge to thrive in colleges, careers and beyond. They need to be “ future ready”. They should be able to ace life’s tests and not just tests in an exam situation. And our school system should be built on this central premise.

Whoever does the work does the learning

Simplistically put, in a traditional set up, the system is heavily teacher- centric. A textbook is the Bible and set lesson plans created by the teacher is followed, the end result examined through standardised tests. But who is doing the learning? Why should a student follow a script made by a teacher? Zero interest and passive learning is the name of the game in such a system. If teachers do the work they do the learning, and if learners do the work, it is they who do the learning.

Thinking is more important than knowing

The idea is to create an academically challenging and intellectually rigorous learning environment. The focus should be not on what students “know” but on how they “think”. The teacher should be a facilitator, a guide on the side with the end goal of making “ life ready” students who can apply their knowledge to any and all real life situations. Meet all challenges head on and is able to make connections between real life situations.

A quick comparison between methods followed by teachers in the traditional and progressive systems will make the picture clearer perhaps.

Learning through exploration is more important than learning facts

In a conventional set up, the emphasis is heavy on rote learning. It is passive learning based on teacher designed lectures and repetitive reading- writing assignments and here the teachers are the main sources of information and authority. Intelligence is based on the child’s ability to recall facts. Teachers following a progressive methodology encourage learning through inquiry and exploration which leads to further questioning and subsequent research work. Students are active participants, problem solvers and planners. They take the ownership of their learning. Teachers are the guides and facilitators who foster thinking.

Learning when subjects are integrated is better than learning subjects separately

Conventional and traditional teaching methods involve teaching of each discipline/ subject separately.  It doesn’t lead to a deeper understanding as topics often are taught in silos as a result of which there is no connection between new and previous knowledge. The new “conventional” method (and here I use conventional to mean progressive) ensures that disciplines are integrated so that students can make those real world connections. Learning is active and constructive and students are fully engaged. Self directed and active interest, these are the two vital ingredients that convert students into lifelong learners.

Too much testing is counter productive

Under the conventional system, teachers grade student learning through tests. Learning is marks driven and based on external motivation and incentives. Failure is severely penalised leading to low self esteem, depression and shunning of the child in society, Whereas the new convention looks upon failure as the biggest step up in the learning process. Intellectual risk taking is greatly encouraged and the teacher is there to support children’s unplanned explorations. It is also for the teacher to ensure that the students do not go way off track while researching and exploring, but to gently guide them back to the problem to be solved, when they do so. While tests have their value, they should not be conducted in an excessive manner. There should be more emphasis on formative assessments where learners can be tested in a non threatening manner.

Learning should be individualised to meet the interests of the child

The one size fits all pattern is the norm followed in traditional methods. Students are compliant and have to master content all at the same pace and time. Ongoing studies however have continually thrown up one very important fact, which should be the cornerstone of all educational institutions, which is that each child is unique with specific interests and different learning styles. The teaching learning process should be such that the students are able to absorb the content at their own pace and enjoy the learning process. This is not to mean that the teaching needs to be slowed down so students can catch up. The process needs to be reversed so that each student feels the interest and needs to do his own learning so that he/she can keep pace with the class. Anything that is interest driven will definitely lead to retention.

Teachers must create in children, a lifelong desire to learn

We need students to fit into the 21st Century workplace. Our school system should foster an attitude of life-long learning, social responsibility and should encourage a broad multi- disciplinary and lateral thinking approach to problems. A school following an Inquiry, experiential and projects based pedagogy, with teachers well trained in implementing the curriculum following an inquiry based methodology is the need of the hour. It will help students reach their full potential by giving them a sense of self and purpose which in turn will lead them to being good leaders who make a difference in their homes, workplaces and community.

Parents should look for the best schools in Gurgaon that have highly trained progressive teachers. Teachers who understand the needs of the child and expectations of pre-nursery, nursery and kindergarten levels.

Vasavdatta Sarkar

Former Principal,

Vega Schools, Gurgaon

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