Who doesn’t dread a boring classroom ! It has become the logo of mainstream education system. A stern looking teacher in front of a blackboard with tens of dozens of students looking upto him, all seated in rows. The kids are usually looking dull and disinterested. It is such a classroom which acts as deathbed of curiosity and creativity of most kids.
Can such a classroom be spruced up ? Can we do something within the system to transform a traditional classroom into a more inspiring classroom ? Here are few simple yet tried and tested tips which any teacher can use in his classroom :-
- Add colors to life : One of the simplest way to really make things more interesting in classroom is to add colors to your teaching method. If you are using a blackboard , don’t just use white chalk . Get colored chalks and use it creatively to draw things, write headings or just doodle.
- Encourage Peer Learning : In traditional classroom the teacher is God. Peer learning is heavily discouraged, infact it is often punished. Encouraging peer learning will not only make things easier for teacher but also really help children learn a lot more than we can imagine. Some protocols might be needed and some preparations will make things smooth.
- Animate the world : Another very simple tool that any teacher can use in schools is simple line drawings. Just spend sometime learning to draw simple and funny line drawings and you’ll be surprised to see how much it can excite kids.
- Stop using harsh language : Scolding, shouting and using discouraging language can be a big turn off in a learning environment. It can make children become closed and totally disinterested in learning.
- Get a laugh : Nothing works better than humor in classroom. A good teacher and an interesting classroom is one where you’ve had lot of good laughs. Use jokes, make faces or just stay alert to incidents that can be turned into laughing moments.
- Talk beyond subject : A mathematics teacher only about mathematics can be really boring. Talking beyond subject allows kids to open up and relate to you as human being beyond your role as teacher. Talk to them about anything that might interest them or you !
- Tell a Story : Do we need to stress the value of story telling ? We all like stories and kids love them. Telling a story is one of most powerful ways to make classroom more engaging.
- Use activities to engage : Sitting straight headed most of the time makes children dull and restless. Get them involved in some activities. It could be a game, an educational activity or simply getting up to do few stretches – they all work great !
- Try Quite Time : Quite time i.e. a few minutes of silence has been found very powerful in improving classroom learning environment. It could be a meditation, simply being silent or listening to soft music. Over time quite time becomes a very relaxing experience which allows kids to be more interested and alert.
- Change the perspective : Sometimes simply changing locations, orientation of classroom or even sitting arrangement can work wonders. Sit on chair or floor , sometime in circles, sometime randomly, move out of classroom, at playground or a nearby park.
(please share your own ideas to to expand this article.)
In my college days when I tried to rebel against the existing education system in my college, I remember words of wisdom given to me by a very inspiring teacher -Prof. Mathew. He said, “What you are standing for is absolutely worth fighting and we must all support it but your approach needs a “strategy” if you really want to create impact.” At that time, I did not really understand what he meant. I almost ignored his comments especially because the word “strategy” is casually overused in a B-school. It was only later after various discussions with him I learnt what he meant. Perhaps he was meaning to be little cunning and diplomatic in approach rather than being sentimental and naive.
After some experience into Alternative education, I think we must have similar strategy to move forward in Alternative Education.
Man is afraid of new and unknown. Society is resistance towards change. If we propose a truly revolutionary model of education (let’s say no certificates, no competition, no syllabus, no compartmentalization of knowledge) – we might be out-rightly rejected by most. The minority that might support us could be scattered and for practical reasons they might really not be able to support us.
Most of the radical alternative schools that I am aware of in India are struggling to find students, teachers and finance. Some have even closed down (Like the Forest School and SIDH experiment in Mussurie). The few operational models (Like KFI School, Anand Niketan at Gandhi Ashram) are the ones who are doing it strategically. They have chosen the midpath strategy. They are offering what the majority wants and also imparting what majority might not approve. That’s a good strategy. Ofcourse, with a very probable danger of being diverted into the mainstream.
I dream and personally prefer that we have not needed a strategy as this to spread good work but unfortunately we have created a society which must be fooled into goodness and truth.
Look at the syllabus of most of the colleges and schools in India and try to evaluate the relevance and usefulness of it. Most of it is downrightly useless. Differential calculus for instance, taught almost in every single school, college and science courses is useless for most of them. I came across a college that is teaching Foxpro to its graduate students (it’s in state syllabus !). The list of useless topics is endless and can cover entire syllabus in many cases. The arguments such as calculus sharpens some analytical and logical skills or Fox-pro is helpful in learning programming is impotent because we can teach the same skill in much more effective and intelligent ways.
This problem is not unknown in India and many colleges, schools and universities have started updating their syllabus. But it remains a very small percentage and it doesn’t address the key issue. The key issue is that we have become the race that worships the “useless”.
Most loved food is Junk, most favorite time pass is watching (be it TV, sports, movie etc.), most read genre is fiction, most critical criteria for falling in love is appearance. Those who do this, might find this statement too judgmental but even they will agree that these things if not totally useless, are at least less useful. Our education system is filled with useless stuff. Be it syllabus, be it unnecessary homework load, too many subjects or senseless activities.
We have lost the sense and habit of evaluating what we are doing. If we can honestly evaluate everything that goes on in a school as segregate useless stuff, we can change the system.
Schools are obsessed with attendance, grades, homework, project displays, annual events – none of it constitutes education. They are at best supporting ideas for education not the key ones.
We need to look at things holistically and ask – “What do we need to teach for children to become happy, healthy and prosperous citizens ?” Once we know this then we should ask “How do we do it ?”. Meaningful education rests on foundation of deep socio-philosophical questions. If it doesn’t we only teach meaningless things to our children and youth wasting our times and theirs and risking our own future.
Suppose we design a ship to sail north. Sometime later we realize that we have take terribly wrong direction – we must instead be heading south ! North takes us to the dead end, we must save ourselves and the ship. Thus we all try to move the ship towards south or slow down the speed towards north. We get tired trying and still do not go far. We get frustrated and anxious but isn’t that natural ? Afterall the ship was designed to sail in other direction where we did not want to go. Yes, it might be possible to turn it to go south but the momentum and wind is against us and dead end is impending. What do we do ?
It might not be the best analogy but the story of education and alternative education ain’t very different. Current model of schooling and education was designed to fuel economic growth of Industrial revolution (without caring about anything else) and strengthen existing socio-cultural systems. That’s what it does. A lot of us today recognize that this education can’t take us far and infact it is taking us towards the dead end. Our education system has produced leaders, engineers, common man and scientists – who’ve screwed themselves and the planet beyond repair.
Thus we came up with the idea of “Alternative Education”. While the core engine of education remains the same, the value system of societies and economies remains the same, changing pedagogy or some such things in name of alternative education won’t go far. Our current education system has been designed to head in the direction we no longer want to go. Alternative education will either take too much time to transform or will eventually fail in its real purpose.
What we need is not just alternative education but alternative to education. We need totally different models of learning. We need totally different way of thinking, living and moving forward. We need to break the very fabric of our socio-economic systems. We need nothing less than an immediate revolution.
What can be alternatives to education ?
There isn’t single answer but a lot is possible. Each one of us can provide a creative alternative once we recognize the futility of current education model and limitations of alternative education. But we will not be able to think beyond alternative education unless we see it’s limitations and ineffectiveness clearly. Learning communities, open learning spaces, learning parks, no schooling at all are few options already being tried out by many parents and communities. The danger is that we often fall back into the same pattern. For instance, what good is homeschooling your child if parents eventually take up similar textbooks and follow similar patterns of schooling at home? Or an open learning space starts holding classes of various subjects almost like school setup.
Just to illustrate the point further, Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of education is a considerably good example of alternative to education. His vision of Buniyadi shiksha and Nai Taleem was founded on vision of Gram Swaraj (self sustainable and prosperous smaller village units). His educational vision has very different goals, purposes and methodologies. Unfortunately most of the on-ground experiments today on this vision have fallen back to same patterns that of modern schooling. But the vision does provide a very good clue to plan for our future. (Swaraj University is also a very good example of what can be alternatives to education)
Mahatma Gandhi designed his vision based on the scenario, requirements and possibilities of his times. We must also first design our vision based on today’s scenario, requirements and possibilities. This vision can then be translated into alternative solutions. Like Gandhi Ji’s vision, our vision must not be limited to schooling or education, it must be tied to larger vision for society, economy and future of humanity.
To get back to the ship that was designed to sail south, there is not point trying to slow down this ship or trying to turn it to north against it’s momentum. What will be perhaps more practical and helpful is to start designing other smaller ships or planes that can help us get off this ship heading towards dead end.
(A personal reflection by the author on his recent teaching experience in a Govt School in poor tribal region of Raisen Dist, MP, India)
I’ve seen the Govt. school run for tribal children of this region where I’ve recently moved. Children walking to school leisurely in different dresses. One child had a blue-white dress, another had a brown dress, another even had a tie,shoe and belt while yet another was walking in his torn pink shirt.
The school is set right in front of a lovely dense teak forest rich in flora, fauna and wild animals but I’ve never seen the children cross the gate of school, which is almost the end of village and start of the forest. I’ve often heard them repeat in unison, loud voices “Good Morning Sir” caged in a the concrete building build by Govt of India under their scheme of “Education of All” (Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan). The building is quite unappealing and shabbily built, the layout seems confusing. The gate is a heavy grilled iron gate, most of the tiny one’s can’t open.
I’ve worked with various progressive schools, children of rich parents and middle class parents but never with the so called poor section or the disadvantaged section of society. I was looking forward to interacting with these kids, to teach them and more importantly learn from them. So one day I decided to walk upto the Head Master and propose volunteering teaching for few hours every week.
As i walked inside, the headmaster was busy looking after the construction of a new building in the school. Kids were neatly sitting at the floor under the inspection of a teacher on the chair. Most of them were busy writing something, which later I learnt was simply copying the text in the books onto their notebook. (this was the easiest way the teacher found to keep the children busy).
As I began introducing myself and talking about volunteering, the Head Master immediately responded. “Yes, we have shortage of teacher but we cannot hire you because there is a dispute in the village about who we should recruit. That’s why the post has been vacant (inspite of the budget, permission of govt.) for around two years now.”
He was relieved when I said, I am not looking for a job but I’ll volunteer for free. Later he asked to me give this in writing that I will not demand and return for my time and labor.
As I began talking to other teachers, one of them said-” Oh, it’s good you’re thinking of teaching here but remember these are tribals, they do not have brains so they can’t really learn much”. He further added, “And the Govt. has issued orders against beating the children….now that was the only way they learnt ! They won’t learn anything now, without fear and beating.” Another teacher joined – “You see, the parents are least bothered about the education of the child, they simply go to work in fields with their children, bunking the schools when it’s harvesting or sowing season.”
I could so clearly listen to a very despair and hopeless voice in all of them. They all walked like zombies, no life at all. They looked upto the clock to tick faster for the day to end. It was also easy to see that it was not only their fault, but the entire system has produced these uninspired teachers.
As I began teaching there, I starting learning more. I saw that teachers hardly took classes. Most of the times the children were asked to write something from the book. Children used to get free food in the school, one of the only key motivator apart from 1 hour of play time for them to turn to school. The teachers were over burdened with administrative works like distributing dresses, pens, plates, filling surveys etc.
Ah ! But what to talk about the children. The children were as fresh and lively as any happy child. They were among the most self disciplined lot I’ve come across so far. They were sharp, intelligent, friendly and loving. They were down to earth, with lot of potential. To me, they looked like healthy seeds of a precious tree, that may never get fertile soil to grow.
Because the parents cared less, the teachers unexcited, the govt only bothered about the infrastructure and facilities and kids used to a no class school system, I found it to be the ground for most radical alternative education to happen.
I had total freedom to whatever I wished to, for noone really bothered ! I started playing games with kids, teach them poetry, talk to them in their local dialect, teach some English and maths through role plays. Most of the children have responded well so far. They were very happy and interested. They are kids who know real stuff of life but less of book stuff. They are precious gems.
Here I was in the “disadvantaged” section of society but with huge advantage of exposing children to radical alternative methods of education which is often not possible in most progressive schools. While it can be easily seen that under the weight of entire system, all of it might not be of much help to children anyway. Of course the challenge lies ahead, the story remains to be unfold.
Nevertheless, this was a very different and deep insight into our education system, schooling system. One that brings tears and smile to me at the same time.
In one of the school that I was working, a mother came to me one day and sadly shared the problem with her child. “He is very destructive, very naughty and violent” , she emphasized. In order to understand what might be happening, I tried to inquire situation and child’s conduct at home. I asked her what toys and games he plays with at home, she proudly asserted – “ Oh ! I give him all that he asks. He is fond of guns, so I bought him all types of guns, but still he is not sitting silently.”
On further investigation I realized that not only she has showered the child with tons of toys that are primarily meant for violence but also took him out to regularly watch action films in theatre. She also told that he likes to watch programs like WWF fights and violent cartoons on television. The final shock came to me when she told me that her uncle who often visits them is a very quarrelsome and rowdy kind of person.
I told her that the causes are in front of your eyes. Can’t you see? When we give children guns, they will shoot. When we show them fighting scenes, they’ll imitate. When we introduce them to elders who dominate and quarrel, they’ll learn to do the same. While it was quite obvious to me, for her it was like a revelation. Being too close to situation, she couldn’t realize that her own ways of upbringing the child were actually responsible for a lot of traits that she labeled as “problems” in her child.
It’ll be too simplistic to I claim that TV and toys are reasons for violent behavior in our children. I’ve given the instance rather to emphasize the lack of skills and ability in parents to understand and handle the situation.
It’s very disheartening to see that most parents do not really know how to raise a child. Yet they do it. All of their own shortcomings are amplified and passed on to their children. Ofcourse, there is also passing on of positive traits but frankly the balance is heavily skewed.
Most of the parents (at least in India) produce kid not out of conscious decision (and readiness) but out of social pressure, out of automated next step of marriage or out of selfish and whimsical love for children. They themselves are in mess, their relationships are in deep troubles and here comes a new life open to learning. What do we expect ? How much can a school do ?
Parents need education much more the kid herself. They need to take responsibility of raising children to best of their ability. They must explore, research and learn about challenges they face with their child and only then device an intelligent response.
It might look like impractical and very difficult thing to do but it’s not. Only if parents accept their ignorance and stay open to learning (from peers, friends and child herself) they can achieve considerable transformation.
Without a clear and effective plan for parent education, we cannot expect any real revolution in our education system. After all, home is a school where they spent more time and learn most of the things about life.
(As I am not an expert on this topic, I cannot really suggest how to go about it. But to provide some pointers, here is a wonderful audio by Alfie Kohn on Unconditional Parenting, there is also a book by same title and the book is also available in form of a video lecture. It’s worth exploring !)