TODAY -

Child-focused education
- Part 2 -

Tuisem A Shishak *



Today's students are smart; they know if the teacher comes prepared; if the teacher loves the students. The teacher must know his/her weakness(es) and keep improving in lesson preparation or delivery style or communication. The teacher should be constantly asking: "Do my students understand what I am talking about? Are they learning anything?"

One major defect in our education system today is that it is often teacher-centered rather than child or student-centered. Teaching as currently practiced in our schools is one-way traffic. It's didactic: the teacher teaches; the student listens and takes notes. It's lecture after lecture; notes after notes. No questions asked.

Two or three written exams during the year. If the child passes the exams, he/she keeps moving up the educational ladder till finishing high school. It's all rote learning learning by memory. The same pattern more or less continues in college. I never really learned much in college because it was primarily rote learning, without knowledge or understanding. Whatever is understood is rarely, if ever, forgotten.

In the words of Dorothy Sayers, "... although we often succeed in teaching our pupils 'subjects,' we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think. They learn everything except the art of learning" ("The Lost Tools of Learning." A paper read at Oxford University in 1947).

The teacher's role in the child's education should never be under-estimated. But if education is for the child, the child's participation in the teaching-learning process is indispensable. The teacher's primary function is to create in the child a desire to learn and to form a habit of learning. Students should be encouraged, if not compelled, to ask questions. Classroom teaching-learning must be interactive.

The Socratic or dialectic mode of question-and-answer should be part and parcel of the daily teaching-learning experience. No academic spoon-feeding will ever prepare boys and girls for life, certainly not in the 21st century. Rather, the spirit of critical and analytical thinking and problem-solving should be instilled in students. The main business of school is teaching and learning. The principal or headmaster's primary function is to provide and maintain the whole infra-structure as well as the environment on and around campus in ways that facilitate the main business of teaching and learning.

It was heartening to read in Morung Express: "Nagaland revises Non-Detention Policy: Students in Nagaland will now be detained for poor performance." I said, "Praise God! Better late than never!" I felt from the beginning that a blanket policy of non-detention would not work in our society.

I am all for the "Right to Education Act" (2009) and the "No child left behind." But there is nothing good about "Non-detention policy." To be sure, every effort should be made to see that each child has the opportunity to go to school to learn. I believe in helping weak students. Remedial programs are very helpful. But promoting every child who has not learned anything will do him or her more harm than good. Children are not angels; they need rewards as well as punishment/discipline when necessary.

Until a better and more effective way of assessing the student's proficiency, written and oral exams will have to be part of assessing the student's proficiency. Otherwise, students will not study and teachers will neglect their teaching. Of course, I am not forgetting assigned homework, and written reports or simple research projects during summer and winter recesses.

"Small is (still) beautiful" and "Small is (still) possible." Who says our children need a calculator? Let them calculate by scratching their heads, using their fingers, etc. Use the locally available technology in nature for all initial learning, for sure.

In the 2015 Nagaland School Board exams, out of 40 government high schools, 38 produced zero pass; this is in addition to the less-than-50% pass in most of the government schools. The situation in Manipur may be even worse. The question was raised why such massive failure when government school teachers are paid much better than teachers in private/church-run schools, and are even better qualified and better trained than those in private schools?

In the majority of private/church (Catholic and Protestant) schools, teachers are paid less. They are less qualified as well, but without them there is no proper education in our states. Just think of the amount of money Nagaland and Manipur governments spend yearly on education. Yet children continue to starve academically. Obviously there are such values as honesty, integrity, dedication and commitment in teaching, apart from salary consideration.

If only our school teachers, even if many of them are not academically qualified, would just study hard and teach faithfully to the best of their ability, poor rural/village children will not be deprived of a decent education. State governments as well as private/church school operators need to start enforcing stricter recruitment procedures. Only academically-qualified teachers should be appointed. I would insist, too, on personal background checks: any history of drinking, smoking, immorality, criminality, etc.

Provide inexpensive but decent infrastructure for smooth and effective learning-teaching environment. A minimum number of teachers has to be made available for every school. Teachers have to prepare and teach daily lessons regularly. No proxy teachers. Period! Prompt action must be taken against irregular or delinquent teachers. And zero tolerance for use of unfair means during exams. If necessary, involve police and para-military forces.

One can foresee restoration of quality education in government schools, which is also linked to increment in student enrolment, if each state government begins seriously implementing the August 2015 judgment of the Allahabad High Court that said: "All government servants, elected representatives and all judicial officers should compulsorily send their children to government schools" (Morung Express, August 20, 2015, p. 8.). Perhaps this is the best panacea to revive the dying government schools in our land. Nagaland Government, and Manipur too, are you listening?

Let Dorothy Sayers have the concluding word: "... the sole end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain."

Concluded...


* Tuisem A Shishak [Ph D] wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is founder-Principal Emeritus, Patkai Christian College (Autonomous)
This article was posted on February 12, 2016.


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