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What begins with learning alphabets, numbers and shapes and ends with learning to rote memorize complex formulae, equations and lots of technical jargon? You guessed it right, the traditional school system as we know it. Most of us have gone through that system where school started off as a fun place where we learned art, music, writing and basic math and language guided by friendly teachers but ended up being the place filled with harried students preparing for competitive exams and every one of them super stressed about boards and entrance examinations. Learning is important. Exposing children to a variety of subjects and stoking their interest in varied fields too is important as it helps them find their area of interest and build the foundations of their future on it. However, where the system fails is in genuinely encouraging students to engage with the subject in depth and support them to learn as much about it through as many means as possible.With a set syllabus to complete in a timeframe that is very limited, within timetables that are choc-a-block and on top of that, with school reputations resting on the student performances at the end of the year, the plight of teachers is understandable. Amidst all this chaos, if we want to do justice to both the teachers as well as the students, I feel it is important to take a step back and think about how the teaching- learning relationship has evolved over the last few decades.
From the time where our only access to information was our parents, teachers and libraries, we have entered an era where information is available at the tips of our fingers. In my previous organisation, I have worked on technology in education with school children from very privileged households as well as those from urban slum areas where household income was between INR 5000-7000 a month. In both the groups of children, the startling observation was that children as young as 4-5 years old take on very well to technology regardless of their socio-economic background. The famous hole-in-the-wall experiment by educational researcher Dr. Sugata Mitra proved that you can leave children with technology anywhere in the world and give them content in any language and they will figure it out in a matter of hours. Access to technology and quality content has helped the tradition role of teacher to evolve from the information provider to that of knowledge facilitator. It is important to understand that teachers and technology (tabs/computers) are both important ingredients for holistic learning and one is not the replacement of the other. Technology comes with the power to adapt, customise content and work at an individual child's level whereas teachers have the insight, wisdom, experience that encourages dialogue, inquisitiveness and guides learning as well as the most important aspect of all, the human touch that makes children feel comfortable to explore new ideas. Today's classrooms need to look like places where children and teachers both have access to technology so that teachers can use the power of it, interact through it and utilise their precious time not in checking piles of homework copies and notebooks but in learning more about their students and focus where their attention is needed the most. Instead of putting the teachers on a pedestal, let them be the facilitators who take the students through a guided journey of learning, using technology to their advantage.
But you'll ask how does this address the concern of rote learning that I started off with in the beginning? I think the larger problems of education systems ( and there are many) can be solved through taking small steps towards improving day-to-day classroom experiences and expectations. If the schools can make small changes in their attitudes towards adoption of technology, the teachers will be a lot less stressed to "complete" the syllabus and children will have more liberty to explore different media of information. When assignments become more about encouraging original thinking and conceptual understanding and less about recall (in the age where information is readily available) and accuracy of calculations (considering we live in an age where every gadget has a calculator), the need for rote learning will drastically reduce. In the west, many schools and colleges conduct open book tests, ensuring students don't cram unnecessarily. We may have a long way to go, since assessments will drive the way our children are taught but in the mean time, we should start to feel comfortable with technology to be the new support system for our children. With supervised and timed exposure, children can do wonders with it!
This article is an entry to the contest ‘Technology and my young Genius’ by Micromax Canvas Tabby.