Educating the whole child
Emerging out of the sea of exercise books dumped on the work desk at school –‘correcting’ the grammatical, structural or conceptual errors that inadvertently creep into students’ notebooks and sometimes even rewriting parts of an answer wrongly misinterpreted and misrepresented, the teacher trudges along with other not so enviable tasks she is required to accomplish as part of her ‘work requirements’.
To be overwhelmed by the enormity of the responsibilities entrusted which sometimes forces her to keep odd hours after school literally ‘burning the midnight oil’ is a common sentiment echoed across all hallowed temples of learning.The monotony of cumbersome clerical and administrative work is simply draining and mind numbing. So many productive man hours are spent on something that doesn’t seem to bring about any substantial improvement in the learning outcome in students we teach. All the pains the teachers take would be worth it if it is translated into better learning outcomes or aid in skill acquisition or insight formation. Sadly though, that is not the case. So to what avail are we continuing with such processes which seem to have no actual bearing on student learning? Now this is just one aspect of the problem that plagues our educational system. Let us look into the other aspects of educational processes to obtain a broader perspective which in turn will help us identify the short-comings and position us to view our practices as objectively as possible and eventually enable us to take corrective steps and remedial measures to reform our educational practices for the benefit of the ultimate stakeholder- our students.
In our narrow focus on academic accomplishments – read grades and marks – in the subject domains and the entire teaching-learning process being streamlined only to further academic progress, we have left behind the core educational objective –namely flowering of the child’s being. Giving in to the demands of the parents who want nothing more than great academic performance ratified by high scores in exams, is detrimental to the cause of education which is much beyond just academic excellence. Even when we take up academic processes under scrutiny, there is much to be desired. The intellectual or cerebral capacity that the academic processes are designed to enhance are far from perfect and not really oriented towards achieving that end! Terms like higher order thinking, multiple intelligences, lateral thinking,etc. have entered the education parlance and are used ad nauseam in glossy promotional materials but not really incorporated in everyday teaching-learning situations.
When we talk about educating the whole child, it takes us back to the core educational objectives of the instructional process, namely character building and rounded personality development of children. But in the relentless obsession with perfect scores and 100% results, schools are compromising with the most essential function of education i.e. character building. In the mad rush to complete the syllabus and meticulous planning around conducting tests/drilling exercises, the teachers hardly have time/leisure/inclination towards moulding the personalities of students they teach into well rounded and sound individuals- the consequences of which are dire and are discernable only in the long run.
Nothing has really changed since the days of Macaulay. Schools continue to be an assembly line, manufacturing standardized products. Schools today operate in a fiercely competitive environment where the core essence of education is sacrificed to satisfy the insatiable need to excel in academics vis-a-vis marks and grades. Being average is a dreaded word that is to be avoided at all costs and dreaded like plague. The tall claims and unrealistic expectations from parents force schools to focus on the product of learning rather than the process of learning.
There is a need to turn around this mercenary approach to education into what it essentially should be – a value based education. It is precisely for this reason that CBSE had introduced the concept of Value Based Question in assessments to orient students towards intrinsic values embedded in every field of knowledge.
Consciousness, mindfulness and awareness are what our education should teach students. In order to educate the whole child, one needs to fundamentally understand or at least attempt to understand the mindscape of the learners. Teachers should be sensitized to look at the child for what he/she actually is instead of categorizing him/her based on the performance in pen and paper test which should not be the touch stone for academic achievements. This is precisely why the CBSE had come with the progressive initiative – Continuous and Comprehensive Assessment which emphasized on evaluating a child on a broad spectrum of desirable learning outcomes across different disciplines and aspects of personality. Just as the teachers across the country were getting the grasp of such a progressive mode of evaluation and learning effective teaching strategies to be employed to implement the scheme properly which required orienting the teaching-learning process towards insight formation rather than just information gathering, unfortunately the programme was withdrawn without exploring the actual benefits it accrued.
The student is not just his grades/marks. He is much more than that, beyond the superficial and often faulty conjectures the teacher arrives at. We need to make room in our everyday transactions with the students to know /gauge the level of preparedness /readiness before launching into (what appears to be a meaningless / futile exercise for uninterested students) ‘teaching’. The faulty and ineffective process arises due to the obsolete belief in the precept of considering the child ‘to be an empty vessel that needs to be filled’ with knowledge. But what use is such knowledge whose utilitarian value is never realized in one’s lifetime? For any meaningful transaction between the teacher and the taught to happen, the necessary condition in terms of curiousity, ‘intellectual unrest’, eagerness to learn, should be created. Without this ‘readiness’ on the part of the learner, the teaching learning process is as good as abstract or non- existent!
So how do we create this learning ambience fertile enough for the seeds of intellect to sprout and flourish? It all begins with motivation. This leads to enquiry about ways and means to get the learners prepped up enough to assume responsibility and ownership for their learning. The processes that entail this prep-up are very subtle and intangible. We all are familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy and do use it invariably in paper setting and leave it at that. The same knowledge when used in instructional planning and daily classroom transaction will not only make the class interesting and keep students engaged but also cater to the whole child by satisfying his urge to internalize learning through cognition, emotional connect and hands-on-activities. But most often than not it is only the cognitive domain that we focus on with the sub skills that make up for HOTS (higher order thinking skills) being the pivot around which the teaching strategies are devised. This is a positive trend that we observe as it prods the students to think and challenges them to test out the hypotheses that they may have arrived at during the course of their of engagement with a concept they may be currently exploring. But this is not enough. Satisfying the ‘intellectual unrest’ does not necessarily impress upon the child the import of the knowledge and insight gained. It is only by addressing the affective domain and bringing in elements of the psychomotor domain that learning would affect the whole child.
Additionally realizing the scope of incorporating the theory of multiple intelligences where individual strengths of every child and their preferred mode of learning in planning and executing curriculum transaction is sure to get all the students fired up and become active participants in the quest to make meaning of the vast and complex fields of study that are required to engage with. Similarly teaching the real life application of knowledge acquired through an in-depth learning will go a long way in valuing the learning process. Also in the uncertain times that we live in with unprecedented pace of development and breakthroughs reported every other day, specialization in one single field of study does not have much value even in today’s workplaces which thrive on the interdisciplinary approach and multi-specialization. So integrated teaching which follows interdisciplinary approach is the need of the hour. Encouraging students to make cross curricular links becomes all the more pertinent now than ever before. An education sans life skills training is grave injustice to the cause of holistic education. The ten core life skills identified by WHO are to be made an integral part of education being imparted to students.All teachers must be oriented towards connecting their subject domain with these life skills and offer training in exercising these skills with the purview of what they teach.
An education which balances the head, heart, body and spirit alone can be called a truly holistic education which necessitates not just inclusion but equal importance and emphasis on visual and performing arts, health and wellness, environmental studies, sports and hobbies on par with the importance accorded to a rigorous academic programme.
P Ajitha is an ‘accidental’ teacher who having stumbled upon teaching by chance has stayed put by choice having found the vocation enabling as well as ennobling. She teaches English and Life Skills with occasional foray into in-house teacher training at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore but prefers to call herself a co-traveller in the journey called education she embarks with her students and peers together. Like minded teaching practitioners can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.