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Introduction of ‘Current Affairs’ in the social studies curriculum

a study in DPS Coimbatore

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September 8, 2015

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Introduction of ‘Current Affairs’ in the social studies curriculum

‘The subject of social studies forms that part of the school curriculum which includes subject matter and activities that enable the child to acquire an understanding of human relationships, a knowledge of the environment, dedication to the principles and values of society and commitment to participate in the process through which society is maintained and improved.’

Taking this definition that outlines the function of Social Studies as the basis of the study about the rationale behind the introduction of a separate component in the area of formative assessment, the following points emerge:

  1. Classroom teaching cannot be divorced from real life occurrences that abound in the society we live in for the objectives delineated in the definition above to be realised.
  2. Discussion on a wide range of issues that have a direct bearing on children’s understanding and perception of the society, needs to be made a part of the teaching–learning process in order to teach them an important skill of sifting facts from opinions in today’s ubiquitous media.
  3. The school being seen as the rightful agency that has been authorised to introduce the basic tenets of civil society and instill the principles and values that society collectively cherishes.
  4. The process of this knowledge transfer and critical analysis of the body of knowledge that forms the Social Science curriculum be done through democratic participation and interaction of students in the classroom for learning to be complete and meaningful.

OBSERVAT IONS

  1. With a vast syllabus to cover and very little time to consolidate learning, introduction of a new component in addition to what is already being done, compounds the problem of time crunch that teachers are already struggling with.
  2. Prioritising effective content delivery and assessment for learning should be our chief concern. In our quest for making the subject teaching comprehensive and current , we are sidelining practices that call for deeper engagement with the subject. Provision for more space and time for reflection on the part of the students in the class and after school hours (in the form of discussions in class and assignment questions that call for higher order thinking skills) should be made to internalise learning.
  3. Real life connect is essential for learning to be made relevant. Linking incidents/ events taking place in the world around us to demonstrate in concrete terms the applicability of theoretical knowledge being imparted in the school can to a great extent be achieved through integrating current affairs into everyday classroom transaction. This also aids in furthering the understanding of the obscure and abstract concepts on the part of the students and consequently makes the teaching–learning process educational in the true sense of the word.

CONCERNS and APPREHENSIONS

  1. How do we assess a child’s level of learning when it comes to something as generic as ‘current affairs’?
  2. What are the intended learning outcomes?
  3. Is this something that can be tested?
  4. What is/should be the right approach to realise the objectives of incorporating ‘current affairs’ into the Social Studies curriculum?
  5. Is a piece-meal approach (taking isolated topics and treating them as separate entities) a really effective and feasible option?
  6. Can we put an expiry date on ‘currentness’ of news (especially while dealing with human interest stories)?
  7. Incentivising learning works for a majority of students who follow rules and guidelines implicitly but from a broader view of education, should learning always be incentivised?

In the light of broader objectives of teaching Social Studies and the apprehensions about ‘burdening’ students with a burgeoning list of tasks to do, it is suggested that a more pragmatic and balanced approach be taken. Before introducing a new feature/component into an already well chalked out curriculum plan, clarity on the intended objectives and learning outcomes, modalities of implementation and criteria of evaluation (if it is to be evaluated) have to be clearly laid down for effectiveness and reaping tangible results.

Another consideration to be borne in mind at the decision taking stage is the widely accepted and acknowledged fact that making something a formal testing element shifts the focus from the process of learning to the product of learning i.e. ‘the presentation’, ultimately making the entire exercise something that ‘ought to be done’ rather than something that students like and do on their own accord.

At a time when all the discourse about CCE is around stress free education and the principle behind formative assessment being assessment of the level of proficiency and level of attainment of learning carried out in non judgmental, nonthreatening atmosphere and without the child being conscious of the fact that he/she is being assessed, introduction of conventional testing component apart from the pen and paper test defeats the very purpose of CCE. Given below is a general framework that may be considered after scrutiny and deliberation.

  1. Instead of bringing in a new component in the form of a stand-alone activity, it is suggested to have it as a free-wheeling activity, enabling the participation and engagement of students to ensure that the exercise is really enriching .
  2. Instead of taking up new topics for research and presentation, topics and concepts covered in the class can be taken up for extended out of class research through culling out archived news items from various sources. When students in groups are encouraged to share with the class their understanding and analysis of news items relevant to the topics taught in the class, it would make the exercise meaningful and help in insight formation.
  3. The new component could instead be called ‘Independent Study Skills’. The criteria for assessment could be:
    a) Research Work -5M
    b) Relevance -5M
    c) Conceptual Understanding -5M
    d) Analysis -5M
  4. The flipped classroom phenomenon that is fast catching on and even being incorporated in leading schools and colleges is worth studying if not replicating the model right now. This mode of engagement in the area of current affairs can be experimented with, which would serve the purpose of encouraging newspaper reading, enhancing students’ general awareness, comprehensive topic coverage, deeper engagement with the subject and most importantly save valuable teaching time that can be devoted to actual teaching.

An activity carried out in Class VI as an experiment to test the viability of incorporating ‘current affairs’ and gauge its effectiveness opened up more avenues for making the classroom interaction participatory, lively and enriching. After having given a brief on the objectives of carrying out the activity (detailed in the study report above), what students were required to do and outlining the manner in which it would be conducted, one teaching period was set aside for students who were divided into groups to share with the class what they had gathered through their independent research.

Since the exercise was an extended classroom activity, that built upon what was taught in the class (DIVERSITY AND DISCRIMINATION) and took off from where it was left in the school, the relevance and connectivity, that the exercise provided was enough to spur the children to action. Students were able to collect news items, that were not only relevant but also varied. The interaction that ensued in the class, did facilitate deeper understanding of the topics dealt as part of their syllabus. The informal tone of the discussion ensured active participation of students, ultimately making it an engaging learning activity.

Though the students were not formally assessed based on their participation in the activity, in retrospect, the activity seems to provide scope for assessing their research and analytical skills, if it is made a regular feature and component of testing. Although there were a few challenges and limitations (that can be overcome with more detailing), like not all students having done the required research or if they had done it, it was only to the point of compiling information and falling short of using the compiled information to form opinions or analysis, and the time (30 minutes) not being enough to have a wider consultation and discussion, still the activity proved to be a successful experiment in terms of realising the objectives outlined for it.

To sum up, even if the exercise is not incorporated as a continuous assessment component, it nevertheless could form a regular non-testing feature of Social Studies curriculum.

At the core of the proposed study is devising teaching strategies that encourage newspaper reading among students and hone their critical thinking skills and using that as a vital resource to further the understanding of topics covered in the Social Studies curriculum. It is true that study habits are not formed overnight and setting aside one period or stipulated time cannot achieve the intended results. So for tangible results to be achieved overtime, integrating study skills into everyday classroom transaction is desirable.

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