As an English teacher and an author of books on English grammar for school students, I propose to share my experiences with ‘E-teaching’ – a recent buzzword in the field of education.
Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) System
As most of us know seven years ago, CBSE introduced the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system for students. The system was a quantum leap from the conventional chalk and talk teaching method. Salient features of this system are:
I. Students are assessed in two areas – Scholastic and Co-scholastic.
II. Students are awarded grades instead of marks.
III. Students are holistically assessed on attitudinal and behavioural characteristics such as dexterity, innovation, steadiness, teamwork, public speaking, behaviour, etc.
IV. Students are encouraged to participate in the field of arts, humanities, sports, music, athletics, etc.
This system, introduced by the CBSE revolutionised modern day teaching by easing the pressure on students of scoring high marks in exams and by focusing more on hands on learning through activities and projects.
E-learning and its advantages
According to Wikipedia, e-learning promotes the use of electronic media, educational technology, and information and communication technologies (ICT) to facilitate learning and all-round education. The evolution of e-teaching and smart classes, I believe, has championed the CCE initiative in many ways.
As a language teacher, I find e-learning very helpful in Assessing Speaking and Listening skills (ASL) of the students. In this method, the class is divided into groups and each group is assigned a topic for discussion. Thereafter, the teacher initiates the discussion, which is also recorded. The benefit of this tool is that teachers can assess the speaking and listening skills of the students through the interactive method. Additionally, teachers record the process and can refer to the recording later for better assessment. This paves the way for fair and transparent evaluation by teachers. For a long time, students could appeal for re-evaluation of written examinations. This privilege, however, was unimaginable for oral examinations. The ASL pattern has now made it feasible for students to request for re-evaluation of their viva examinations also.
Times are changing fast and technology is leaping ahead even faster. Today’s generation is tech-savvy. They like visuals, colours, animation, and real-life videos. The introduction of ‘Smart Boards’, an interactive whiteboard, has given a new dimension to learning among the Gen Y kids of today. They can now better assimilate new knowledge through audio visual tools, which are known to be more effective in keeping alive interest even in the most mundane topics. One smart board feature that stands out is the convenience of recording a lesson taught in a class and then sharing it with other sections of the school. If a student has been absent for a particular lecture, he/she can conveniently watch the lecture video and complete his notes later, without depending on his classmates.
At the DAV School, Dayanand Vihar, Delhi, we recently introduced the International School Activity (ISA) programme to promote cross-cultural exchange of ideas and knowledge among nations. Last year we worked with Cornwell School in London towards this initiative. Students of the Cornwell School were asked to prepare posters and write-ups on festivals, dances, etc. of India and our students did the same for UK festivals. The outcome of this programme was increased involvement of students in their assignments and renewed interest in their own as well as the culture and heritage of UK. As the students researched on their own and interacted with participants in another time zone, they were exposed to diverse ideas and traditions. The students could chat, video-conference and exchange e-mails with their UK counterparts. This programme promoted global education which could not have been possible without internet and e-learning tools. This, I believe, will go a long way in developing their perceptions of the world around them. Given the success of this programme, we have now started this activity with an African school.
Challenges with e-learning
All good things come at a price. E-learning becomes feasible only with a well developed infrastructure. In a country like India, where some remote villages do not have 24X7 electricity, and where large parts of the nation are struggling with the basic amenities, e-learning is a not an option for many schools. Here, I would like to quote the experience of a colleague, a maths teacher in the DAV School. Mrs Punj, who uses interactive portal for teaching math to her students, was initially amazed by the versatility of this online learning service.
However, her amazement was short-lived. Before students could get hang of the system and familiarise themselves with it, problems started cropping up. The computer systems would often take several minutes to boot up.
After booting up, students had a hard time connecting to the internet. Due to limited resources and financial constraints of the institution, the bandwidth of the internet connection was often limited. Several times, even a single problem could not be solved in a class period of 35 minutes. There is a provision to file complaints; however, this is an arduous and time-consuming process.
My experience with various schools
During workshops and seminars, I have visited several private and public schools in Delhi and in other regions, both in and out of India. I have interviewed diverse groups of teachers over the last five years and found interesting facts about our education culture, some of which are highlighted below. According to Shakun Mittal, the HOD of Hindi Department in Leelavati Vidyamandir School, Roopnagar, Delhi, ‘E-Boards are helpful, but not practical in our classrooms’.
One of the problems she mentioned was that the smart board system takes 7 to 8 minutes to start. This is a hindrance rather than a help for a teacher who may not want to waste his/her valuable class time in waiting for the system to start. Teachers are usually faster with the good old chalk and board system rather than finding the relevant material on the smart board. Another problem she mentioned was that the system cannot be kept on for a long duration in a non-air-conditioned environment as it heats up the system and affects its performance.
Leaving it on for the whole day wastes electricity. With the system on all the time, there is also a possibility of students misusing it when a teacher is not in the class. The worst of all problems is the sudden interruption of the class due to some fault with the system or a power failure.
I hail from Ajmer, a small city in Rajasthan. During my visit to my hometown early this year, I visited Rameshwar Vidyapeeth, a reputed government school in Ajmer. Here, I got the opportunity to interview the school principal, Sushila Gupta. According to her, teachers of the school were neither computer savvy nor willing to learn new techniques. Students do not use computers at home, making it difficult for them to become efficient in handling a computer. The experienced teachers of the school were also hesitant to implement any changes to the current system. The training resources are minimal. Often, up to six students shared one computer in a computer class. Thus, completing assignments is not possible in the classroom and at home, it is not even an option. Uploading results online or sharing the students’ performance online is of little value as most parents are not computer literate.
I think the situation of most Indian schools is not very different from the one above. However, there is a stark difference in the way e-learning is perceived in the west, where it is popular and preferred choice for schools, students, and parents.
During my visit to the Stratford School in Fremont, California, USA last year, I observed and discussed the idea of E-learning with Ritu Rustagi, who is both a parent and a teacher at the same school. She was very pleased with the success of the system and believes that it is a very powerful tool in imparting valuable skills to the students.
This system helps in the development of creativity and imagination among students as they get exposed to audio-visual information. They also enjoy learning, thereby making it easy for the teacher to control the class. By controlling the volume of her recordings, she does not have to strain her vocal chords and it gives her more time for other educational pursuits. She also does not have to indulge in repetitive tasks of writing the same material on the board each year or even repeating a fact vocally.
Based on my understanding of some of the issues associated with e-learning, following are some proposed suggestions.
1. Teachers must be imparted computer skills. This means creating training modules to train teachers.
2. Parents must be made aware of the importance of computers at home. This will, however, only be a part of the solution, since computers require electricity to run and are still costly in India.
3. Schools must consider improving their existing infrastructure.
4. Regarding the CCE pattern, CBSE has suggested that committees of teachers must be formed who have clear understanding of the CCE pattern. These committees could then be leveraged to train teachers in remote schools, where the CCE pattern is still new. In the same way, committees can be formed to popularise e-learning in remote areas.
Kalpana Aggarwal has been teaching English at SR DAV Public School in Delhi since 1992. She has been appreciated and won accolades time and again for excellent results of her students. She attended the ‘British Educational Workshop on Reprogramming Teaching’ and also completed ‘Wipro Applying Thought in School’s Teacher Development Programme’. She was awarded merit certificate for implementing teaching strategies successfully in classrooms. In 2008, she was awarded Commendation Certificate by the management of DAV Public School for her sincere and conscientious efforts. She has visited schools in the United States of America, Iraq, Singapore, Egypt, and Malaysia and imbibed the interactive teaching techniques of these countries. She is co-author of an English Grammar Series, titled ‘Self Learning English Course with Activities’. For her tireless efforts in education, she has been felicitated by S Chand and Company and the Lions Club of Delhi.