Why We Fail Our Children

A child-centred approach is difficult in India’s rigid education system

Written by Rohit Dhankar | Published: February 9, 2017 12:00 am
CBSE class 10 date sheet 2017, CBSE class 12 date sheet 2017, cbse.nic.in, CBSE revised date sheet, CBSE date sheet changes, CBSE class 12 time table, CBSE class 10 time table, CBSE exam dates, education news, indian express news Education should be sensitive to the child and not cause strain.

In ‘And children pay the price’ (IE, February 6), Krishna Kumar rightly argues that making the class X exam compulsory will serve no useful purpose and will increase stress in children. He also points out the problems in reintroducing annual examinations in elementary classes and rescinding the RTE decision that introduces Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE). But the article’s analysis needs to be taken further.

Kumar rightly points out that examinations can never be an effective motivation for learning. But motivation through examinations is not the most important argument of those wanting to rescind CCE and reinstate a compulsory board. Their argument is that children will reach the next level of school grossly under-prepared, if one removes annual exams in the present Indian system. Annual examinations, according to them, make some dent in this unpreparedness, even if they cannot remedy the situation completely. This is an argument that cannot be dismissed summarily.

Kumar’s most forceful argument is that examinations cause stress in children. Education should be sensitive to the child and not cause strain. If proper teacher training could lead to the implementation of CCE, as Kumar argues, it could also make annual examinations stress-free. One could argue that the stress is caused by family pressure and competition in society, and not by examinations per se. Kumar argues that if examinations are reintroduced in elementary education, the path to child-centrism will be closed. But exactly what do we mean by child-centrism in India? Does it mean that children should decide the curriculum? Or children should be taught only the things that interest them? Or that they should be left free to discover knowledge? Or is this simply teaching through activities? All these positions have been taken up by different people at different times. Each position has serious problems.

One form of child-centrism is articulated by the American philosopher, John Dewey, who argued that the school curriculum has to be “psychologised”. One has to start from the child, her experiences and her understanding, but then, this has to constantly look at accepted human knowledge and understanding. One is the starting point, the other the end. Without the end in view, the starting point is of no value. In fact, there can be no justification for taking this or that starting point without reference to an end point.

We, in India, do not realise what it takes to “psychologise” the curriculum in Dewey’s sense. That would mean that the subject matter of what is today accepted as human knowledge becomes part of the child’s experience. It also relates to how the teacher’s knowledge of the subject assists in recognising what is valuable in the child’s experience, what the child’s needs of growth are and how her growth, in turn, can be directed towards acquiring knowledge. This demands freedom, flexibility and contextual decision-making by the teacher, keeping in mind every individual child.

Our school system does not give that space. We have a year-wise curriculum and a child’s progress is graded and monitored annually. This militates against using the child’s experience — one cannot time and plan sequences of learning that are applicable to all children. One can, of course, plan a rough overall time and sequence of knowledge acquisition but daily activities and their results have to be left to the teacher and child. The graded school and curriculum logically demand the pass-fail kind of examination. CCE and automatic promotion, then, are a logical anathema to the present schooling system.

No training can prepare teachers to implement CCE in the current rigid and authoritarian system. Teachers cannot be expected to solve this systemic problem through sensitivity, skill and understanding. It is matter of fitting the school structure and curriculum to the desired vision of education and CCE; not fitting a form of the so-called CCE to the existing structure. We are looking at the problem upside-down. If we are serious about doing away with stressful examinations, even at the class X level, we have to dismantle the rigid structure of school and curriculum.

The writer is director, School of Education and Academic Development, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru and academic advisor, Digantar, Jaipur

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  1. K
    Feb 9, 2017 at 2:25 pm
    Children are being dragged into the play of murky politics and regressive education methods
    1. A
      Feb 9, 2017 at 1:45 am
      Entire Indian education system drives around IIT, medical and engineering entrance exams. Change those exams to include sports, social contributions, innovation ability to express original ideas and you will see the entire education system changing. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Since entrance exams are uni dimension academics focused, the educational system also is uni dimensional.
      1. F
        Feb 9, 2017 at 9:18 am
        Politicians r responsible
        1. S
          S k
          Feb 9, 2017 at 5:57 am
          Why do Indian universities, including IITs not feature in the list of the best educational insutions worldwide? All that compulsory board exams do is cause a w amount of stress for the child and their family. Most western countries have CCE and automatic promotion as well as a wholistic and hands on approach to teaching young children. The goal of teaching should be to create a lifelong love for learning, and not mugging for an exam that they will forget immediately after that.
          1. S
            Sthitapragnya Deshpande
            Feb 9, 2017 at 1:27 pm
            Regarding "...if proper teacher training..." - it is not limited to that (teachers with more comprehensive training in the UK and the US too are often boring and dull). There are a number of issues that bring down our education system and vent anger on the poor student (are we training them to be coolies with their super heavy bags? I remember RK Laxman having made a national issue of it 3 decades ago... sadly, nothing happened thereafter)- lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;1) Teachers are underpaid - hence we will never get good talented people taking up teaching as a first choice. As a result, it is only the leftovers that come into the system who are ok with the lesser ries. (Incidentally, UK, Canada and USA too have the same problem of low wages. On the other hand, Norway, Denmark and Germany pay teachers handsomely, thus getting the best)lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;2) To address (1) above, teachers seek to make added income - either through private tuitions or coaching cles. Thus defeating the very purpose of school.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;3) Many of our cles are gt;the ideal size of 30 students (as prescribed by the NCERT) thus limiting the effectiveness of even a good teacherlt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;4) Our clroom infrastructures usually varies between bad to terrible. For those who disagree, i would like to invite them to see the government schools in China - they have excellent infrastructure. Even less developed countries like Vietnam and Philippines have better public school buildings than us. As for our government schools - their lack of infrastructure is terrible!lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;5) To top that, parents put unnecessary pressure on students.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;6) You cannot blame (5) as our system is such that if the child does not get exceptionally marks in 12th standard, he / she will not get admission in a decent college and his / her future prospects (job, ry, marriage....) all go for a toss.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;I have not heard of a single protest march by parents ( who are the people who should be most concerned about this) regarding any of the above a democracy, change only occurs when one peacefully protests. Then why would any politician ever raise this topic / do all the above to address it?
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