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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Taking class out of classrooms

A practitioner’s perspective on the Right to Education Act....

Written by Madhavi Kapur |
April 10, 2010 2:33:20 am

Suhas was in the 6th Standard then. His class was in the thick of a class project called “Bank of RB”. The maths teacher had set up a bank and various roles had been assigned. The standard seven children were to set up businesses the following week as a part of their project,Business City. The directors of the bank had the task of sanctioning loans to the “entrepreneurs” of standard seven. Suhas came to me in tears. A “gang” of his classmates had told him that he was only fit to be a peon in the bank. Suhas was the son of one of the cleaning staff of the school.

The Right to Education Act plans to address the above scenario.

After two decades as a teacher,I have learnt more than I have taught. Of course the disparities in the “outside school” realities of the students will create divides and differences in the class. Of course children who have the advantage of literate homes,excellent nutrition,stimulation and rest will be at a huge advantage. Of course there will be teasing and bullying (as in the case of Suhas). Certainly this special group (25 per cent of the class) will need extra coaching. These are problems that we will have to solve.

At Aman Setu,a school in suburban Pune,we have included children from villages in the vicinity of our school starting in September 2008. Priya is a shy girl,now in senior KG. When she joined us she was taut with tension. She cried softly for the first week,so overwhelmed was she by the,“muchness” of play materials,books,food and attention available in this cheerful school where teachers are didis who do not hit you. We did not hear her voice for almost five months. Little did we foresee the dramatic personality changes we would soon witness. By March of 2009,Priya had a speaking role in “The Three Bill Goats Gruff” at the annual concert. That she was audible at all was a miracle that drove her teacher to tears. By March 2010 the dance teacher complained incredulously that,“Even Priya is becoming naughty!”,at which we all applauded for sheer delight.

On the other hand we have Aman. He showed very little response to our coaxing and cajoling for about four months. His face was blank. Then during the Christmas break,when the teacher paid a home visit,she reported that Aman is a completely different child at home: talkative,responsive,happy. We wondered at that. By the end of the first year he had begun to engage in class activities. By the end of the second year we are baffled again. He is restless,violent,disturbed. His learning curve has fallen flat. Soon we will have to start counselling and more home visits in earnest.

Experienced teachers will tell you that these swings happen with many children,not only those from the “disadvantaged” section. I believe that a child like Aman stands out because the teacher’ s own background is so different from Aman’s that he ( the teacher) feels completely disempowered. Appropriate counselling,remedial teaching and regular meetings with teachers can help us to counter this crisis of helplessness and boost each teacher’s faith in the infinite potential of every child.

Many provisions of the Act have been in the news for years. If anything,their reappearance here as the law of the land is welcome if a little late. We know already that capitation fee and entrance tests are detrimental to the system. This is covered in the section “Prohibition of screening procedures and capitation fees”. All right-minded citizens will applaud the sections: “Prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational purposes” and “prohibition of private tuitions by teachers”!

The chapter entitled “Content and process of education” only very vaguely describes the values and transaction in the classroom. Directives such as schools should be “free of fear,trauma and anxiety”,that teachers should “rely on activity,discovery,exploration,understanding and problem solving” need not be debated at all. More detailing would be welcome.

Then there is the question of learning through the mother tongue. Educators have been crying themselves hoarse about the psychological,emotional and social implications of learning through a foreign language in the first five years of school. The aspirations of the people point clearly in the opposite direction. Everyone wants English for their children for obvious reasons. In enjoining us to “use the mother tongue as far as possible as the medium of instruction” the policy makers seem to be hunting with the hound and running with the hare. The possibilities of bilingualism have been left unexplored. It is time to come out of the either/or paradigm. A variety of models can be developed which honour both: the legitimate aspirations for upward mobility and the concerns of educational psychologists,linguists and sociologists.

On unit tests and examinations,the policy makers are definitely not saying that children should not be tested and evaluated. The exact words are “continuous and comprehensive evaluation which tests the child’s understanding and ability to apply knowledge rather than just rote learning”. What this means is that teachers have to work on their evaluation tools. The school calendar will not be defined by unit tests when you stop all other activity and mug,mug,and mug some more.

I am sure I represent many educators who have been sitting with fingers crossed in the wings,hoping that the HRD ministry’s “right headed” initiatives are not shot down prematurely. Now is the time to show that it will work.

The writer is managing trustee of Aman Setu school,Pune & Keystone Resource Centre

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