Have our schools moved into 21st century education? | Daily News

Have our schools moved into 21st century education?

Disparities that arose among schools over time due to many reasons compelled parents to go in search of better schools for their children. Educational authorities using public examinations to direct clever students to the privileged schools, and also to select the best performers for the universities have brought about a highly examination-oriented system of school education in our country today. With the successes attained by students in traditional, knowledge-based public examinations becoming the sole determinant of school productivity in this backdrop, the people responsible for school education gradually forgot their main role of producing a capable citizen, who could meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The school teachers of today teach students to name, state or list things, or define, describe or explain things. Limited attention paid by the authorities to take the teachers into the new competency-based approach to learning and teaching, has allowed the latter to stick to the lecture method or the dialogue/discussion method that became popular in pre-industrial and industrial eras respectively while neglecting the experiential methods led by exploration that have come to the fore in the new knowledge era.

The teachers, who are involved in developing lower order mental skills in their students, begin their lessons by imparting the content identified for the day. Later they involve the class in a group activity to let the students practise what they have learnt. This type of action prevents the learners from going beyond the knowledge that is already available. The teachers also mistakenly believing that they are involved in the activity-oriented method, delays the paradigm shift that is expected in education.

Although only a few teachers accustomed to traditional methods of teaching act as above, the majority have not yet reached at least this stage. These teachers use the textbook, teacher-made notes or answers to model questions to prepare students for public examinations. Short note books abundant in the market today, make students cram the notes with no understanding of the purpose of a short note or the subject matter incorporated. Reproducing these ideas in the examination hall later, such students not only become successful in competitive examinations, but also gain recognition as a group that is of high intellectual ability. Irrespective of the many complaints made by the educationists and the public on the disadvantages of this type of learning, the practice has continued to date severely frustrating the few students who thrive for a balanced personality.

Teachers of today direct their students to retain the known, learn the predetermined and construct what is. This type of action encourages the students to memorize facts and get accustomed to mechanical and superficial learning, which also does not last for long. The students in this context, fail to step into a 21st century learning environment where they have to solve problems by sharing different facets of each problem and looking for new knowledge and meaning in a group context. To become successful in a modern society that is turning to be highly complex and dynamic, the students, however, have to develop a sound foundation for lifelong learning by getting accustomed to revising the known, exploring the undetermined and constructing what might be.

High performers

The analyses conducted on high performers at both school and university examinations bring to light that the female students are doing far better when compared to male students. There is no wonder that the girls with high endurance perform well in today’s classrooms where listening happens to be the only method of learning. The other types of students who learn best by seeing or doing find listening an unpleasant experience. At a time where many countries are considering theories of multiple intelligence to support student learning, the difficulties faced by our education system to pay adequate attention at least to the three main types of learners – the auditory, visual and the tactile - is really disheartening. Boys also need the association of more male teachers to develop their personality. The fact that female teachers in our schools far exceed male teachers in number and that policy makers fail to take action to overcome this situation, further aggravate this gender disparity observed in school education.

The boys with a tendency to learn by doing have thus become the most neglected group in today’s education. Expecting all children to be academically-oriented similar to those qualifying for university admission, considering Math as a compulsory subject for right brained children who are not strong in critical thinking, paying limited attention to exploration-led eclectic approaches to learning and teaching from which all types of learners can benefit have demoralized the right brained, creative students who are an asset to the nation. At a time where the developed countries take action to nurture these students by associating them with right brained teachers, our schools compelling them to compete with the left brained in traditional classroom settings has made a fair number of such students to leave school early to take up blue collar jobs.

Irrespective of the avenues open today for technical and vocational education, many people still consider school education as a means for preparing students for the world of work. The real purpose of school education, however, is to provide a foundation for the young to become successful in any walk of life they select for their future.

The majority of students completing school education either seek for employment or get enrolled in some vocational or professional education programme to prepare for an occupation of their choice.

The small percentage of students for whom the university doors open select higher education as their future pursuit while a few others, particularly the females, who refuse all this wish to join the home front to realize their dreams of a happy family life. To make all students successful in different walks of life they select for their future, the first curriculum reform of the new millennium introduced a competency-based, activity-oriented and student-centred approach to learning and teaching that encouraged students to explore in groups while getting the support of the teacher in terms of assessment.

In addition to the continuous type of evaluation that took place within each and every activity of the proposed activity continuum, formative evaluations were planned at intervals on the basis of activity groups, and traditional, knowledge-based summative examinations were replaced with an authentic system of evaluation that focused on real life situations. The changes thus brought about in instruction, assessment and evaluation aimed at producing a citizen, who could become successful in personal, home, community and work life.

Activity-oriented learning

For success in activity-oriented learning, the recommended subject competencies had to be broken down into a number of competency levels that could be attained during a single or double period in the timetable. An activity planned for each competency level with an exploration at its heart, encouraged students to go in search of new knowledge and meaning.

Exploring groups also got the opportunity to present their findings, elaborate their own findings as well as those of others, and use a variety of evaluations to make judgements on their own performance and performance of others, including that of the teacher. The students thus getting the opportunity to do something in the classroom helped them develop a variety of personal skills such as initiative, responsibility, accountability commitment, entrepreneurship, stress management and self-discipline. The opportunities they got to think while at work, enabled them to develop creativity, critical thinking, decision making and problem solving. The group work in which they were involved helped them cultivate social skills such as empathy, caring, sharing, communication, leadership and followership.

All in all this type of approach paved the way for the students to develop a set of generic skills that comprise both inter personal and intra personal aspects. These skills, referred to as soft skills and derived from the learning-teaching process, enable students to develop emotional intelligence that has come forward today as an important ingredient of learning. The new methodology adopted for learning and teaching helps students to acquire values during the learning process rather than waiting for the teacher to teach them under a particular subject like Life Competencies or Value Education. The variety of methods adopted for learning and teaching also allow creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration gaining popularity today as the 4Cs to be successfully instilled in school children.

Along with the developed nations, it was early in the new millennium that the National Institute of Education took action to introduce subject competencies that cater to intellectual development of students and generic competencies that contribute to emotional intelligence. Although steps were taken simultaneously to equip the students with a healthy body that is a must for the sound mind needed for intellectual development, most of these ideas are not yet internalized at the school level.

People responsible for taking the new approach forward acting like the seven blind men describing the elephant and people responsible for implementation allowing the schools to continue with the same old infrastructural and organisational patterns are the two main reasons that have delayed the institutionalization of 21 century curriculum reforms. Open classrooms with limited space and heavy furniture, centralized facilities gaining emphasis over mobile facilities, class sizes either too large or too small for group work, and the inadequacy of the forty minute time period for activity-oriented learning are additional reasons for this delay. Using inappropriate methods to update the large number of teachers and other stakeholder groups in education, adopting quality assurance and supervisory mechanisms that pay undue attention to examination success, continuing with bureaucratic organisational structures that delay communication, and allowing pressure group action to cripple worthwhile ideas are other reasons that have not allowed the reforms to flourish.

To equip the society with a new set of citizens who can meet the needs of the information age and also as preparation for the next cycle of reforms, we somehow have to free our schools from the traditional methods of education that still prevail in them. For success here, we need to use new technology to make all stakeholder groups – parents, students, teachers, principals, in-service advisors, teacher educators, directors of education and policy makers - aware of the value of 21st century education that calls for a move from the objectives approach to a competency-based approach, from lesson plans to activity plans, from an evaluation culture to an assessment culture, and from teacher-centred education to student-centred education.

Developing subject competencies derived from the subjects of the curriculum with special attention paid to Health and Physical Education, and paying attention to generic competencies in the form of social, personal and thinking skills derived from action- or inquiry-oriented experiential learning, the students will be able to develop the much needed integrated personality where physical development, intellectual development and emotional intelligence form the main components. 

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