Thursday 27 March 2008

Is Learning Elsewhere?

Here, I don’t intend to talk about the need for learning, the scope of learning, or the goals of learning. I just want to share some observations on the attitude towards learning and the treatment of it.

Observation #1 is that learning is very often deferred to a next stage. I would quote a general comment heard in teachers’ and parents’ meeting. It says, what is more important for the teacher is to finish with the syllabus (always referred to as “covering” the syllabus), and for the student is to pass the exams. The intention or the value on which the syllabus is based is not usually taken into consideration. So learning is very often postponed to a further stage, and no wonder most of us have had the “real” learning outside the schools and universities.

Observation #2 is that learning for exam is separated from learning for knowing. Exams have become a be-all and end-all of classroom learning. Instead of integrating exams into the process of learning, it has become the destination - isolated and away. The task of the learner is only to get there somehow, receive the award and move out. Hopefully, he/she would learn things after that.

Observation #3 is that learning is limited to a frame (normally, a prescribed text), where information is prioritized over imagination and innovation. Too much of information is crammed into the learner’s mind that he/she is left with no space for creative inferences. By the time he/she is an adult, he/she will have lost the faculty of wonder and curiosity.

So, if you ask me what is learning, I would say that Learning is something that would sandwich the curious observation with wild imagination into a perfect, delicious toast of experience.

Let exams be a part of it, not an end of it.

Always remember that Learning is now and here.

Friday 14 March 2008

“The Learnscape”

Our educational institutions are obsessed with two rituals – one, preparing for the exams and the other, writing the exams. The purpose, the objective, the planning, the process and the result, are all juxtaposed with these gilded rituals, and years just pass by. We are on the pile of generous curriculum revisions and liberal fiscal aids, but as you go deep down you will find the conventional garbage around. The ultimate vision gets lost somewhere. Thus, the classroom which is meant to open a wide window to the world becomes parochial in every sense. So how do we break this code?

One of my favorite hobbies is watching the immense evening sky and its changing patterns. Every new pattern is a charming masterpiece, and the skyscape offers limitless frames. I think our classrooms too, are wonderful learnscapes, where every individual learner is a possibility. Each learner is unique, that makes the class multiverse and hence there is much to explore. But how far is multiversity acceptable?

Whenever the teachers gathered for discussion, we used to talk about the problems of our classrooms. One of the problems, anxiously underlined was the heterogeneity of the class. I too joined the discussions eagerly as I thought that this was a serious problem which has to be managed, dealt with or sorted out. But the conclusions (some of them were mine too) were often disastrous. They very often referred to monotony in the guise of uniformity. So, of late, I have revised my thought. I think, a multiverse class offers better scope for personal and intellectual growth - both for the teacher and for the learner. Of course, there is a need for uniformity on certain aspects, but this should not be at the cost of curbing the diversity.

Our learners deserve the best. So the highest challenge for a teacher becomes providing them their own space in the classroom with a real window that would let them see the world outside, where they have to live hereafter.

Sunday 9 March 2008

The Golden Rules

My life and career has been operated by itself through the many influences I had from the people I relate with, the books I try to digest and the films that I gulp à la carte. This has helped me to set some rules for myself – the rules that help me experience things in new light, think in multiple dimensions and modify myself every now and then. Though I keep on changing or redefining many of them, here are 3 golden rules that I would like to share with you.

  1. Empty Your Cup

Of all the Zen stories I have read, this one message from the Zen master has influenced me a lot. I think it is very important to clear yourself of all the prejudices before you absorb any kind of new learning. The cup cannot be filled unless it is empty. There is an echo of this teaching in Alvin Toffler’s statement, “The illiterates of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn”. So freshen yourself up for every kind of learning, no matter how you slice it.

  1. Be flexible and thus, compassionate

Interestingly, the learners learn more of the teacher than from the teacher. Hence the teacher-attitude is more important than the teacher-knowledge. With so many resources around, the learner can gain knowledge from anywhere. What a teacher can offer more is only attitude. My best teacher has offered me this attitude to be flexible. He is the most high-spirited person I have ever seen, dealing with everyone and everything in a rhapsodic and humane way. Everyone felt special and important with him, which made a big difference. Being flexible helps you grow better and be compassionate.

  1. Move vertically, horizontally and diagonally

Professional growth, for many of us, is a vertical growth, which is always symbolized by a stepladder. Our choices are limited to climbing up or climbing down. When I chose to be a teacher in English, my focus was narrowed down to ELT approaches and reading a little bit of literature. This was challenged by my best friend (also my colleague), who has diverse interests and diversified reading. Apart from some magazines and t.v.shows, I had not been going through anything other than fiction. When I began to traverse multiple disciplines in length and breadth, my vision was improved, my analyzes rational and my perceptions multidimensional. I don’t claim to have perfected in any of these disciplines, but trying to know alternative discourses has brought in positive changes. Hence, it’s always advantageous to sharpen your receptive skills and move in every possible direction.

These golden rules have become more or less the philosophy of my life and career. You can map out yours.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Teach-err…

When was the last time you had thought of revising your teaching strategies? Have you ever felt the need to experiment with the learning you had in your training colleges or break the conventions in your class rooms? If your answer is “No”, its time for you to change jobs.

We are teachers for different reasons – our needs are different, ambitions disparate, attitudes diverse. But once we are in the garb of a teacher, it becomes an imperative to move beyond our needs, deconstruct ourselves for the changing classrooms, and understand the new generation requisites. Every profession demands this refinement.

In our society, teachers are placed on a high pedestal, more or less like gods. Heavenly qualities have saturated the teacher-definitions. Hence experiments and errors are least expected from them. Many of the teachers believe the same too, because thinking otherwise would be a great risk, stepping down from a godly image would taint the reputation….. They prefer to remain gods at the cost of their own professional development. So here, the learners go out of their schools as sealed, branded products, with crippled imagination and handicapped attitudes.

Where a training system has failed to extract the creativity and enthusiasm in the teachers, the education system will not tend to do any magic. It’s high time the teachers understood that they have to expand beyond the quoted theories of the systems, because our learners need to grow as free thinkers, apart from ending up with well-paid jobs.