Make a mark

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Make a mark

Sunday, 06 June 2021 | MUSBA HASHMI

Make a mark

A video of a six-year-old went viral and made the stakeholders sit up and think of revamping the education system. Musba Hashmi talks to experts about the way forward

There’s so much homework to do. Why they make us work so hard? Six hours of online classes, I will end up wearing glasses. Why do they not understand we are so young?

Once in a while, we all must have heard children complaining about homework or the long hours of online classes. Some of us might have laughed it off, while others must have told their children: Beta abhi padh lo, aage maze hi maze karna (study hard now to have fun for the rest of the life).

While most of such complaints went in vain, a six-year-old’s plea was finally heard. Yes, you got it right, because obviously that viral video landed in your inbox too. The video went viral on social media, and hence reached the J&K LG, who was quick to tweet: “Very adorable complaint. Have directed the school education department to come out with a policy within 48 hours to lighten burden of homework on school kids. Childhood innocence is gift of God and their days should be lively, full of joy and bliss.”

No matter how cute we found the video, it definitely gives us a reality check on the education system and the school’s curriculum. Isn’t toddlers suppose to play and learn?

While many support the fact, there are some who ask: How much is too much?

“First and foremost, we need to define what is too much. Under normal circumstances, a child is in school for a certain number of hours in a day. A child within a certain age is expected to know certain things and to have certain skills. So far, the curriculum has been set with that in mind,” Damayanti Bhattacharya,  Principal, Jasudben ML School, Mumbai, tells you.

However, different situations need to be handled differently in different circumstances, unusual circumstances call for unusual handling of things. So, keeping in mind the current scenario, the pandemic, and the fact that the child is spending less time on screen, it is clear that time has been compressed. “And, if the curriculum is expecting the same amount of work in that amount of time, that’s not right. We definitely need to rethink and relook at the curriculum that will actually help a child to develop thinking and comprehension skills rather than focusing on things that are rote,” Bhattacharya adds.

We need to tailor the curriculum according to the need of the time. But that doesn’t mean we will do away with the basics. They have to be taught. There are people saying that one doesn’t need to learn tables by heart or one doesn’t need to learn Physical Education or that you don’t need to know that five and five is 10 because calculators can do the job for you.

“That is what the world is moving towards gradually. Now, since I am a little old-fashioned, my thought is that we need to retain some of those skills because knowing how to do mental math quickly is also a skill. Of course, the calculators are always there if you get stuck, or if you need to do something quickly, but not knowing that 10 in 10 is 20 or 10 plus 5 is 15, it is not something that I would like to do away with so easily or so quickly,” Bhattacharya opines.

It’s a very fine line that divides what is too much and too little. We need to keep in mind the maturity of the child, the prevailing circumstances and that the time frame has been reduced. If a child is in the house, the environment of the house may not be conducive to a child settling down and learning for long hours, which is what they do in school.

“In school all that they’re doing is learning for all the eight hours or six hours that they are there for, depending on what age group they belong to. Their focus is only on learning. At home there are many more distractions, so a child may find it difficult to do the same things at home. And so, yes, keeping that in mind, we definitely need to make changes in our curriculum,” she asserts.

But that doesn’t mean that we need to have a separate curriculum for the pandemic and the post-pandemic time, she says.

“We can’t have a curriculum for the pandemic, and we can’t have a separate curriculum for the post-pandemic time. What we have to do is find out what is not working for the child, what the child is finding difficult to do under these circumstances and keeping/retaining what the old curriculum was. Not to mention, we can’t have something that is totally watered down and the standards so low that when school reopens children will not be able to plug the gap that will then be created. With that being said, tweaking it temporarily may be helpful ,” she adds.

Alka Kapoor, Principal, Modern Public School, agrees that the young students have to be taught in a fun, interactive, and play-way manner; otherwise, the students will get bored and exhausted. Children have a lot of energy but weaker attention spans, so it’s difficult for them to focus on things they don’t find interesting. However, if we’re teaching with the help of projects, fun activities, and games,  they will learn important concepts and enjoy the process as well.

She adds that the New Education Policy has recommended some interesting changes like diverging from rote learning and adopting a more project-based curriculum, a focus on vocational learning to equip students with real-life skills, and a modular approach to teaching to make the whole system more flexible. “Schools all over the country are working on implementing these changes into their existing infrastructure, and hopefully, with time, we’ll see the emergence of a newer, better education system in the country,” Kapoor opines.

HOMEWORK FOR PARENTS

Another major aspect of the current curriculum is homework. Most of the teachers find it important for children to recall the day’s work while they are away from school hours. However, many school assignments are just a parent’s task, but teachers believe that it is important for parents to assist their children in homework, without taking complete charge of it.

Parents must supervise and assist their children in doing school homework and assignments. It has a lot of benefits. It keeps them up to date with how their ward is doing at school and they get the opportunity to spend some quality time with their child. Moreover, if the assignments are difficult, they are like that for a reason. It develops problem-solving skills early on among children. Most importantly, the parents should let their children tackle problems on their own. Even if they fail to solve it, they’ll learn something of value. In the end, it’s all about how you approach it. If the parents approach it as a fun activity that helps them bond with their child, they’ll find it enjoyable,” Kapoor says.

A tired father of two, who helps his daughters complete their homework and assignments every day says: “I encourage that schools want children to stay occupied even during the non-school hours, but sometimes it gets too much. One of my daughter is in Class VIII, she has 11 subjects. Now, imagine a child attending online classes from 8 am to 2 pm, sometimes without even a lunch break, having to complete her homework of all the 11 subjects. Isn’t it too much to ask for or? No child can excel in all the subjects, but it is often expected of them at school level.”

Some parents, he says, help their children so much that all their ward gets all the praise and those who have been completing an assignment on their own are often ignored. “We see Class II students submitting great pieces of art and craft. It is evident no child of that age can do it, there may be some extraordinary ones, of course, but not all can do it. Such pieces are decorated on the blackboard, while the one who is not a master at it, but has spent the whole night working on it, gets no appreciation or even good marks for honesty whatsoever,” he says.

Bhattacharya’s opinion is that with time parenting has also changed under normal circumstances. Homework is something that the teacher would have taken care of in class. But with the parents being at home now and with the children, perhaps not being able to go out for tuition classes where the teachers do their homework, maybe parents have to chip in. “Education is, and always has to be, with the involvement of the parents. So, parents help a child with homework, and if the child needs it, then the parent has to sit with the child. That’s not a new idea. It has to be everyone’s involvement, if not equal to a certain degree, certainly more than what it was before. So, it’s a question of, instead of complaining, what can we do? What can the parents do?,” she asks.

New system for evaluation

The CBSE and ISC Class XII examinations have been cancelled, the decision came keeping in mind the safety of the students because no one would want to their writing an exam in the middle of a pandemic. But the decision meant more than this. Can we do away with the concept of examinations? Why not come up with an alternative evaluation system like many foreign countries?

“We definitely need to look for an alternative evaluation system. But along with that, we also need the children to understand what code of honour is about, most of our children don’t adhere to academic honesty. I don’t think it’s been a part of that Indian system of education, some things were just taken for granted. A case in point is that people don’t adhere to norms of plagiarism. And I for one, am a strong believer of evaluating children by making them do more of project work and group work, so that the learning comes automatically and, perhaps that could be followed up with, with some sort of a viva so that the teacher knows that the child is up to speed with what is expected of the child of a certain age,” she opines.

She suggests that we could have regular teach-and-test in class where one teaches a topic and test the child then and there. This way teachers are ensured that the child has understood what they have taught in class.

“Or we could have assessments over a period of time, and every assessment could be marked so that the child does it properly and maybe we can take the best five or the best 10 depending on how the marks they are carry. Some portion and marks must be allotted to viva because it’s only when you do a viva that you realise whether a child knows a concept,” Bhattacharya advises.

Kapoor agrees with her and says that the pandemic is certainly is an opportunity to look for other evaluation methods. “So far, we’ve been dependent on the same traditional methods, but looking at the current situation, we must brainstorm new ideas for evaluation that will make it possible to educate and assess students without conducting pen and paper-based exams,” Kapoor says.

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