Why We Fail Our Children


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

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 “psychologized”. 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 realize what it takes to “psychologize” 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 recognizing 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 the 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.

Online Source: The Indian Express

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