Mallika Writes: Just Speaking

Learning Vs Education

In my first week in college, a green kid from an “alternative” school (Shreyas) where the largest class I was in had 8 people, St Xavier’s terrified me. I parked myself in the last bench in a class of over a hundred. Shame shame, I sat with guys and went to the canteen. And got rusticated by Father D”Souza for reading a Georgette Hyer book in my World Religion class. I would have gone bonkers with the “read you notes and don’t ask questions” system of teaching had it not been for Prof.Contractor. Spotting my sinking heart and determination he called me aside for a chat. Understanding that I had come from a school where project work and personal learning were the thrust and ratoing not encouraged he asked me, ”For my economics class, would you like me to give you weekly assignments rather than you coming to class?” I beamed with joy, and it was that, and his constant understanding that allowed me to get through those four years.

With the current debates on education and Mr.Sibal’s many innovations coming at a time when all our Universities have fallen off the lists of the best of the world, I wonder what it is that is not ticking with our education. And I mean the so called best schools as well. Does having air conditioned buses and personal lap tops really count? Does having different uniforms for different activities i.e. Indian clothes for cultural stuff and a tie and blazer (in Ahmedabad’s perpetual summer) mean good education?

According to Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston University, the ideal environment for learning is one which includes messing around and making things. Many studies point to the fact that kids enjoy making things, in objects they can control, than those they can’t. The Journal of Computer Science Education reports that  project based children do as well as regular kids in standardized tests but are much better at research and learning. Not only this but their understanding of the subject is much deeper.

Unfortunately this is not what our schools teach. They teach us to read and write and not to do. But most of us are not going to spend our life in being academics or scholars but in doing things. I still remember the table I made in Shreyas in carpentry class, and though it wobbled a bit, I used it for years. Besides teaching me carpentry, it taught me how to calculate, estimate, design, hammer, screw, slice straight and how not to chop my hand off with the saw. It also makes me appreciate, to this day, good carpentry work and the effort that goes into it. Similarly, my learning back strap weaving.

Around the world there are parents who are letting their children decide their own curricula and encouraging them to do seriously what their passion is. In the United States and Europe there are camps where these “doers” can come together and show their wares and learn from others. Crash Space in Los Angeles

Offer kids the tools and workshop space to make anything from cameras to new flooring. Children in a programme  just launched by a consortium which includes Disney-Pixar hae just made a stop motion camera rig and a tool to lift roofing supplies.

Yes but is this education? Of course it is. Because in the process of making you are using multiple skills taught as “subjects” in school and are using them in real life, allowing the child the opportunity of instantly integrating learning and life. Isn’t that what education should be? To teach a child how to learn, how to do it independently, how not to draw a line between knowledge and daily behaviour and thinking? A child making her first glider or rocket at the Community Science Center is going to understand aerodynamics, weights and measures and flight velocities much more, and will remember them with a smile all her life. A child who has mugged the same information for her tenth standard exam, will forever forget it in a few months. What really do we want of education?



September 19th, 2010, DNA


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