Vidya Valley Can We Learn Better? 20th March 2012
“I don’t like studying: I dislike it.
I love learning: It is beautiful”
For a long time our education system has been criticized for encouraging ‘rote-learning’ rather than the understanding of subjects. We do not teach how to apply our learning. We spoon-feed our children and we do not encourage the development of problem-solving skills.
Who is at fault? It may be our syllabi which is very rigid. It may be our dependence on poorly written textbooks. It may be the quality of schools whose objective is to get children to pass exams. It may be the training of our teachers, who are products of the same faulty system. It may be the wrong expectation of the parents, who value “marks” over “learning”. This is not finger-pointing: we are all in the same boat.
And how do we assess the quality of our teaching?
We do it by testing our children. We test them on “How well did you read your text book?” Or, “How much attention did you pay in class?” Or, “Have you answered all the questions at the end of the chapter?” Or, “Did the teacher finish all the chapters?”.
We have no tests to assess the depth of learning; no marks for creative use of the learning. If our teaching methods are poor then our testing methods are no better. So how can we impart a good quality education?
A few generations of students have passed through our school system. The problem has long been recognized but we have not been able to solve it. Why not? Because it is very difficult to make a switch, to change our way of thinking, to learn new methods, to re-train everybody – teachers, students & parents. It’s so much easier to trudge our old paths.
And so we have muddled along.
Engaging with “Educational Initiatives” (EI)
After much deliberation, many discussions and a couple of pilot sessions, we have decided to co-opt an organization called Educational Initiatives. They are based in Ahmedabad and are present across the country. Testing is their specialty. Over the years, they have built expertise in formulating assessments. They evaluate students in Math & Science; assess their strengths and weaknesses related to their understanding of concepts in these subjects.
EI conducts two types of assessments:
a) ASSET – This is a test conducted at most twice a year. It tests for understanding of concepts (in Math and Science), comprehension and clear thinking. The results can be compared across schools through out the country. As a pilot study, our students of Std 6, Std 7 & Std 8 appeared for one assessment each in Math & Science.
b) Detailed Assessment (DA): This is a relatively new project. EI will prepare an assessment tailored for our school, using our text books and our curriculum. Each DA will be based on just one or two chapters (a Unit) that the teacher has taught. After the assessment, we will receive reports for the entire class as well as for every individual student. The report does not simply say which student scored how much, but pin-points three common misconceptions in the class, how the class fared as a whole and how each student fared. It also suggests remedies and activities to clear those misconceptions.
The assessment is objective and comprises ‘thinking questions’. Students answer the quiz on Tablet Computers provided by EI. Results are available nearly immediately – more like class-work than a test - so that the students and teachers can use the result to learn better.
The feedback from DA will also help teachers improve their skills. Believe me, every teacher wants to teach better. Like everyone else, we want to do a good job. We want to be appreciated for our sincerity. We want to improve. And we want to motivate our students to “learn to learn and enjoy learning”.
How we expect to benefit
As teachers, our special skills are in encouraging students to learn, in understanding their problems and helping them discover this world of learning. Our specialty is children. EI’s special skills are in designing tests, evaluating them and generating meaningful data. Working with EI will increase our teachers’ productivity. They will have more quality time to spend in planning each session in a class, in researching source material and in designing class activities.
In the next academic year the students of Std 5 to Std 8 will be using the assessment tools from “Education Intiative”. We are looking forward to a challenging, changing school environment next year.
And we all hope to graduate from studying to learning because
“I love learning. It is beautiful”