How do children learn in real life? Are subject lines drawn in order to make the learning happen? Obviously, the answer is an emphatic no.
We don’t need to philosophize hard to know that children, before entering a school, have a profound understanding of not only their mother tongue but other languages also present in their social environment. It is a common knowledge that children are able to speak three to four languages in a multilingual society. They can think, comprehend and express themselves; they know the right context and their selection of words is perfect. Most importantly, this learning doesn’t take place in isolation in the subject tight compartments. A child is learning simultaneously how four bananas can be divided among four siblings; how many toffees are left if he ate up one of the three toffees she had and also how to make fractions of a roti so that two siblings can share it. Science is everywhere around them and they learn very effectively that fire can burn and they need to be away from it; salt and sugar dissolve in water and we can make a drink; water washes away dirt on the body. They can do and undo things. They ask questions of all kinds; what, how and why of everything. And no body snubs them.
While comprehending and expressing in a language, adding, subtracting, dividing and multiplying things, toys, food, animals, plants and their fellow human beings, differentiating between hot and cold, sweet and bitter they are also learning and practicing the social etiquette of eating and drinking, interacting with elders and friends and the concepts of justice and fair play while playing.
But what happens when they are sent to a school? Instead of building on the rich experience and the huge body of knowledge they already have, the very existence of that experience and knowledge is denied and, in fact, is blackened out. They are treated as blank slates and are thrown to an alien and self-alienating environment where such teaching methods and learning styles are forced upon them which are in total negation of their previous learning styles. Likewise, years and years are spent to explain even the very basic concepts and operations of mathematics which they already know and practice. The case of teaching science is no different; in fact, science is seen as one subject that can be grasped only by the “talented” students. To sum it up, the compartmentalized school education is in total contradiction with their existing experience, knowledge and style of learning.
Children resist the tyranny of the new education; they resist; they sob and cry; they do not want to go to school but who listens to them. After all, they are children who don’t know what is good for them!
This approach has not paid much. If education is not able to teach what children need to know in order to prepare for life, memorizing concepts and formulas of mutually exclusive subjects and applying them in unreal conditions don’t do any good to the learners. They may pass exams but their creative and logical understanding is snubbed and blunted and we don’t see thinkers, artists, scientists, mathematicians and inventors emerging. The reality of the matter is that this education blocks thinking, analysis and free play of imagination.
I have worked with children and adults both for over twenty five years. Working with the communities; what a fantastic learning it was. They are not in a habit of cutting one limb off the body and finding a solution for it. Their approach is holistic and they know cutting a limb off the body is destructive for both. I still remember a soil fertility specialist’s meeting with a group of farmers. The farmers disagreed with the specialist’s solution and asked him a range of questions integrating the soil fertility management with the issues of water and cost effectiveness. In the end the specialist had to concede and tell them that many of their questions were outside his area of specialization.
Converting Knowledge into Action
As regards children, I have countless examples to share how quickly they not only learn but also contribute in learning if the teaching is contextualized, integrated and relevant to their life experiences. While working on magnetism I was amazed to learn that the children’s innovative use of magnets was very practical and creative . They were not only creatively using magnets but also reusing and recycling old toys. Their understanding was beyond the bookish knowledge of the teacher.
My approach to education is to learn from life and to learn for life. And my methodology of teaching and learning is inspired of that.
Let’s not waste the learners’ time; it is precious. Let’s not blunt their creativity; it is needed for a vibrant and progressive society. Let’s not snub their curiosity, questioning and reasoning ; it is imperative for an enlightened and a tolerant nation.