Improving Education: What is to be taught up to 14 years?

I didn’t like rote learning. That was the main focus in education when I was a child. In the village school, some of the boys were very good in that, particularly with the arithmetic tables of different types. The teachers as well as the parents used to take pride in the talents of those boys. Unfortunately, they all dropped out. I don’t know where they are today.

I kept on moving between the remote village school in Bihar and the school that my grandfather founded at the small industrial town of West Bengal near Calcutta. I didn’t have the regular schooling up to class VI. It helped me. Even in this school where the medium was vernacular, the questions in examinations expected one to memorize many unnecessary things. Why should one memorize the poems and the questions based on the text for the language papers, be it Hindi or English? Even many had to memorize the answers of probable questions in subjects such as history and geography. It was just a torture. Many a times, for good scores on subjective questions, I had to memorize many things that I really hated. But most of the students had to memorize from help books just to score pass marks. It was certainly a poor teaching and almost no learning. It was just education for passing examination and getting certificate. One’s merit got rated and differentiated by the division or class scored in the final examination and not by the knowledge.

I wish it would have changed or will certainly change with the Rights of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2009 and the crops of model schools coming up at the block level. I have some opinion on what the children must learn up to class VI before they move over for four year secondary education.

The main thrust must be on learning of a minimum of two languages, the Indian language such as Hindi or Tamil and English, both with equal importance. It should be just learning and no memorizing without almost any home work. The teachers of the language must himself be good in communication skill in the language with good stock of vocabulary. The teacher must not make the students understand literature aspects. As a rule, the language class must prohibit the use of any other language than the one being taught in the class. The class must be small. It must use technology such a compulsory 10 minutes video and audio in the language to make the students proficient in the language and grammar. The students must be encouraged to converse and discuss in the language. He must start expressing his ideas in his own language and write in fairly good handwriting. A systematic vocabulary building plan must be pursued. The student must go to the language lab to record his conversation and must be helped to improve his presentation and style. Why should it not be possible to have good proficiency in communicating in both languages in almost 6-10 years of education in school, if the teaching and learning has been seriously systematic? In later years, the students will keep on adding in his vocabulary.

Naturally, the second subject of importance up to the age of 14 must be basics of mathematics with thrust on arithmetic. The aim of the teachers must be to arouse the interest for mathematics. While certain amount of rote learning of arithmetic tables may be essential, but the child must understand the application. He must start loving the exercises of questions and creating new exercises on own. The thrust must be clearly on the concepts and applications in real world. The school must develop a good mathematics laboratory. The progress of each student in the language and arithmetic must be constantly under watch.

Rest of the subjects be it history, geography or hygiene must be taught in stories and experiments in laboratories with no examinations or grading. Every student must compulsorily spend some time in work such as fine arts music, painting, sculpture and some in games, sports and physical exercises.

Naturally, even the rural school must have good teachers with aptitude and missionary zeal to impart the knowledge to the children. The community or panchayat must get involved in the operations of the school and in the selection and appointment of teachers. It may select and appoint some retired, educated, and interested honest senior citizen to be the mentor for the rural school.

I wish the real education gets universalized for all by the next decade. Let there be dawn of light over darkness.

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