A question most parents of primary school going children ask as soon as their child returns from school is,
“What happened in school today? What did you learn?
Of course the primary business of schools is to bring about learning and parents are anxious to know what their children are learning.
Designing a school is an involved task. It begins with goal setting and devising a plan that can achieve the set goals. To work through this, let us take an example.
Look at the number 4. We can get this number by:
The list can go on. In fact there are very many interesting ways of obtaining 4. But the important thing to notice is to get something as specific as 4, we have many options and all these options lead to the same desired result.
Let us see what happens when we substitute 4 with LEARNING
What design process do we follow to bring about learning in children of say age 10?
For a well defined learning goal, we can, like in the previous case come up with very many ways of achieving it. We may teach well, provide a library and encourage reading, use audiovisual resources, use arts and crafts or sports and games .... But the difference is that even if we define learning as carefully and completely as possible we can at best arrive at something like,
understanding how children learn + knowing what they already know + providing experiences for new learning + encouragement to learn MAY BRING ABOUT LEARNING
Notice that this can never become an equation nor can the same procedure work for all children at all times. It is this fact that makes designing a school a very difficult task. Nevertheless, to bring about learning, the 4 ingredients mentioned above are absolutely necessary. The absence of even one of them is detrimental to learning. We need to focus on each one of them.
Extending the debate: Add and View Comments
Tests and examinations have become the defacto standards of finding out what children know. Educators interested in measurement have developed more and more sophisticated, supposedly objective, reliable and valid measures of children's learning. Techniques of administering, scoring, evaluating have also become sophisticated. In typical situations, say an entrance test, these technologies of measurement have become quite capable of discriminating between the ones who know and ones who do not. Applying this in school however runs a danger. As has happened in the case of end of school board examinations, the examinations themselves have become the goal. All school processes appear to be geared towards preparing children to beat this exam. Words like outwitting, outclassing, outperforming should not have been part of the school dictionary. While educators are striving to prepare children for a harmonious world, examinations are driving children towards competition and comparison, which contributes to division rather than cohesion.
How can we find out what children know? Much of what happens in classrooms are oral in nature. Some of it is written, but nevertheless, all of it is verbal. This traditionally is an accepted form of evidence - for the teacher to state that she taught, for the school to hold the teacher accountable, and for the parent to check on the progress of the child. How valid is this? One, this presupposes that language learning has reached a point where children have all the vocabulary and grammar to express themselves. Two, that all evidences can be expressed in words. Three, and this is the most important one, that all learning is amenable to such coding. A child can dance, or sing, or balance herself on a high stool, or hang from the jungle gym using one of her hands, or has learnt to tie her shoe laces, or keeps her dress clean all day, or imitates the calls of birds... Much of what children learn cannot be codified in words. Perhaps an attempt to do so itself should be abandoned. If the purpose is only to help us design better learning environments, then the evidence lies in observing children, being with them, learning about them, rather than learning what they know.
Classrooms, particularly, the lower ones, say nursery or kindergarten are a great place to learn and practice 'being' with children. If we can create an open environment, where we allow, within reasonable limits, children to do what they want, and observe them doing so, we can learn a lot. Left to themselves, children can engage themselves in very many creative ways for long hours. But attempting to force them to do what adults prefer is the best way to kill this creativity. When they can, they'll rebel, when they can't they will suffer in silence, but their disinterest shows through. A sensitive teacher can not only learn to cater to their needs, but also adapt many of their activities and help them grow.
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