Corporal Punishment in India

It is extremely painful to hear of yet another incident near Mangalore where a child’s life is lost due to the carelessness of a teacher. This incident only highlights the biggest issue facing Indian education today – lack of qualified & sensitive teachers.

Schools today enroll anyone & everyone as part of their faculty & are not stringent about quality. Moreover schools don’t spend time or energies in training teachers & sensitizing them about the needs of children.

I am sure if the physical trainer was effectively qualified (not just had a degree) & if he had basic sensitivity in place, this incident could have been averted. If other schools can take this issue up seriously & put some stringent measures in place such incidents can be avoided.

January 2011 – Enquiry, Introspection & Expression!!!

An obvious fact about our educational system today to me is that most of the stuff we teach children is going to be redundant by the time they grow up and enter the ‘big bad world’. Very basic question comes forward – What do we do to address this? What kind of education do we give our children?

For me the essence of an education is to teach our children Enquiry, Introspection & Expression. These words may sound straight forward but for me they mean the world of education in its entirety.

In this ever changing world if our children have the ability to ask the right questions, raise the right issues, get into the depth of situations around them they get an acute understanding of the world around them. This habit of Enquiry leads us to be more sensitive to the world around us and its needs and requirements.

The more technology and gadgets surround us the more we tend to get away from ourelves, it is increasingly becoming essential to teach our children to just hold back and do that ‘precious nothing’, a time that enables them to be with themselves and look within for the true meaning of their existence. As idealistic as it may sound, some very common issues plaguing our society today like greed, corruption, hatred all stem from the fact that ‘We’ are not in touch with ‘Ourselves’. Deep within we are all the same, Introspection allows us to be in touch with ourselves and our abilities, thereby enabling us to live up to our potentials.

Individuals who question and also seek answers need platforms to express themselves. The beauty of this expression is that it can translate and transcend itself into any form right from art to creativity to invention to innovation to literature to science to social change to political expression to education to technology to fashion et al, this list is endless, infact every profession in its true sense is an Expression of man.

In a recent conversation with Mr. Sanjiv Kumar a passionate educator and change agent who heads the Takshila Education Society he mentioned that the challenges of education are so great today that it is very difficult to maintain and give high quality education to large numbers. But he believes that the best way to prepare children for the future is to expose them to as many challenges and opportunities as we can during their schooling, so he goes out of his way to provide as many activities in his schools to ensure that through them the children learn a lot of valuable life lessons that rarely books can impart.

So the answer I believe is to prepare children who have the skills to learn whatever they need to learn to survive in the ever changing world.

I hope and pray that in the next decade marked by the arrival of 2011 we can create educational institutions that nurture children who express themselves with freedom within and an understanding outside.

If I don’t learn the way you teach me, teach me the way I learn… David Kolb

In the last 30 or 40 years, a number of educators have proposed that teaching would be more effective when schools and faculty members take account of differences in students’ learning styles. David Kolb an American educationist focused on experiential learning by which he developed the Learning Styles Model (LSM) that enhances learning.

Experiential learning is a term used to describe the sort of learning undertaken by students who are given a chance to acquire and apply knowledge, skills and feelings in an immediate and relevant setting. Experiential learning thus involves a, ‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it.’

Experiential Learning…

David A. Kolb created his famous model out of four elements: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations. He represented these in the famous experiential learning circle that involves (1) concrete experience followed by (2) observation and experience followed by (3) forming abstract concepts followed by (4) testing in new situations. It is a model that appears time and again. Kolb (1975) argues that the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points – and that it should really be approached as a continuous spiral from the educators and faculty point of focus.

According to Kolb, knowing an individual’s (student) learning styles enables learning to be oriented according to the preferred method. Having developed the model over many years prior, David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984. The model gave rise to related terms such as Kolb’s experiential learning theory (ELT), and Kolb’s learning styles inventory (LSI). Most schools today understand the importance of using various teaching approaches / ways of learning to enhance education but may be unaware of the proponent behind the same and its rationale.

According to Kolb (1984), “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.” He proposes that experiential learning has six main characteristic:

  • Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes
  • Learning is a continuous process grounded in experience
  • Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world (learning is by its very nature full of tension)
  • Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world
  • Learning involves transactions between the person and the environment
  • Learning is the process of creating knowledge that is the result of the transaction between social knowledge and personal knowledge

Kolb’s Learning Styles

The David Kolb learning styles model is based on the Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). According to Kolb’s model, the ideal learning process engages all four of the following modes in response to the situational demands faced by children and adults. In order for learning to be effective, all four of these approaches must be incorporated. As students may attempt to use all four approaches, however, they tend to develop strengths in one experience-grasping approach and one experience-transforming approach.

Kolb’s learning model is based on two continuums that form a quadrant:

  • Processing Continuum: Here the students approach to a task, such as preferring to learn by doing or watching.
  • Perception Continuum: This is the students’ emotional response, such as preferring to learn by thinking or feeling.

According to Kolb, the learning cycle involves four processes that must be present for learning to occur. The resulting learning styles are combinations of the individual’s preferred approaches. These learning styles are as follows:

  • Diverging (Concrete experience) – Emphasizes the innovative and imaginative approach to doing things. Concrete situations are viewed from many perspectives and the child adapts by observation rather than by action. It is feeling-oriented. Cooperative group activities and brainstorming are usually preferred.
  • Assimilating (Reflective observation) – Pulls a number of different observations and thoughts into an integrated whole. The ability to reason inductively results in creation of models. Students like to design projects and experiments.
  • Converging (Abstract conceptualization) – Emphasizes the practical application of ideas and solving problems. Involves decision-making, problem-solving, and the practicable application of ideas.
  • Accommodating (Active experimentation) – Uses trial and error rather than thought and reflection. Students with an accommodating preferred style are good at adapting to changing circumstances; trial-and-error manner, such as discovery learning.

Depending upon the situation or environment, your students as learners may enter the learning cycle at any point and will best learn the new task if they practice all four modes.

Listed below are a few examples:

Learning to ride a bicycle:

    • Reflective observation – Thinking about riding and watching another person ride a bike
    • Abstract conceptualization – Understanding the theory and having a clear grasp of the biking concept
    • Concrete experience – Receiving practical tips and techniques from a biking expert
    • Active experimentation – Leaping on the bike and have a go at it

Learning algebra:

    • Abstract conceptualization – Listening to explanations on what it is
    • Concrete experience – Going step-by-step through an equation
    • Active experimentation – Practicing
    • Reflective observation – Recording what the teacher has taught, gather one’s  thoughts about algebraic equations in the notebook

How the Learning Styles Theory Impacts Education?

Kolb suggests that teachers should assess the learning styles of their students and adapt their classroom methods to best fit each student’s learning style, which is called the ‘meshing hypothesis.’

Thinking about learning styles can lead a teacher to think about different ways of teaching, and that is good. An effective teacher needs to vary techniques and to have an armamentarium of teaching methods and learning activities that can be drawn upon from moment to moment or from week to week to facilitate maximum learning for as many students as possible.

Methods of teaching, ways of representing information, and personality characteristics of teachers all affect learning and affect different learners differently. Learning styles impacts education in the following ways suggests Kolb…

CurriculumEducators/faculty members must place emphasis on intuition, feeling, sensing, and imagination, in addition to the traditional skills of analysis, reason, and sequential problem solving.

InstructionTeachers should design their instruction methods to connect with all four learning styles, using various combinations of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation. Instructors can introduce a wide variety of experiential elements into the classroom, such as sound, music, visuals, movement, experience, and even talking.

AssessmentTeachers should employ a variety of assessment techniques, focusing on the development of “whole brain” capacity and each of the different learning styles.

What may be worth noting is that the role of the educator/teacher is diverse and has several orientations. One important aspect is that of facilitator of student learning attempting to provide circumstances that will enable students to engage with their learning styles and construct for themselves their understandings and skills of the knowledge imparted. This role will interact with those of educator as learner himself/herself, a colleague and a community partner.

December 2010 – The feminine energy

Of late I have noticed that the overall quality and personality of girls is so much better than that of boys. This year between July and October I have travelled over 4 countries to organise Horlicks Wizkids.  The biggest competition in that event is the WizTeam, a hunt for students with the best overall personality.

In the South Asian finals 44 out of 60 participants were girls, infact at most city level finals 8 out of 10 were girls. If one assumes that this is a trend evident in India; then read this:  the 3 finalists from Sri Lanka were all girls, Pakistan had 2 girls among 3 finalists. This trend is not just limited to the middle class private schools across India.  In our extensive work in government schools of Karnataka through our Akshaya Life Skills programme I have noticed that girls tend to do better even in if they are economically backward. Year after year all of us have seen this trend in the results of class 10 and class 12 of various boards. Wonder why this is happening and where is this leading to?

A pertinent question that needs to be addressed to answer the question needs us reflecting on what happens to all these brilliant girls after schooling? A sad reality is that most of them do not get an opportunity to study further for various social and economical reasons. If only they are given opportunities sighs the mind!  All of us talk about and debate on reservations but creating opportunities for these girls in our society is the true challenge. Pondering over the flip side of the question; one needs to study another school of thought which says that boys mature late and they tend to shine a little later in life. But even if you look at higher education, wherever there are equal opportunities, girls tend to do better!

I see that the future will see the rise of ‘feminine’ energy in the main stream of our society and a lot of things will evolve with that energy in the forefront. It is very evident that women do well in certain traditional professions like teaching, nursing but male dominated professions like politics, bureaucracy, corporate, technology will all have adverse impact in their functionality if women start dominating them.  Evidently it is happening, albeit slowly. With the way things are going in this part of the world I will not be surprised if we have women in the near future ruling the man’s world, not just the man’s home!

Staying on this point and looking at our educational system from this perspective, the way it is being run is very mechanical, very masculine, what is missing or waning is the feminine energy. The strength of Indian educational system in the past had been the sensitivity with which our society looked at teachers and schools.  In our mad rush to educate masses we are losing out on that sensitivity and we are now treating the most important aspect of education – Principals and teachers as elements that deliver quality. If we look at some of the biggest issues facing our planet – terrorism, environmental degradation by man, politics, corruption all of them seem to stem from a very ‘masculine’ form of energy. Unless we bring back that ‘feminine’ energy into our planet, things will not change. If we do not sustain this ‘feminine’ energy, we will only churn out youngsters with degrees, not educated youth with the potential to live a peaceful life of coexistence and harmony.

Sri Aurobindo’s Road to Integral Education

“Every child is a spark of the divine meant to progress, evolve and develop through experiences. This development on the line of the child’s own choice needs to be nourished and not forced to be molded in accordance with the parent’s ambitions or pre ordained expectations of society. This is quite different from the present educational industrial mindset, which churns the raw material into uniform mass production.” Dr (Mrs.) Chhalamayi Reddy, Principal of the Sri Aurobindo International School (SAIS), Hyderabad, student for 15 years at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Ashram, Pondicherry and an ardent admirer of Sri Aurobindo writes about the legend and his philosophy of education.

Education as enunciated by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother is very different from what is normally understood and practiced. It requires us to unlearn our habitual ways of viewing education and other associated responses. The key is a change in the mindset with which we view education; such a paradigm shift of the right perception of what truly constitutes a child, is expected of educators, teachers and parents.

In Mother’s and Aurobindo’s view the aim of true education should be to give the students a chance to distinguish between the ordinary life and the life of truth – to see things in a different unconventional way. Unlike what is commonly expected, to crave for money and worldly recognition or to be engrossed in the pursuit of career building cannot be the sole aim of education.

“To learn for the sake of knowledge, to educate oneself in order to grow in consciousness, to discipline oneself in order to become master of oneself, to overcome one’s weaknesses, incapacities and ignorance, to prepare oneself to advance in life towards a goal that is nobler, more generous and more true.”

This is what is expected of students of Integral Education; an all round progress and a constant striving for self exceeding; one of the most significant contributions by Sri Aurobindo to education and understanding the student holistically.

“Do not aim at success, our aim is perfection…”

What did Aurobindo connote by all round development?

The student is made of five distinct parts (body, emotions, mind, soul and spiritual being) all of which must be developed through education.

The aim of the body is to express beauty and harmony and needs to be trained to be strong, healthy and supple. Next, the need to consciously help our students deal effectively with their emotions. We also want our children to develop a sense of esthetic refinement.  The mind being the main focus of modern education needs to develop both its parts – the left and the right brain through the training of its various respective faculties of observation and analysis and the other of comprehension and creativity. The most important and central part consists of the fourth dimension which is that of the truth of our being namely our psychic being (the evolving soul) within which grows across lives through every kind of experience. Its essential nature is to aspire for truth, goodness and beauty. The last dimension is that of the spiritual self (beyond the mind) which we will not concern ourselves with for now.

Such is the broad framework of what needs to be addressed in the development of the child, the teacher and even in ourselves through a life-long education.

 

In several ways Aurobindo’s educational vision is meant to open the way of the future to children who belong to the future. (What he stated about education was a century ago.)

Does this mean that Integral education is not probable to be implemented in schools today?

For that matter it has absolute relevance because the need has been intensely felt by many that the evoking of the real self within is the most rewarding object of education and for the student. Therefore, schools today must necessarily reinforce the spiritual dimension (not religious) of education long neglected.

Sri Aurobindo’s three principles of teaching:

The first principle states “…nothing can be taught.” The teacher is not an instructor or taskmaster; he/she is a helper and a guide. His/her role is to suggest and not to impose. The teacher does not actually train the pupil’s mind; he/she only shows the student how to perfect his/her instruments of knowledge for himself. He/she does not call forth the knowledge that is within; the teacher only shows where it lies and how it can be habituated to rise to the surface. The truth that this principle conveys has been advocated in India by all the great educational thinkers as it in alignment to the ancient Indian belief that all knowledge lies within and needs only to be unfolded.

The need is to create interest in the child to learn, which leads us to the second principle “…the mind has to be consulted in its own growth. The idea of hammering the child into the shape desired by the parent or teacher is a barbarous and ignorant superstition. There can be no greater error than for the parent to arrange beforehand that his son/daughter shall develop particular qualities, capacities, ideas, virtues or be prepared for a prearranged career.” This is a principle of great value and relevance to all teachers, parents and educators to liberate the child from their personal and selfish expectations.

The third principle takes into consideration the nativity involved in the child’s learning –therefore the need “to work from the near to the far from that which is to what shall be.”

These three principles serve as the foundation of Integral Education and show us how to work towards its right implementation. They can be practiced in any school.

Curriculum must be designed keeping in view the interest of the students as per their age, learning styles and varied interests. The child needs to be encouraged to pursue his own line of interest in the future course of his life.

Although still at the infant stage, we at Sri Aurobindo International School (1965) entered the domain of practicability and made it possible to bring about some changes in the educational curriculum and re-orient it towards integral education. We have started in earnest to implement the same in phases from 1993.

The inspiration for SAIS and that for other schools is to draw from a system of Integral Education linked with Sri Aurobindo’s concept of Integral yoga.  Its fundamental educational concept is ‘that every child is an evolving soul’, and that the responsibility of the teacher and the parent is to enable it to grow to its true and fullest potential.

As heads of schools our goal is high and the scope is endless. The only possible thing to do is to take the first step in this challenging and meaningful journey of realizing true education, that of Integral Education.

 

November 2010 – Keep learning and keep growing!

I was attending the 2nd International Conference “Excellence in School Education” organised by the Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. It was a very interesting experience and some very pertinent thoughts on education came to the fore. The line up of speakers was very impressive and several key areas of education were addressed.  The themes of the various sessions were: School & Society, Emerging domain of school leadership, effective leadership, learning organism Vs organisation, school management processes, navigating systems & processes, growth & quality, curricula, pedagogy & assessment.

The focus of most of the speakers revolved around the a desperate need to revamp the way we look at education and our curriculum, the way we are assessing our children, bringing back the smile on the faces of children and most important of all focussing on teacher development. Like what is typical of conferences there were some brilliant sessions and some very irrelevant sessions, but by and large the enthusiasm of over 500 educators from across India was commendable as they had all come in eagerly to learn and make a difference to their institutions.

What was amazing was that almost every speaker in as many words unanimously agreed that the single biggest issue that needs to be addressed to bring about Excellence in Education is to nurture and empower ‘Teachers’. The challenge for India in the coming decade is going to be to create educators or teachers who can take up the responsibility of education an entire generation of children that our population is throwing up.

I made a presentation to the audience on how to address the issues of Teachers Empowerment. The challange for our country is two fold

–          Creating teachers training programs that are scaleable

–          Ensuring that there is a consistency in quality across all training programs

As a possible solution to this problem I introduced the audience to School Cinema and demonstrated how it could be used as an amazingly successful Teachers Training tool. Several schools across India been using this very effectively in the past year and the results are very encouraging.

As educators we attend a lot of conferences and workshops and the next day when we come back to our environment we get back to square one. Here is one practical suggestion that has worked for me. Over my years of attending conferences I have always done something simple, I make a note of a couple of things that have impacted me most & one or two things that I am going to action based on the inputs I received and the relevance to my work. Keep learning and keep growing!