25 November 2019

Education is all about learning, not teaching

Sujay is now working with Sampark Foundation to improve the teaching-learning methodologies in rural India
By Spark Sujay Biswas

I grew up in Chhattisgarh, shuffling between state and CBSE boards to complete my primary and secondary education. After completing my class-5 studies, I joined the district Navoday Vidhyalaya (CBSE board school). All the classroom transactions here, were in English and I started feeling the lack of experience in speaking English was making it difficult for me to communicate and learn. Gradually, I understood the larger problem- the lack of good teaching practices and acceptance of language barriers made it hard for me to transition from a Hindi-medium school to an English-medium one. Also, the CBSE curriculum (at Nav Uday) is completely dependent on the working knowledge of English, while the State board syllabus has no such conditions.

 While the difficulty for me, specifically, was the absence of experience in spoken English, the problem was deeply rooted. I was ill-confident and was not taught how to grasp new concepts in the right manner. I believe that the knowledge and confidence of a student largely depends on his or her teachers. And I was perhaps never taught more than I needed to pass the exams. Instead of teaching us how to build sentences or communicate better in our local language, we were taught words without their application in daily life. I somehow managed to pick up words and alphabets, but it wasn’t until I was 10 that my uncle taught me how to spell my name in English. Experiences like these had not prepared me for the English-speaking way of life or school. If I was taught how to use ‘apple’ or ‘table’ in a sentence in primary school, I might have had more practical experience of the English language. 

 And this was not just the case for English as a subject. In Math classes, where we could be taught with objects of daily use, we were taught tables and numbers which made no sense to us. After all, if I can’t add 22 and 42 with a simple mental math calculation while purchasing groceries, then how could I relate to Math and numbers in life outside the classroom?

 The problem, I think, with the current education system in rural India is that we are not educating our children on life skills which will help them after school. Because of outdated teaching methodologies, and lack of interest of teachers in helping their students learn something new—the learning outcome of students is usually very low in primary school. Teachers focus on getting children to attend school and not what they are taking back home from their experience in school each day.

 We are living in a time when infrastructure, trends, technology, economy—everything is evolving at a fast pace. Then why are we still using outdated books and stories to prepare the leaders of tomorrow? Teachers, I believe, can be heroes for children. And to become a Hero, teachers need to re-think and re-design what we are teaching our children and how is it relevant to them.

 My search to many questions ended when I joined Sampark Foundation in 2017. I believe our innovations in Math and English is helping teachers re-think and re-design their techniques.  In the past two years, I have seen substantial growth in many children in rural areas of Chhattisgarh. Not only are students able to pronounce words now but they are using their learnings to string together many words and form sentences! 

(The writer is Sampark Spark in Chhattisgarh. Views expressed are personal)