“We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today.”
~ Stacia Tauscher
We talk about education incessantly. We discuss and we debate about the state of the education system in our country and the need for better and more universities. I often wonder whether we are headed in the right direction. Should we focus our attention elsewhere, instead of higher education? What will ensure the best education for the citizens of tomorrow?
We must begin by understanding the meaning of this word “education”. In it is hidden a world of meaning and much will become clear to us if we begin to understand what the word implies. It comes from the Latin ‘educere’, ‘e’ which means ‘out of’ and ‘ducere’, which means ‘to draw’. Therefore, education is not just about putting information in; it is about drawing out from the learner the knowledge, skills and understanding that is lying dormant in him. Clearly then, education cannot be limited to the books and the curriculum. As Gandhi said education must involve the all round drawing out of the best in the individual; body, mind and spirit.
Everyone accepts that education is a big challenge now. As the world around us is changing rapidly, there is a great need for us to change the way we teach. Knowledge remains the same, how we perceive it changes. To prepare our children for life, we have to stop edifying knowledge. Instead, we have to teach them something unique. In this increasingly technology driven world, we need to be teaching our children how to build relationships and how to approach life and work. We need to provide them opportunities to develop skills such as communication, decision making, value, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others, leadership, creativity, research and problem solving – skills that will make them 21st century ready.
Universities like Harvard conduct empirical studies that track children’s performance through nursery to university. Through these studies they analyse how individuals, who were achievers in the kindergarten classes, fared in their adult life. Thus, being able to guide and monitor their learning and ensuring successful individuals. However, in India the unavailability of such data makes us rely heavily on the grade X and grade XII results. Are we doing justice to our children? Are we giving them the guidance and support they need? What is the purpose of education?
Investment in education begins with the parents’ decision to bring another life into this world. And education begins from the very moment of conception. The child is greatly affected by the parents’ social, emotional and physical state. A happy, healthy parent will bring into the world a happy, healthy child.
The child’s learning continues after his birth. Every interaction with the people and the environment around him is a learning opportunity for the young one. Jean Piaget theorised that children took an active role in the learning process, acting much like little scientists as they performed experiments, made observations, and learnt about the world. Maria Montessori too believed that as children interact with the world around them, they continually add new knowledge, build upon existing knowledge, and adapt previously held ideas to accommodate new information.
According to Erik Erikson, the child’s personality develops as it successfully resolves crises that are distinctly social in nature. These involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future.
Undoubtedly there is little uncertainty that we must focus on building the skills of our learners in the early years. But, one may say that it is one thing to talk about theories, and completely another to translate them into action.
My life’s quest has been to transform a somewhat Utopian vision into tangible reality. I have always dreamt of a world that is characterised by peaceful coexistence- a world peopled with citizens who possess a heightened sense of responsibility, are engaged in meaningful pursuits, lead a balanced life and have a mentally healthy outlook that creates harmony in body and mind.
I have been working in the field of education for almost 2 decades now, and I can vouch that the answer lies in a well structured, carefully planned, accountable and appropriate curriculum that will create children who respond and react positively to the learning environments. The result would be happy, empowered, well adjusted and competent individuals who possess the skills to create a better world.
But before all else, we must understand that it is the child who is the curriculum. All planning must be done keeping the child’s needs at its heart and with the awareness that the world around us is dynamic and always in a flux.
An important aspect that has to be kept in mind is that children do not learn only in a school. The entire world is their school: marketplaces, hospitals, cafes, trains, airplanes, home –it is infused into the society.
Everywhere children go, they learn. We must consider that our lives are driven and directed by technology, therefore, to ensure that our children are 21st century ready, we must not exclude this aspect from our curriculum either.
Of vital importance is our perception of the educator. In this age, educators are not just licensed professionals at school. Parents, grandparents, friends, along with every person that a child interacts with are his educators. Thus, a strong home – school connect is truly important.
A curriculum that is planned keeping in mind the changed perceptions and roles of the school and the educator along with the needs of the child will undoubtedly be a successful one. Transaction of the curriculum must be done through activities that focus on integration of curriculum domains and building skills of the children through play. Play, especially for the little ones, is a way of learning. Strangely, many educators and parents still differentiate between a time for learning and a time for play without seeing the vital connection between them.
Awareness of different learning styles and multiple intelligences is a must if we want to ensure learning for all. Children do not learn in the same way. How learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment is different for each individual.
A mismatch between an instructor’s style of teaching and a student’s method of learning can create potential learning obstacles within the classroom. Therefore, activities should use a variety of teaching modalities to deliver instruction.
We cannot forget that teaching is not about answering questions but about raising questions – opening doors for the children in places that they could not imagine. The learning process can be made meaningful and enjoyable by ensuring that it is self – driven. If we can create an environment for our young learners that is wholesome, challenging, engaging and motivating, we will surely be able to instil an intrinsic motivation within the children to learn. If we are able to achieve this in the learners at the very first stage of their life, rest assured higher education will not pose a challenge.
Keep in mind that each child is a miracle, and that there hasn’t been and never will be another like him. Just remember that to nurture the creative and curious spirit of the children – stoke the flame and let the fire burn.