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Does ‘Curriculum in Our Classrooms’ curb Ingenuity?

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By Roli S

Most modern classrooms push students toward very clear and specific learning objectives by arrangement. The message in these classrooms goes – this is what we’re learning, and when you can do this, we will know that you’ve learned it.
The environment in classrooms most of the time is outcomes-based and the ‘success’ of students is determined by achieving a certain leveler that provides evidence of understanding by appearing in tests and exams. Everyone in the classroom is reaching towards the same target, often with the same way of demonstrating their understanding. Even remediation we find is usually very similar, as well as the criteria for success and marks allotment.
Amidst so much of talk about personalisation and personalised learning, the goal of education in our classrooms is not personalised learning. Personalised learning strategies are those in pursuit of getting good marks in the board exams. Here, I ask, which teacher has time to create 40 authentically personalised and unique question papers for her class of 40 students that would address individual learning needs on every assignment and test? So, when I analyse the situation, I come to the understanding that though creativity, choice, curiosity, and personalisation play roles in the learning process, they stop short of reaching the content itself.
Thus, it is a long-winded way of accepting that all students learn the same content via very similar routes using the very same resources and technology. Understanding also is usually measured in exactly the same way, whether the assessment is criterion or marks based.
I ask all the curriculum and content providers – is it a teacher problem or a curriculum and learning model problem that all students are given the same content exposure and learning environment? If we believe it is a problem at all then we have to acknowledge the fact that teachers cannot be given a goal of daily mastery of documented learning targets, to make sure the content is elegantly personalised and authentic for each student. We all know that the National Curriculum Framework 2005 is followed in our school countrywide and if the curriculum is shared, and the learning model is primarily direct instruction (or even collaborative or project-based learning), the teacher’s role is narrowly defined to: Deliver content, measure progress, intervene and provide remediation as best you can.
Let us examine the real issue here – whether our curriculum supports astuteness, creativity and brilliance of our students? By definition, most people are average at most things. We’d like to all think our children are exceptional, but if everyone is exceptional, no one is exceptional! Isn’t it? In most ways on most days, we are just like everybody else. We are probably average teachers, average drivers, average cooks, and average parents.
To translate this to letter grades, most students should be ‘C’ students considering that ‘C’ is average grade. ‘B’ represents above average performance, and ‘A’ represents exceptional performance. If the marks received by students in our exam papers and tests in schools project that most students get As and Bs, something somewhere is not right, isn’t it? Even if the grading is Criterion-based and every student absolutely excels on every assignment, even then we have a rigour problem, which is: what has the learner accomplished without help and what he or she has done with help.
Between shared national standards and common daily learning targets delivered via very similar learning models in most of our schools, the reality is that we’ve got ourselves a model of education that by its very nature encourages repeatable and similar performance and does not give a very clear idea of the learning achieved and ingenuity demonstrated.
The education is imparted similar to an industrial comfort zone – similar thinking, similar strategies; same content, same classrooms; similar teachers in similar rooms with more or less similar styles, year in, year out. Am I wrong in saying this?
Life is about self-knowledge, interdependence, and affection: Who am I, how am I connected to the things and people around me, and how can I show those relationships over a lifetime through my work to showcase my exceptional abilities, etc.?
But I am very interested in pointing out that many of our students, even after demonstrating mastery of every subject in every exam or test, are actually exceptional at absolutely nothing. And how should we respond when that happens because the very design of our curriculum is in question?
This is not so much an appeal for creativity in teaching and learning as it is about the kind of curriculum and content that does not support and bring out exceptional performances and talents of our children who are not to be defined by the grades A, B and C.
So, now what needs to be considered in our classroom is – what we teach (the content) and how we teach it (the learning models and teaching and learning and literacy strategies we employ). Does the curriculum and strategies we use suppress the natural genius in every child? Does it stifle it, only using it occasionally and rewarding it briefly when it happens to emerge? Or, does the curriculum and strategies necessitate and require students find and nurture and apply and showcase their genius in new ways they couldn’t ever have anticipated without help?
I have myself advocated that good teachers can make a dull textbook come to life, but it is not about just textbooks – there’s an urgent need for timeless curriculum content as well. What seems to be falling by the wayside is the curriculum that deals with the specific need of recognising geniuses and giving them a place in our classrooms. No ‘Steve Jobs’ of our school should feel unfit and out of place in our school environment. Warmth and brilliance of teachers is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child, but an effective curriculum is just as much necessary raw material to encourage and support ingenuity in our classrooms.

(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Mumbai.)