By Roli S
When I go shopping for fruits it is not difficult for me to choose an easy path. I mean I don’t hesitate to ignore the pineapples, the pomegranates and the custard apples just because it will be cumbersome to prepare them for eating. Mostly, my choices range from easy to difficult. I think we have all made choices that are all along that continuation, and that your explanation for your choices is similar to mine.
As humans, we’re naturally inclined to go for the easy option. And we have so many of them nowadays. Let me introduce you to a few of mine: I keep hearing that a particular online delivery company does not treat its employees well, still I keep ordering stuff from that company, just because their delivery is fast. I know that I have to carry a cloth bag while going shopping; still sometimes I avoid carrying them because they are cumbersome. Instead of reading books, I prefer to watch videos for information because it is quick and easy.
Taking my argument further to my topic of discussion, education, I state that the same easy choices we make in education as well. For example, if as teachers we really wanted to find out what a student really knows about a concept, having them answer open-ended questions would give us a pretty accurate picture. But essay questions, or even short-answer questions, are a lot harder to grade, as they require more time and patience than multiple-choice questions, which only ask students to choose correct answers. There’s a very good chance that a student might not actually understand the concept, but just guess the right answer. Still, because multiple choice tests are so efficient, and because we have so many students, we might lean in that direction more often.
I have mentioned often that the reason teachers of an average school opt for easy and quick options in education is because of large class sizes, a focus on board examinations, and a lack of inspiration. This means that teachers are always being asked to do more with less. The conditions under which most teachers teach are not anywhere near ideal for good quality teaching. So, the easy choice becomes more like a panic button, and teachers choose it not because they are lazy, but because they have to survive.
So, we keep making easy choices in education and cutting corners that we know aren’t really best practices for students but that we hope they are good enough in the present scenario of getting good marks in board examinations.
And we’ve been doing this for generations, moving students through the system, promoting them from one class to another and sending a number of them out into the world as more or less functional adults, so that we can tell ourselves that things were working well enough for us in our schools.
The pandemic of the past two years has exposed the loopholes in the education system even more. When class sessions were scheduled online during the pandemic, less than half the class would show up—even if it was mandatory. People started blaming the pandemic and remote learning. In fact, these only revealed the issues that education is suffering from even more. Because, the kind of teaching that was happening in most of our schools was only “working” because the students were physically present in front of the teachers, so most of the students, most of the time, did what teachers told them to do. It was an unspoken agreement made between educators and parents all over the world. Students go to school, sit there for seven to eight hours, do what teachers ask them to do, teachers give them sufficient and sometimes excellent grades to pass and move on to the other class. There was no guarantee under this system that students were actually learning something. And there was also, definitely, no guarantee whatsoever that they would ever be excited about learning of any kind.
Considering that the pandemic is now behind us, and schools have reopened, I’d like to propose that we enter this new phase of teaching, this new period in history, with a new approach, boosted by a new education policy of our country. Let teachers and educators make no more easy choices. Let the schools and managements begin to look at every decision made in our schools with a more critical and analytical lens, and every time any decision is taken towards school development let them be asking themselves, “Is this the best action, or are we just making an easy choice?”
Generally, whenever there is a talk about change in any school, the first reaction of teachers is that there will be ‘more work’. But the suggestion here is not to do more but to ‘do different’. Changing the way we approach teaching is not adding more to what we’re already doing. I think that teachers have already done more than enough especially during the pandemic.
The propositions made here are just meant for teachers. Although they can do some of this on their own, but if the management, the parents in the community, the district education offices, and other state education machineries are not involved then they are pushing the teachers to make easy choices again.
So, what will this new approach look like if we try to move away from the easy choices? What will it look like in our teaching practices?
In many classrooms, we had been giving “assignments” “tasks’ “homework”, etc., to students that made it look and feel like students were learning and interacting, but those assignments were actually just keeping them busy. It seemed that students had a lot of work to do, and teachers had to give and records lot of grades and marks, but real learning wasn’t necessarily happening. Reducing our overall quantity of work to only that which is densely packed with learning, that will give us room for all the rest of the changes I am suggesting, like hands-on experience, more project-based and community-based learning, experiential learning, more movement-based learning, and more field studies that let students use their surroundings as part of the curriculum. More meaningful work to do together! Sending pre-recorded lessons and have more face time with students in school, will give teachers enough time to follow these new approaches.
I gather that if teachers get rid of busy work assignments and do fewer, more robust, collaborative, project-based activities in the school, then the shift towards the assessment practices will naturally occur and more feed backs will take place instead of giving grades and marks.
Because of technology we can bring in more inclusivity in the classrooms and offer many other options to students so they can choose the pathway that works best for them, like letting them learn the content through video or audio, preferably with some sort of captioning or transcript to accompany them and demonstrate their learning by recording a response in audio or video form.
Teaching remotely has shown us that when we put students into an environment where participation no longer requires speaking up spontaneously in front of a group, we get more participation from introverted students and those who simply process their thoughts more slowly. As we transition to teaching in person, we can be thoughtful about finding ways to allow all intelligence types, learning styles to keep contributing in the ways that are more comfortable for them.
After the pandemic, even if we are interacting fully in-person, we can continue to offer options for at-home learning for students and families who need them, circumstances that demand them.
So now that in-person time is becoming more possible, let’s make the most of it. And that doesn’t mean cramming every minute with productivity. It means making time for joy, every day. After all post pandemic education and schools are at the very start of a new era. And we are wiser now. Our eyes are even more open to differences in student needs, to inequities in our education system and to how important our connection is with each other.
So, let’s not go back to the way things used to be. With this fresh start, let’s take that wisdom and use it. Teachers as you plan for the new academic sessions, do the slower, more nuanced, more satisfying work of prioritising quality over quantity and creating schools where each student, and each teacher, has what they need to thrive. Don’t forget the quote that, “It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny.” Make sure for education, yours is not an easy one.
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane)