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Time for Schools to look beyond the Facade

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By Roli S
There should be no hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic streams, etc., in order to eliminate harmful hierarchies among, and silos between, different areas of learning, is what the NEP is hoping to achieve and rightly so.

This teaching approach of simplifying education by isolation and compartmentalising was created basically because the siloed approach and subjects helped schools and teachers, but they really never helped the students. Today, I find it bewildering that education systems across the world still exist within a structure created for a paradigm that has long outlived its ‘due by date’. Though educators continue to refine the creative art of teaching, at the end of the day, however, they are constrained by the same claustrophobic structures borne out of a manufacturing mindset.

While teaching in schools many a time I had felt frustrated because I was not allowed to talk about English grammar while I was talking about the ‘Solar System’. I had to deliberately keep the two subjects separate though, often times, I felt that while my students were reading a lesson on ‘Freedom Movement of India’, they could be told about the ‘Past Tense’ and this would save me from repeating the same concept in my English class and I could utilise that time to inculcate the love for world literature, perhaps, in my students. Organisational silos are pervasive in the educational sector. Like the grain silos that farmers use to separate different agricultural products, these silos separate different subjects, teachers, departments, and even thought processes. Highly resistant to change, these silos have blocked easy access to the information destroying positive change and progress across K-12 schools.

When teachers and school principals prepare the yearly curriculum, it suits them to put every subject, every approach, and every resource in separate compartments as that way it is easier to map the curriculum. So, a math teacher has to focus on math and an English teacher on English, that too at the designated time and with a pre-decided content. But how effective is this approach to preparing children for a more complex world where every subject is interrelated?

As human beings we have always lived in an interdisciplinary world and the complications of the 21st century do not fall in the boxes. It is thus time that we present to our students these problems in some of their complex glories in the school environment and give them the opportunity to appreciate the unifying themes and exercise this muscle.

According to the NEP 2020, the time has now come for our education system to begin to put an end to these hard separations between science and humanities streams and curricular and extra-curricular activities in all our schools, irrespective of their location and the boards they follow. We need to breakup this storehouse mentality and look towards integrating topics and showing the linkages between them. Considering how deeply this siloed approach is followed by our education system, I suggest that we need not go full steam ahead but, initially, we can certainly show how topics are linked every now and then.

My experience as an educator tells me that many of our more up to date and informed schools have in fact already started following this approach of integrating subjects to present new information, but more often than not, I have found during school reviews that, due to lack of flexibility in the daily schedule and curriculum rigidity, these initiatives do not take off in the manner expected. In fact, research has shown that integrating subjects has numerous benefits. Students gain an increased understanding and retain what they learn longer; and this method improves the motivation to learn, too, so why are we then not looking seriously to breaking down these silos in common schools?

According to me, achieving the silo less curriculum may not even require a system wide revolution, but as more teachers are trained to focus on interdisciplinary studies, siloed classes may gradually become obsolete on their own. This, in turn, will help cultivate an educational environment where even the most technical subjects can be broken down into absorbable blocks and utilised by today’s 21st century learners.

As the education community, we need to collectively look deeply at the mirage that the silo effect has created, the mirage that tells us that everything is great about the school. Everything is awesome because board exam results are awesome, but the reality is, when you really get into conversations with students, you discover that a natural disconnect occurs the minute students enter a school building and the learning culture does not meet the needs of many students.

Thus it is important to peel away the many layers at the surface in order to gain a better understanding of where our school culture is currently. The separation and segregation that gives the silo effect often creates a feeling of false satisfaction because the doorway to fresh ideas is not open. The key to pursuing excellence in our education is to welcome an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe averageness, because growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety. ‘Education without application after all is just entertainment,’ I had heard somewhere, but if you ask me, education without application is not even that.

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