In the first image post of this series, we sought to define the ideal learning paradigm. I drew inspiration from Prof. Richard Feynman’s quote. My own life experiences have shown that learning is indeed most effective (in content and speed) when it is self-driven by one’s own curiosity and occasionally nudged along in the right direction by a teacher’s guidance. So I posed a question at the end of last post – how do we enable this kind of a learning process for every child? I wondered whether it is even possible to incorporate such a process in our largely stretched and commercial education system.
I think it is possible. For starters, here is an idea that can be implemented in middle/high school.
Every child can work on an individual project each term. The topic of this project must be the child’s decision – it can be anything that falls under the primary subjects taught in school, from ‘why is the sky blue?’ to ‘where do babies come from?’ (yes, it is time we addressed this question in schools, scientifically and responsibly). Children can be asked to submit 2 or 3 project questions/topics of their liking and the school can assign any one from the list based on their available resources, i.e. teachers.
Every teacher has his/her own expertise, as well as his/her own enthusiasm levels checkered by time management. While it may be necessary for every teacher to pitch in, it is even more important to ensure that no teacher is burdened with more-than-manageable number of students to guide. Since this process places a great onus on teachers to be responsive and compassionate to their assigned cluster of students, it is important that their enthusiasm is not dampened by excessive workload.
The process expects teachers to essentially shift their role – from ‘teaching’ to ‘counseling’. They are expected to only guide students in their quest for answers. This guidance is often needed in the ‘method’ of finding answers, rather than the answers themselves. Seeking answer to any question requires one to develop reasoning and embrace the scientific methodology. One needs to find existing body of knowledge on the question, test assumptions, perhaps design experiments, note observations and then conclude after thorough reasoning (it may help the school to find ways to train its teachers in this process first).
For every child to receive this guidance, a teacher needs to find ways to communicate with him/her regularly – for example, a weekly basis. Perhaps the teacher can divide the assigned cluster of students across weekdays for personal guidance. In this digital age, a one-on-one interaction can be effectively conducted online at a mutually convenient time as well. Deciding time slots and venues for interaction with each child may need parental involvement. While this may be a challenge to implement, I imagine the real challenge will lie in restricting parental involvement (or takeover) in the child’s project after this stage!
How does the school test a child’s performance at the end of the term? Well, the child can present findings to his/her teacher’s cluster. The presentation can be a talk, have audio-visual aids or even be a demonstration. The idea is to get the child to share his/her thought process and encourage a discussion with peers. A project may not have found the answer to its question, but it is successful if the child demonstrates reasoning and creativity in his/her search.
I know there will be a number of practical difficulties in implementation – school participation, teacher training, time management, parental involvement, and the sheer number of projects to track and assess. But I believe that if we work out possible solutions for every step, it will be worth trying. At least for any one year in high school. Imagine if we could inculcate (or even just introduce the method of) scientific temper and reasoning in every child. There is then hope for a better world.. with more thought and inclusiveness.
But of all the questions that crowd my mind on this idea, one stands out – what if the kid dislikes science? Wouldn’t it defeat the process of self-driven curiosity if we force a science project down a kid’s throat in the hope of inculcating scientific temper?