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A rectangle is a shape that has four sides and the two opposite sides are equal.
We adults all know this. I’m not introducing anything new here. But do you know where did I pick up this definition from? From the textbook of a nursery class student. A 3 or 4-year-old child being taught the concept of the rectangle shape is great; it’s good to start learning early. But how they are being taught is where I found a problem.
I happened to see the e-learning video shared for the same student by his school teacher (now that kids are taking online classes in the COVID situation). The teacher repeated the exact same lines given in the textbook (the aforementioned definition), with the only addition being that she showed the picture of the shape in the video.
That’s it? I thought. Does the child know the meaning of “sides”, “opposite” and “equal”? I didn’t have to think hard because I knew that a three-year-old wouldn’t, which his mother too confirmed upon inquiring. So, that’s it then; the class for the day over; the child left completely blank by the end of it. An important concept introduced to him early in life but, of which sadly, he now doesn’t have the slightest idea.
You ask the same child 3 or 4 years after, “Baby, what is a rectangle? And he’d proudly repeat the definition to you without making the slightest mistake. But has he understood the concept? No! This means that he doesn’t learn to identify the shape in everyday objects around him because he did not understand the meaning of those words in the definition back then.
This is where the problem lies with our education system, of which the schools and teachers are mere participants, but inevitably they become serious culprits in the whole game. It is now that these major flaws with the system are being exposed with online schooling but haven’t they been in place since ages?
Take a minute to go back to the times when you were a student. How many such examples can you find of concepts that you “learned” extremely well, securing an A+ or A grade in the subject, but which you don’t really “know” that well.
If teachers don’t explain concepts well, are parents expected to do so? Aren’t we paying heavy fees already to the school to take care of this?
Let me give you a simple example. An excerpt I picked up from the General Knowledge textbook of a Grade-1 student:
“Taj Mahal is an impeccable architectural marvel built in pure white marble. This tomb was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife.”
When I overheard the kid learning the definition for an online assessment he was about to take the following day, I couldn’t resist asking, “Do you know what a tomb is?” He looked at me with all innocence and nodded his head in denial. I got my answer. I further asked, “Do you know the meaning of the words, ‘impeccable’, ‘architectural’, ‘marvel’, ‘marble’, or any of these, if not all?” He again said no.
So this is what our kids are becoming into - mindless parrots, who are being trained to learn and repeat stuff remarkably but who have no idea or a mind of their own to understand what it even means.
Can they be blamed? Of course not! These are concepts introduced to them for the first time ever. How would they know? Then are the parents to be blamed? You could say, perhaps partly, because they didn’t or couldn’t help the child understand the concept while preparing him for the assessment. But is it really the parents who should be seeing whether or not or why the child doesn’t understand the concept? Aren’t they paying hefty amounts of fees already to the school to be taking care of this?
Are the teachers to be blamed then? Yes, though not completely, because as I said earlier, the flaw lies at the very core of the system itself. A system which doesn’t pay as much attention to what, how, and how much information is being disseminated and to whom.
Of course, it is in the very hands of the teachers to do their job well. And they must. He/she can easily assume whether what’s written in the textbook can or cannot be comprehended by a student of that age. The textbook, after all, has been written by a scholar/researcher/a PhD holder in the subject. How can a child’s knowledge/understanding be compared at any level to the former’s?
So when you know that children of this age or grade may not be able to understand a specific concept, it’s important to simplify it to their understanding. And, there is no harm in generalizing here that all students may be facing problems comprehending; those who don’t will obviously benefit from the enhanced explanation and those who already understood will be able to verify their answers. So it’s a win-win situation for all.
So What Fundamental Issues Are We Harping On?
As I write this, I speak for a lot of parents who would agree with me or voice the same opinion. I’ve been a witness to a number of heated discussions on the following issues in several Whatsapp/Facebook groups, which prompted me to bring these to the attention of other like-minded parents:
1. Children are treated like robots or machines
The amount of homework, notes to be copied, coupled with home assignments and related activities can get overwhelming for both children and parents. And this trend starts as early as Grade 1! When children would go to school, the only exception (and relief) was that notes were made to be completed inside the classroom. Now with online schooling, this load has also been thrust on their backs (more on the parents’ shoulders though).
I don’t say that any of the above is unimportant or unnecessary for the child. I and other parents like me aren’t able to comprehend why children as small as First Graders are subjected to “undue pressure” from the schools in terms of homework and notes completion? Do the schools perceive kids to be robot-like machines that can keep performing tasks one after the other and finish them in a jiffy?
You ask the school and they say: These notes can be completed by the child in their own time. But where do they give the time? Every day, there’s a new subject to study as per the time table, not to forget the homework and notes to be completed for the same too. This would inevitably pile up the previous day’s load on the child.
2. Children are encouraged to parrot what they learn
Mugging up concepts without really understanding their core meaning is an issue that’s existed in schools since forever. Most of us would agree and reminisce having experienced the same at some point of time in their respective schooling life. The same is being continued even today.
And now that we are parents, we hate our kids being turned into parrots too. They’re expected to score high (both from schools and parents) in the course of which, they will eventually learn well and parrot or write the same to score good marks but they would never be clear on what those concepts mean or be able to explain the same to their children in future.
3. Children feel bogged down and become disinterested
This is the most important and if not addressed promptly, may become unfavorable to all parties involved in this. Children, when laden with study pressure, may soon start losing interest in the very concept of learning - the ultimate aim for why we send kids to school in the first place. If that aim gets lost in the mind of the child, it’s the end of the story for both them and their parents - children might still study under pressure but we aren’t turning them into bright young minds for the future.
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Is There A Solution To This Problem?
Yes! Every problem has a solution. It only needs two things - A) To think sincerely about what can be done, and B) To stop complaining and take sincere action in helping to improve the situation.
We humans unconsciously and spontaneously enter the ‘complaint mode’ but now when it’s the question of our child’s future, it’s time to exit mode C (Complaint) and enter mode A (Action). Here’s what I feel teachers and parents can and should do to help the situation.
What Teachers Need To Do
1. Ease the load; Rome wasn’t built in a day
I agree teachers have a set curriculum to follow and some prescribed deadlines to meet at a scheduled time in terms of completing the portions, after which they can take assessments. But in the process, is it fair to pressurize the kids either by assigning too much homework or asking to write three-chapter notes together like a machine?
The current remote schooling situation is agreeably stressful for everyone. Kids are anyway trying their best to cope with the new learning system, understanding concepts (small students can’t even ask teachers directly since they’re learning from recorded videos). Such children, in the physical absence of the teacher, are finding it hard to learn. Why overload them further?
It’s important to follow an organized way of covering lessons and the related notes, homework or assignments such that neither parents nor children feel pressured, especially when we’re expecting parents to share the teaching load in the current scenario.
2. Make sure you explain concepts in a way that children can understand
Without explaining, teaching anything to these little minds is a futile exercise. They will become excellent parrots, yes, but not bright and intelligent beings in their lives. And our ultimate aim is to sharpen these young brains, not their tongues!
Most important, when introducing a concept or subject to the child for the first time, greater attention must be paid to ensure that it’s explained in both an easy and interesting way.
3. Be open to feedback from parents
Now that schooling is being done from home, parents are able to keep a closer check on their kids’ schooling patterns - the method of teaching followed, the type of activities/assignments given, etc. In some cases, if the parents feel that the child has not been able to fully understand a lesson/concept explained by the respective teacher, the latter should be willing to take appropriate relevant feedback from parents.
This is very important because parents are the only direct source of information about the child’s progress in the current scenario. The teacher should take feedback and also try and work towards the same to ensure that the child is able to follow the classes well.
Teachers need to ease the load on kids. Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Parents Can Help Too
In this new method of COVID-induced remote schooling, teachers and parents are together in helping the children sail through the academic year. While the larger load does lie with the school and the teachers in ensuring smooth sailing, parents too have a significant role. Here’s how they can help ensure that kids don’t feel pressured:
1. Keep some ‘me time’ for the child
There is no set schooling schedule followed at the moment, no timetable either. Children are busy attending classes in the first half of the day and completing homework/assignments in the latter half. It’s important for the parent to keep some time in the day for children to feel refreshed, energetic and positive to resume their studies.
You may choose a convenient time as per your child’s schedule. Preferably, if it can be after they finish classes and before they resume homework, it’d be better because they’d feel relaxed and fresh to start again.
Also, instead of letting them watch TV/play a game on the mobile, encourage them for an indoor board game or playing in the balcony/ on the terrace. These activities work much better on the child’s mind. If your child’s interested in art/music, allow them some time in the day to do painting, drawing, craft or singing, dancing, playing an instrument, whatever they like.
You can create your own timetable for the child to follow, ensuring that they devote time to both studies and some extra-curricular activities to avoid feeling pressured.
2. Discourage mugging up without understanding
If you can explain the concept to them, great, if you can’t, avoid letting them simply learn it without understanding its exact meaning. Talk to the teacher concerned to explain the concept one more time so that the child is able to follow better.
When children get into the habit of learning without understanding, it restricts their knowledge about everyday things around them. They may score well in examinations but they’re not knowledgeable young minds. Which one do you prefer?
To Sum Up
The education system should be making intelligent human minds which can contribute to the society’s betterment in the future, not machines which can take in, process and return information well but do not understand its value or implications. We all have been a part of this factory-like setup since long; high time we stop letting our children be treated to the same. Do you agree?
I’d love to get your feedback and hear your views on this. Please share your valuable opinion in the comments below or drop me an email. If you like this post, please share it on your social media handles to let more parents know of this issue and help their children.
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