The Knowledge Era

If you asked anyone how they could help their children cope with the changing world you may find a large number of people – parents and teachers included – are concerned with how they will manage to ‘keep up’ with their children.  But the world is NOT changing! Not for the child – he is born into a world where the great changes of the twenty-first century have already taken place. The problem perhaps is not helping the child to cope but helping adults to understand the differences.  For today’s child the only constant is change.  Like heat-seeking missiles, they actively seek out the latest change and adapt to it far better than most of us can. 

The learning world of today’s child

As an example of the use of just one gadget, the TV offers more than 50 channels today versus our 2 channels of 20 years ago. Children can absorb far more, can carry far more information in their minds; not raw facts, but information about where to get those facts when needed.  Today’s learner can make choices because he has them.  The fact is, children learn better from the audio-visual medium, yet we pretend it isn’t there.

With the wide variety of resource material available to young learners today it is neither possible nor desirable for any group of children to ‘own’ this material.  Nor is it possible for parents in the Indian economy to afford the variety of learning material that is necessary for an all-round education.  Other than books, this would mean that children would need access to high-quality libraries, DVDs and CDs, computers with Internet access, charts, maps, globes and a host of other knowledge devices.  This is truly possible only in an environment such as a school where the cost of such material is shared by a large number of learners and can be used multiple times with different learners.

The Teachers’ New Job

The teachers’ job is far more exacting.  It involves the evolution of newer roles for the teacher – the teacher as facilitator of learning, a person who guides knowledge and a developer of  ‘knowledge seekers’, rather than of ‘academic monsters’.  With such an overflow of information, the teacher has to guide its proper use – put the use of gadgets like computers and cellphones in their proper perspective, decide what information should be allowed into the classroom, advise on how the new instruments can be used for the benefit of the learner.  In order to do this, the teacher must know how to handle the technology herself. Today there is choice for the teacher too – she can learn to create resources, develop and deliver lessons using powerful computers and projectors – or more recently, Smart Boards and mobile-based learning.

Further, the teacher has to have a  working knowledge of the multiple learning systems available and of what they contain, so as to lead and guide the learner through the several alternatives, many of which may also mislead, misinform and confuse.  Let’s take a quick look at some of the technology based learning systems that are being used in schools today:

  • Internet-enabledcomputers in classrooms ensure that kids can find information, learn new skills, create presentations, work as teams when resources are limited and have a lot of fun learning.
  • Laboratoriesfor every subject where enough apparatus is available for learners to experiment and experience the concept not merely learn about it.  Can you pass a music theory exam without playing an instrument? You can. But can you learn to dance by studying about it from a text book?  This is why various exam boards have recommended subject-based learning labs.
  • Libraries to teach children to be critical consumers of knowledge. There can be several texts available for a subject including encyclopedias, magazines and problems to solve. There is also Audio-visual material – interactive multimedia with an opportunity for a teacher to explore along with a class.
  • Regular and focussed field trips to museums, technology parks like Science City, and Birla Industrial and Technological Museum – making experience real. 

All this requires new attitudes, new knowledge and new skills of learning --  an alternative to the traditional teaching techniques and a higher level of responsibility and accountability on the part of the teacher and school.  How many of your own teachers updated their knowledge or attended refresher programs in teaching techniques after their B.Ed?  So what are their skill sets?  How do they match with what is needed today?

A snapshot of Teaching Techniquesbeing used extensively across the world to cope with new learning styles – Using Multiple Intelligences, Collaborative Learning, Project Based Learning, Constructivist Classrooms, Peer Teaching, Theme Teaching, Team Teaching, Presentations.

Developing Soft Skills.  Because teachers are no more regarded as ‘gods’ in the system, they have to learn new ways of dealing with learners – some of the areas in which teachers could develop are in Interpersonal Skills such as Anger and Conflict Management, emotional intelligence and new ways to communicate.  We have to look at teaching a child to be assertive, not submissive!   Discipline can no longer be imposed – it is the act of a disciple and is learned through example only.  It’s a long climb down from the pedestal!

The School would have to become an enabling environment where guidelines take the place of rules and freedom of choice is offered to teachers and students alike. And of course, schools would have to house regularly updated repositories of information, with newer, state-of-the-art libraries, laboratories for all subjects and free access to knowledge banks.  I am not against swimming pools, tennis courts and multigyms.  However, these are available in clubs and some of the newer residential blocks. Let schools concentrate on the core business of education and primary socialization.

Who will take the risk?

So, whose responsibility is all this?  It is primarily the school’s responsibility to decide the path that they wish to take; to have a clear vision of the future; to provide opportunities to the students and teachers to upgrade and refresh knowledge; to provide better learning facilities than those available at home.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to actively seek out the knowledge that is needed, perhaps using the long vacations to update oneself in teaching skills.  It is the student’s responsibility to grab the learning opportunities with both hands, whenever available and to have the courage to think beyond the narrow horizons of syllabus and textbook.  It is the parent’s responsibility to support the school in its endeavours to touch the future, to have faith and provide the value foundations at home.

And it is my responsibility as an Educator to create awareness and to provide the services necessary to help schools along the path.  This has been my vision and remains my passion. 

Attitude is Everything. 

Mr Leslie D’Gama left St Xavier’s Collegiate School after 21 years of helping young minds grow.  Despite a B.A. B.Ed and M.A. in English, he taught Maths and Computer Science across the middle and senior school besides participating enthusiastically in every co-curricular activity – literary, stage or sports.  He completed a Diploma in Training and Development from ISTD and is an accredited FIRO-B practitioner (Personality Profiling). 

After several years of developing teaching and training at IL&FS Education, Leslie now heads the Trainer Development Group of the company.  He spends a lot of time in developing people through training – in-service and pre-service teachers, school, college and management students, young executives from various industries and a band of nearly 1400 trainers across India. He has three school-going kids who are his laboratory.

Leslie can be reached at les.dgama@gmail.com