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Remove learning barriers to ensure quality education

The purpose of education is to ensure the flourishing of the individuals characterised by the ‘goodness’ of character and ‘goodness’ of intellect, Aristotle said. Unfortunately, character building has taken a back seat. Compelled by the overall eco-system,the entire focus seems to be on maximising the academic performance. The race for college admissions in a fiercely competitive environment and shrinking job opportunities have left very little room for the students to pair their passion and interest with the need to build a strong character. The reality of life skills, critical thinking, the appetite for risk and adaption to a multicultural environment being among the top hiring characteristics, has not deterred the race for a high academic score. Ron Miller, one of today’s significant thinkers on holistic education, puts it succinctly, “Education today, is not a collaborative art of mentoring and nurturing the young, but a frenzied scramble to succeed according to some external measure of success.”The significant challenges in the education system occur on account of the following:

  1. Failure to retain every child in the school and to keep them on track (17% of the children who enrol today in class I, drop out before they complete class VIII).
  2. Lack of access to quality education (UN’s SDGs Goal 4) and skilling opportunities for the children who have dropped out and we do not know where have they gone?
  3. We are failing to gain insights into the classroom challenges: cognitive, socio-economic and linguistic diversities.
  4. Equipping the students with the right skills matching their interest and aptitude, ability to communicate and collaborate.
  5. Developing entrepreneurial skills/mindset in the young generation

Education must accommodate all learners,but one must recognise that all children do not learn in the same way (Guild,2001). How we attain knowledge, what strategies, ideas, interventions best support growing an active, engaged and thoughtful learner should be the concern of the educators (Tomlinson, 2000). Unfortunately, the hallmark of modern education is only delivering information and testing the knowledge gained. Typically, all students are grouped taught the same thing, in the same manner, for the same duration, and assessed on the same standards.

While the method continues its perpetuation, it is fair to acknowledge that teachers have moved a step ahead in making their classrooms interactive. The goal is to encourage deeper learning rather than superfluous one characterised by rote learning. To reach that end, the use of manipulatives and embedding technology has yet to gain traction. Another strategy with classroom dynamics focuses on supporting concept mastery, critical thinking, collaboration, communication and self-directed learning. It is necessary to promote, incentivise and invest in the teachers to use pedagogies and assessments that cater to the needs of all children.

Transforming education for sustainability requires the system’s shift approach. The teachers must eschew to be a broadcaster and acknowledge that there are several alternative sources to knowledge. The classrooms need a redesign to elicit students’ love for learning and self – development. The pedagogy must shun predictability and encourage curiosity, innovation, and participation. A school is a place where students learn to become responsible citizens and engage in community development. 

What lies at the heart of personalised instruction is the consciousness about the learners’ placement on the spectrum from those struggling to those at the advanced level. Teachers, who mindfully ask, Whom are they teaching? How are they teaching?  Where are they teaching? Help to maximise learning outcomes. The next step towards personalising instruction is identifying the barriers to learning. Learners come from the varied socio-economic, cultural and linguistic background. Their needs and interest also vary. This diversity leads to barriers in cognition, comprehension and competency. Cognitive diversity refers to memory,understanding and the way learners attain knowledge. Ability to analyse information, finding meaning, language skill, evaluating and appreciating information covers the comprehension ability of the children. The higher order abilities in critical thinking, communication andownership of learning are the essential components incompetency building of the learners. The differentiation thus understood helps in adopting a student centred approach and in creating a personalised learning pathway for each student (Bosch,2001). Students can also take charge of their learning and co-create goals with the help of the teachers. The teachers are also encouraged to try out a playlist of diverse activities in the classroom, catering to the needs of the learners. The advantage of this exercise lies in a teacher adapting to learners’ responses (adaptive learning). Such a student centred approach increases engagement in students promotes a love of learning, helps them learn efficiently and improves learning outcomes.

A journey from group teaching to personalisation requires a shift in the way we look at the role of a teacher, classroom dynamics, manipulations with varied methodologies and learners’ experiences. Having acknowledged the presence of diversities and the response in differentiation, teachers can identify the appropriate interventions both teacher-driven and technology-embedded. Role of peer-to-peerlearning and mentoring, setting a social context for learning is crucial. Parental onboarding, support and approval are equally important in achieving the objectives of scholarships. Learners confidence building arising out of incremental achievements from mastery to development plays a significant role in the overall progress of the child. Teachers and students in a Delhi school showed enormous enthusiasm with the choice-based assessment. If the assessment’s objectives are fair and equitable, it does not matter what tools are applied. All stakeholders have to overcome initial hesitation. 

The most appealing articulation of empathy for the children and the diversity comes from the children themselves. It would be prudent to take a leaf out of the letter, the children of Barbiana wrote to their teacher. It is published in “Social Class, Language and Power, – ‘Letter to a Teacher’: Lorenzo Milani and the School of Barbiana by Borg, Carmel et al., 2013. The students’ agenda of reform reads (I) Do not fail, (II) to those who seem to be cretins, offer them full-time schooling, and (III) To the unwilling it is enough to give them a goal.

Ashok Pandey (Delhi based Educationist and #TeachSDGs Ambassador)

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