Schooling in India has a long history, not surprising given the antiquity of its civilization. Various cultural and religious practices have influenced the education system on the subcontinent. From the Gurukul system to the technology-centred approach now, the system has evolved over the years. However, it still has a long way to go.
A hopeful glimpse of a future where children learn through unconventional teaching methods was portrayed in the Bollywood film 3 Idiots. A unique school with a hands-on approach to teaching showed how exciting learning could be. While the film did not focus on the school, and its unique approach to teaching, it left the audience with something to ponder about.
There is a widespread belief today that creative learning makes classrooms more exciting, relevant, challenging and dynamic. These youngsters can make a much stronger contribution to the economy in the future if these programmes are implemented. However, putting this into practice is not easy.
“We want to make our lessons easier and enjoyable, and we incorporate debates, role-playing activities, youth parliaments, quizzes and so many other things in our lesson plans,” said Saritha Srinivasan, a former secondary school teacher from Delhi Public School in Hyderabad, an arm of the brick-and-mortar educational chain.
“Each child here has different learning abilities, and we would like to accommodate them all. But we are still in a traditional setup, there are still exams, and it’s our job as teachers to make sure that they learn well enough to understand and write the exams. We’re hopeful of a future where unconventional learning methods become globally acceptable and exams are not seen as the ultimate judge of a child’s abilities,” she said.
Considering how burdened the Indian education system is at present, unconventional learning methods might just be the need of the hour.
The new National Education Policy that was introduced in 2020 is seen by many as a step in the right direction. While underlining the importance of modern ways of learning, it also recognised the key role played by extracurricular activities
The dated “blackboard” concept of teaching is still what comes to mind when one thinks of a classroom in India. Rote learning has been the go-to solution to getting promoted to the next grade. There are, however, efforts to break out of this cookie-cutter mentality. One is the student-centric schooling system called Montessori education.
Here, there are no class levels, syllabi or exams. Children learn about different things like grammar, maths, politics and science through practical methods.
Montessori directress at the Sparkles Montessori school, Ramya Narayandas, said, "The primary motto of the Montessori system is that the world is limitless. You can learn as much as you want to, and we encourage students to do the same. We don’t teach, we guide. By grouping children in age ranges rather than class levels, we encourage students to learn from one another and even take up mentoring roles themselves"
In a sense, the coronavirus pandemic years brought on a change in mindsets. In a survey by Pearson, the London-based publishing and education company, 86 percent of Indians believe online learning for primary, secondary and college students is here to stay. However, 82 percent of the people surveyed said that though COVID acted as a catalyst for modern education, not everyone has access to the internet in India to be able to be a part of that change.
Austrian-American educator and management guru Peter Drucker argued that teaching involves artistry and said that it is impossible for artistry to confine itself to the boundaries of routine and convention. He said, "Students must be equipped with something that yesterday’s schools paid little attention to. They need to learn how to learn."
That also means paying attention to individual needs. Drawing on her own education, former school counsellor and psychology teacher Spandana Reddy, who was told she was bad at math because of the lack of practice, said, “Come to think of it, we have had concentration issues ourselves and probably some learning disabilities as well that went undiagnosed. Nobody paid attention to emotional distress either. More than unconventional methods, we need need-based learning. A one-size-fits-all kind of mentality needs to go.”It’s not just in the digital world, there is an evident access gap in learning even through the conventional methods for many children in India, with factors such as gender, caste and economic background playing a major role even to this day. Clearly, the journey is far from over.