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Alphabet soup

india Updated: Apr 22, 2009 22:42 IST

How many Shannos will we sacrifice before we wake up to the unfair practices being carried out in our schools? How long will we allow the ‘system’ to rob our children of their natural curiosity to learn?

An education system that is driven by pursuit of grades disqualifies several children, who otherwise may be bright and capable. Today, neuroscience research on learning is showing us that there are several kinds of minds and that we all learn, and can learn, according to our unique learning profile. However, our education system that expects the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach disqualifies several students. It is actually the system and the teaching approach that is disabled. Usually, when a student struggles in the classroom the questions usually focus on the student: Does he have a learning disability? Are her reading skills on a par with her classmates? Does he have enough attention? But we seldom ask if the curriculum or teaching approach needs to be fixed. We only look for ways of fixing the student and tragically, sometimes with lifelong consequences.

Teachers need to be trained to support a child-centred approach. They need to be in sync with the learning pedagogy. Teachers also need the support of school authorities that encourage and support learning that is based on inquiry and exploration.

Schools should allow students to understand information and knowledge through various means and modalities. Children should not only read information from texts but should also experience it. For example: in science, some students may succeed in understanding information on simple machines by reading about it only but, all students will succeed if they can work on real simple machines.

Students should be allowed to show their understanding through multiple means of expression. For example, after reading a book, the students should be allowed to present a book report in any of the several ways: a written report, a diorama, a play, a song or a poem. It is when we demand that each student shows his or her learning in one expected way only that we needlessly ‘disable’ the student.

It is time we said no to mindless rote learning and regurgitation of facts. It is time we said no to our children being exposed to daily humiliation at the hands of untrained and unkind teachers, It is time we said no to millions of struggling children being marginalised.

It is about time we said ‘no more Shanno’s should die because they are unable to recite the alphabet in the correct order.’

Sonya Philip is an educator and founder of Learning Matters Foundation, an NGO.