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Minds matter

At R.N. Podar School in Santacruz, a huddle of students is concentrating hard on adding up the price of a chicken burger that costs Rs 60.5 and a milkshake that costs Rs 87.25.

mumbai Updated: Nov 24, 2009 01:00 IST
Bhavya Dore

At R.N. Podar School in Santacruz, a huddle of students is concentrating hard on adding up the price of a chicken burger that costs Rs 60.5 and a milkshake that costs Rs 87.25.

If they get the math right, their prize is not a comfort snack, but the satisfaction of getting a decimal sum right.

“We made the students design their own meals in order to teach them decimals and fractions,” explained Avnita Bir, principal of the CBSE school.

“They were very responsive because it took an example from their everyday lives and approached mathematics in a fun manner,” she said.

At Children’s Academy in Kandivli, students learn through what the school calls the “discovery method.”

For an archaeology lesson, for example, the teacher might take a piece of parchment or antique jewellery to class.

“The children learn through hands-on experience,” said Rohit Bhatt, principal of the school.

Schools across the city are experimenting with teaching methods like never before.

One reason is the entry of international programmes offered by the Switzerland-based International Baccalaureate
Organization and the UK-based University of Cambridge International Examinations.

These programmes lay a greater emphasis on teaching students how to use knowledge to solve problems than merely to absorb

Schools offering these certifications have attracted parents and teachers away from existing institutions, so many of these are re-evaluating their own approaches.

There is, however, a deeper change -- a recognition that school teaching must reflect the latest research on learning and child psychology.

“Awareness of the need to cater to students’ multiple intelligences is growing,” said Bhatt, citing one example of this recognition.

He is referring to American psychologist Howard Gardner’s hypothesis, which attempted to broaden our understanding of intelligence.

To the conventional verbal and logical intelligences, Gardner added seven more, including musical, physical and spatial, to name just three.

How is this changing consciousness finding expression in the classroom?

Many schools have realised that teaching has to go way beyond textbooks. For instance, the Navy Children School at Navy Nagar has recently established a science park with 17 models, each of which illustrates a scientific principle.

“This feeds both children’s mental and tactile inquisitiveness,” said principal Vrinda Malse. The school now plans to start an astronomy club with help from the nearby Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

Another trend is that schools are trying to get their students more engaged with civic, social and environmental issues.

At J.B. Petit School in Fort and other schools, a volunteer group -- Citizens for Civic Awareness -- speaks to Class 7 students for an hour every week on issues like waste disposal, effects of crackers and the importance of voting.

Community service is institutionalised in the International Baccalaureate programmes as the Creativity-Action-Service module.

“We strongly promote a community service culture,” said Farzana Dohadwalla, the International Baccalaureate Board’s South Asia spokesperson. “Air-conditioned classrooms are not our priority.”

Schools have also stepped up training for their teachers.

The SNDT University’s human resources development department, for instance, recently trained 250 pre-primary teachers from national board schools to identify different intelligences.

“Teachers should be equipped to relate to students, who may find it difficult to learn only through language, but may grasp concepts through music or bodily movements,” said Rita Sonawat, the department head.