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New-age learning on the upswing

Indian parents more or less have two requirements from schools — that their child comes home disciplined and be successful at examinations.

entertainment Updated: Feb 05, 2011 23:33 IST

Indian parents more or less have two requirements from schools — that their child comes home disciplined and be successful at examinations. India and China looked to its teachers to fulfill this task. America, however, brought in a more liberal model with its concept of home schools and a new idea of pedagogy — one in which the teacher was a ‘friend’. The support for such a model exists in their culture — from Mr Bhaer in the novel Little Women to Mr Keating in the film, Dead Poets Society. Who did we have? Usually, a master-ji with a cane.

Things have changed hugely in the past 10 years. According to Parbati Bhattacharya, a Bangalore-based teacher, “There is actually a paradigm shift in Indian schools. With so much exposure, teachers realised that more important than what we are teaching is what the child is learning.” In classrooms, it’s not a one-way instruction flow any more.

Where once we only had a few schools like Rishi Valley in Karnataka with an approach to “holistic learning” as a alternative to mainstream education, now there is a host of “progressive” and “experimental” schooling options — from Mirambika in Delhi, which encourages a child’s “natural creativity” to Step by Step, Noida, which opened in 2008, which believes in achievement of “an individual’s potential.” Shikshantar, which opened in 2003, has a curriculum inspired by Sri Aurobindo and Tagore, and views “the child and the adult as both learners”. In Shikshantar, kids are asked about their interests at the primary and pre-primary levels and after class 3, a curriculum plan is worked out after teacher-child consultations. There are no exams till class five, says Sunil Batra, Shikshantar’s educational director.

Says career counsellor, Usha Albuquerque: “Our schooling was about policing and eliminating those who can’t meet the standards. Today, with metro schools taking the lead, students are being helped to think, analyse, develop a variety of skills and excel in their chosen areas.”

With globalisation and a shift in schooling proprieties, Indian parents have also had to change their mindsets. “The Chinese model is authoritarian. The American model is permissive. The Indian parent is trying to move towards being democratic. But it will take us another ten years to actually internalise this model,” explains Dr Bhavna Barmi, child and clinical psychologist with the Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, Delhi.

And what of China, India’s “competition”? Private schooling which became fashionable in China in the 90s, according to experts, triggered just a curriculum shift — a move to include subjects that makes the Chinese equipped to deal with a global world. Chinese schooling, says Li Xiaojun, the second secretary at Delhi’s Chinese embassy, still broadly follows the Confucian model, i.e, “respect for parents and teachers, be strict and kind but do not spoil the child.” So the ‘shift’ is mainly in course-work. “Our schools now offer a variety of oral English courses. Chinese children learn piano, salsa. Their weekends are packed with activities.”

On the other hand, Indian schools seem to have changed as much in spirit as in letter. Says Mumbai-based counsellor Dr Rajan Bhonsle, “Today, with a variety of careers each with their own role models available, parents, too, are a lot more accepting of the choices their children make.”

The concept of ‘international schools’ in the major metros have also impacted private schools to re-think the curriculum. After class 8, students of the Bangalore International School, for example, can take courses such as Travel and Tourism, Photography and Global Perspective. “The parent now wants a global child for which groundwork begins at school,” says Bhattacharya.

Where are conventional schools in the new scheme of things? “Most of the old public schools want to keep up with the times,” says Anju Sharma, teacher at Delhi Public School, Mathura Road. “Our smaller classes have more projects now, while older classes have less fixed assignments”.

“Notions that learning is only about marks and behaviour correction no longer hold. We encourage children to take up more of reading, sports and music,” says Sunil Batra of Shikshantar.