Monday, September 10, 2012

Educating India: Schools

Here I will elaborate the idea first introduced in the earlier post, where I proposed an outline of my solution to India's chronic problem of education.

The proposed plan is to have schools where students enjoy learning, live without burden from parents and explore their own life. I am impressed by Summerhill, Tottochan and scattered readings of Tagore. If you are interested in these books and similar other books/ articles, go to Arvind Gupta's excellent website.

Before we look at schools and colleges, here are the basic set of principles:
  • Happiness is paramount, therefore learning to be happy is of utmost importance.
  • Children should move/ play/ act, not sit idle and cram material at one place.
  • Anyone's worth is not measured by her/his productivity or knowledge, therefore education should be geared towards learning what one likes to do, and emphasizing the pleasure derived from it.
  • Adults should not enforce their sense of morality, importance and life on children.

So, here is what the schools should do:
  1. Students set their daily lives and ground rules: periodic and out-of-turn meetings of the entire schools will set rules for daily lives and punishments for breaking the rules. What is excluded from their purview is: academic matters and dealings with society outside the schools.
  2. Classes are optional: most students play, read books, listen to stories/ music, learn dance, engage in outdoor/ indoor sports. These rules will be set by rule 1 above.
  3. Learning is by demand: teachers assist students when they demand. Teachers will be trained to provide Montessori education to younger ones. The older students (12-16) will be essentially on their own, reading and working. The scientific laboratory spaces will be manned by assistants for safety purposes.
  4. Grading is oriented towards learning: There is no scope for points-based grading in this system, forget 99.23% kind of silly scores. The teachers decide who has gained skills at what level, and when a student is ready, she/he can attend ICSE/ CBSE kind of examinations for their own satisfaction. We will develop alternative to other colleges, where students can register for degree or certificate courses to obtain their livelihoods.
  5. Schools are residential: Parents are responsible for most problems in their children's lives. Schools will be entirely residential and students go home only twice in the year (around December and May-June.)

How we treat children is most crucial here. They have to be treated with respect, sincerity and honesty. Why did Summerhill succeed so much in bringing back so many apparently wild, unruly children to the main-stream? Neill understood the way children approached life, the role honesty and kindness while dealing with them. He never moralized them, never forced them and never judged anyone based on history.

There are many elements here that we want to keep in mind before running a school. John Holt summarizes the bit about 'permissive schools' (please read the entire piece) as follows:
In any case, to call Neill permissive is not just an oversimplification but a serious mistake. Let me cite an example that is widely, indeed almost always misunderstood-the matter of his rewarding with a gift a child who steals something. When Neill gives a child sixpence for stealing, is he "permitting" him to steal? Nonsense! If Neill meant to “permit" it, didn't care whether a child stole or not he would simply take no notice. But in fact he takes a very particular kind of notice, whose meaning is not for a second lost on the child. The child knows, when Neill gives him the six- pence, that he is not saying, "Sure, stealing is fine, go steal some more." The child knows already that Neill does not steal and does not want stealing around the school. What then does he hear Neill saying with this gift of suspense? He hears him saying, "I know you are not a thief." He is rightly amazed, thinks, "Not a thief! Of course I'm a thief, everyone tells me so, all the time. Besides, I just proved it, by stealing." To these thoughts he hears Neill’s silent reply, "No, not a thief. If I thought you were a thief, and would go on stealing indefinitely, I'd be a bloody idiot to give you money every time you did it, wouldn't I?" No way to argue with that; Neill is clearly no idiot. "No, at heart you're not a thief. You may be stealing now, trying to satisfy important needs that you don't know how to satisfy any other way. But there are other ways. I am ready to help you look for them, and I think you will find them.”

There is a good deal of child psychology to understand, develop in-house and internalize in practice. This also means that the school gradation is going to be unique, not the usual 10+2 gradation each year, with x/10 point system. Heck, even home-work will not be mentioned here.

Indian is not a free, as in free thinking. There are several things considered taboo, and children being thought as 'minors' will be one of the hardest to beat. Therefore, a free/ democratic school described above remains a huge challenge...


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