30 July 2010

Practical skills and pedagogy in schools

Hitherto, I have thought that our newspapers don’t carry much content on development issues such as education, poverty reduction and livelihood except as conventional news items. Past Sunday’s edition of THE HINDU OPEN PAGE changed my point of view. It carried a very interesting and thought provoking article Can't they teach them how to deal with life's problems?. The article stirred up a fruitful discussion among the readers as reflected in the letters to the editor.

Although I was considered to be a meritorious student in my school and college days, I understood many textbook lesson concepts and their applicability in real life situations only after I began teaching, though I had used excellent textbooks such as College Physics by Resnik and Halliday. 

When I began teaching in India more than 30 years back, I tried to integrate textbook concepts and real life applications in my classrooms. But I could not succeed and I was considered to be a `slow’ teacher who needed to give more importance to `covering portions’ until I left India to take up teaching in schools abroad. There, I found that I could do justice to my teaching and my students enjoyed my classes. I had the pleasure of training my students to solve problems in a practical way, using lesson concepts.

If we are to offer quality education that will enable our kids to apply lesson concepts in real life situations as illustrated by Dr Pallavi Praveen, our Syllabus Boards, Textbook Publishers and Government Departments of School Education should initiate discussions, as THE HINDU has done through this article. The discussions should involve practising teachers. The resulting outcome should be documented and syllabus developed accordingly.

Once the Syllabus is in place, textbooks will automatically follow the guidelines. There are guidelines from Syllabus Boards in our country, but not specific and clear enough to enable teachers to teach practical skills. Forty or fifty years back, when children were admitted in schools only when they were 5 years old, there was a range of skills such as weaving, carpentry, tailoring, cooking etc. imparted to children.  The syllabus in those days gave ample time and opportunity for teachers to train their children in handling real life problems with ease. 

I cannot accept knowledge explosion over the years as a cause for quantity oriented syllabi that we come across today.  Even now, teachers who are courageous enough to break conventions can still manage by teaching practical skills to students. Teaching how to fix a fuse does not take more than 10 minutes in classroom settings. But the problem is that neither our colleges of education train teachers in this direction nor there are many teachers who may like to invite the wrath of parents and school managements by attempting something unconventional.

Many textbook lesson concepts can certainly be taught effectively so that children can use them in real life. But to make this happen requires drastic change in attitude and functioning from all stakeholders in the school education system.

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About Me

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Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
I am a retired K-12 Education Management Professional. I have worked at different levels in K-12 school systems, textbook publishing, elearning and Education NGOs. I have held memberships in The Association for Science Education (UK), American Association of Physics Teachers and The Malaysian Institute of Physics. I hold a 1st class B Sc Degree in Physics followed by B Ed [English and Physical Science] and M A [Childcare and Education] degrees. My published works include 59 articles in teacher development magazines in India and the US and a book entitled `Creative Classrooms and Child Friendly Schools' (listed in Amazon). This book is almost an anecdotal account of my professional experience in six countries (including Cambodia where I worked as Technical Adviser to the Ministry of Education, Youth And Sports). I served as mentor in the Certificate of Teaching Mastery Program offered by Teachers Without Borders.