Thursday, August 06, 2009

Flexibility in Education -- A Thought for Future

As I see my child growing day by day, it's a vivid experience tracking his progress. There are things he is quick to learn -- babbling, meditating on something, relishing food .... There are things in which he seems to be falling back when compared with his peers (other kids born within a span of a few weeks) -- grabbing things, turning on his tummy, sitting up etc. Comparisons are always being made. Wherever there seems to be a backlog, it tends to trigger negative thoughts. Elder and experienced people are quick to settle that matter by saying, "Hey! All children are different. He'll learn. Eventually. Let him go at his own pace."

For some months now, I have been turning the pages of books on probability models. Fortunately, my job affords me chances to go back to textbooks and learn things I never tried, or had tried but had given up or was made to give up. Probability used to occupy a part of our mathematics curriculum every year after 9th standard for all the years that had a mathematics paper. I think I was fairly good in probability then, but wasn't exceptional. I learned it to a certain extent that was possible for me during those math courses. After those courses, I hardly ever got a chance to study probability until recently. There were other friends of mine who didn't show an initial aptitude towards probability. They got a few years to demonstrate a growth in their aptitude. Most of them ended at the same level where they had started. They never studied probability after that. Unlike me, they will never study it again.

Perhaps, to a large extent, that's a thankful thing. We ought to be spared of having to struggle with the same set of subjects forever even though we show no inclination or necessity to learn them. There should definitely be a quick and efficient method in place to identify the natural gifts of a child, and propel him in that direction with all resources possible. But there is another side to it. We don't develop our aptitude for certain subjects at the same time. Each child develops his own way of learning. Certain subjects which appeared like Greek in my adolescence now appear easier to grasp when I pick them up after a while. I can upfront think of a few reasons: one is experience which prepares us to look at the subject from another angle. Another is the fact that over years, we develop techniques of thinking and reasoning. Arguments which might have appeared exotic to me when I was 18 now appear quite mundane to me.

Children pick up life-skills at various paces, in different order. Most of them finally arrive. It's not more probable that a child learning to walk early is not more probable to become more athletic than his peer who learns to walk later. An early talker isn't more likely to become an orator than the one who learns to speak a little later. Nature doesn't put us in rigid curricula where we learn our subject along with our peers at a predesignated period of our life; in which we don't get another chance to learn once we miss the first few.

It would be good to learn our subjects in a slightly more flexible way too. If I don't understand probability in my 9th grade, can I take it in my 11th? If, during my 5th grade, I show a strong propensity towards literary skills, can my curriculum be enriched with language and literature subjects, scheduling my other subjects for a later coverage? If before that I show a prodigal aptitude for literature, I may simply be spared of doing my science courses and allowed to grow in my natural order at a much accelerated pace. If I flunk math due to bad performance in some of the modules, can I be allowed to move on, keeping those modules for a repeat visit at a later point in my student-life?

In short, I am talking about flexibility. The tyranny of perpetual comparison with peers will be broken. The growth of the child will be with the direct intent of making him an employable citizen depending on his aptitude. The child will get an almost unlimited opportunity to learn subjects in a customised order. Moreover, there will be possible to maintain a much finer grained profile of the student's strengths. For example, currently it's impossible to know if a student of commerce had, at one point in time, shown exceptional calibre in problems of graph theory. Then, such profiling will be possible. Straight-jackets of science, commerce and art streams are outdated and rotten. This system will allow each student for designing his own stream. Students will seek absolute excellence. Competence (being good in something) will not confused with competiveness (winning games and wars).

Looking closely, it's hardly a revolutionary idea. I see subdued forms of it in the current system of education, particularly in higher education. To implement this idea in all its glory, we need a much more developed way of assessing a child's progress. It may be expensive to implement as it will obviously call for more attention to be given to the individual growth of each student.

May be, something of this sort will work out for a future society. Your inputs please! Particularly, as to how this proposed system could be broken.

1 comment:

deep said...

Hey Sujit,

First I want to tell you, this is probably not a singular thought. It has been in my mind for quite a while now. But, thanks for spelling it out loud.

I was thinking about it just yesterday when I went to my school alumni meet. I remembered when I was in sixth std, I used to finish my whole math book before the quarterly exams. Sometimes, the whole book during those holidays itself when the books would be issued 5 days before the school starts. Maths, that is. :)

I also felt my literature and science curriculum was far behind from what I wanted to learn.. I used to have too many uncleared doubts (My zoology teacher used to call out that I am asking an MSc student's doubt at the age of 11)

But I remember I was so bad at history. I could not understand it at all at the right age. I always remember mugging up stuff for exam's sake.

This customized learning idea is fabulous though - it will involve challenges.

Brewing in my head..will get back on this asap. :)