Looking into the future....
Updated: May 5, 2022
St. Xavier's College (Autonomous), Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
When we think of learning, it is not to produce learning but to create an environment or the conditions conducive for learning.
The pandemic year 2020 faced many a challenge, but the education sector all over the globe did not take a break. The short period of a lockdown found teachers and educators find newer dimensions to teaching and introducing newer pedagogy and andragogy. Being a teacher means planning teaching and learning, assessing the learning, developing relations, and setting up a challenging, yet, suitable curriculum for the grade of the students. The last year got teachers themselves becoming students and many did undergo a shift from a teacher-centric class to a student–development class. Holistic learning of the subject in theory and practical, along with skills and overall development set foot in schools, colleges and universities, globally.
The Definition of learning:
Learning, as I would define it, would encompass 3 key purposes:
1. Digesting information and absorbing knowledge
2. Learning skills to do practices
3. Develop socially flourishing people
However, UNESCO defines it as
1. Learning to know
2. Learning to do
3. Learning to live together
4. Learning to be
Conventionally, schools performed a didactic pattern of learning, what could be called the classroom module, working on the principles of learning to know and learning to do. This speaks of only digesting the information and absorbing the knowledge, which is eventually assessed. The pandemic year brought the skills learning and peer studying concepts to class (online class). Thus, we focused on memory skills and training students to develop the ability to pay attention, listen, watch, write, analyze, read, and repeat the cycle. Practical skills and critical analysis, coupled with memory skills bring a holistic learning approach that can influence the various learners in your class.
The Education Shift:
It is the need of the hour for schools and educational institutions to change their pattern of teaching and learning. Many classrooms have been functioning on the principles of ‘the silenced learning’. The future needs discussion and critical thinking, which I call ‘Noisy learning’. Peer interactions and discussion develop healthy relations between students of the same class, it helps them discuss matters of importance and keeps them attentive. Let’s take an example, a teacher enters the class and faces an audience (20 to 300 students at the time – depending on the country), the teacher then speaks passing on the information she/he learned from their teachers or through books or research. Some students listen (who have an interest in the subject), some just stare absent-mindedly and some are just there as they are forced to. This is a typical SILENCE Classroom, where the class ONLY pays attention to what the teacher has to say. We talk of critical analysis, it means solving, calculating, analyzing, judging, and discussing. When students come to a class knowing that they got to participate in a debate they are motivated to read, research, and analyze the subject before class which opens up a series of discussions in class.
We cannot just assume the brain to be a computer box where we put in information and expect an outcome from it, as learning is governed by many factors. Someone who studies hard and does better at examinations is influenced by many background factors like social class, parent qualifications, pasts school, etc. One of the factors I feel is most important is the social background. Seeing people coming from different backgrounds, we can never expect them to learn in the same way. We need to extend learning opportunities beyond the traditional classrooms by keeping in mind that not just students but even us teachers learn so many things in different ways. Some of us learn through listening, discussions, practices, and experiments, some learn formally and informally, some online and some through experience, and some through role-play or working. Some need a quiet room to read and work autonomously, while some learn collaboratively or through reflective learning.
Education and its future are more about a teacher doing less and students doing more, not didactic. We need classrooms of active learners, and follow a cycle – the Kolb’s Cycle:
According to this cycle, students should do their work at home, review it in class, learn from their shortcomings or misunderstandings of the subject, and finally apply it to practice or research learning. This cycle is a cumulative outcome of the Flip Classroom Pedagogy. In the 1970s progressive learning methods like these were highly uneconomical compared to having one teacher coaching a hundred students, due to a lack of available technological resources. The application of educational technology in modern times brings a shift in the role of a teacher from an educator to a facilitator and this helps to deliver lectures to small, diverse groups of learners in a single classroom or even to reach your course to a global level.
There may be a handful of students who may feel that sitting in a classroom, listening to your teacher (educator), and writing notes would be the most suitably apt method of active learning in classrooms, but if we bring in students who learn through discussions and peer interactions from the classroom to a global level, we create avenues for progressive learning which such students may have not even explored. We cannot define the intelligence of students by the grades in an examination or by their attention in class, but when we understand that a more flexible and stronger mental framework of the human mind they would be more suitably distinguished individuals who would analyze critically, and challenge the studied matter, they would learn to make more sense of the subject and CONNECT THE DOTS (as late Steve Jobs would say). This is where we bring in the last line of the UNESCO definition of learning – LEARNING TO BE.
A Good Teacher:
We often look back and think of a teacher who touched us personally in some way or another, this is because as students all of us identify our teachers to be like one of us. We have to bear in mind that there is a certain public perception of teachers, like Michelle Pfifer in Dangerous minds or Rani Mukherjee in Hichki, what we could call the Charismatic Teacher. From this, we realize that teaching is not only about the competencies and techniques or strategies but emotional connection as well. I am not stating that we must emulate some of these teachers as such depictions can sometimes be very unhelpful. But, what I am trying to put out is that when governments do not consider the socio-economic status criteria of students then we as teachers need to help our learners achieve their goal, as the matter discussed above pave way for such emotional and practical learning approaches.
On the whole, if we have developed some teaching methods in the Pandemic year, returning to conventional ways will do no justice to our own efforts of the year. We must use technology, newcurricula teaching methods, and focus on new learning outcomes from our students as we design future curriculum and educational policies. We must not try to be a Michelle Pfifer but instead use our own strengths and skills, not as an educator but as classroom facilitators to build students who know, can do, can be, and can connect with others and their subject.
This article is written with inspiration from the Coursera Course titled, 'The Future of Education' by the University of London and UCL Institute of Education.