Sharing & Learning Together

Thursday, December 15, 2005

AN APPROACH TO LIFE-ORIENTED EDUCATION



The whole movement of life is learning. It is essentially the art of learning, not only from books, but also from the whole movement of life.” 1
---- J. Krishnamurti
“Life affords no greater responsibility, no greater privilege, than the raising of the next generation.”4
--- Everett Koop
I believe finally, that education must be conceived as continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.” 7 --- John Dewy

The aim of this essay is to deliberate on the intent of learning and its impact on life in the light of one’s experience, practice, understanding and convictions while looking at the vision provided by supporting ideas of a few educational theories, especially Constructivism that tends to come very close to my ideology.

I have mainly three articles in my mind (How Cultures Educate, International curricula, and Texts in context: An EFA 2000 Review) that are interlinked in more than one ways. They have strengthened my conviction of perceiving learning as life oriented and nurturing a questioning mind that refuses to conform.

I have used these articles as a springboard to dream up my ideas. I have profusely quoted from the relevant parts of these articles and some Websites to substantiate my thoughts. These three articles emphasize on understanding how education is socially, economically, and culturally relevant. They tender a School Vision that is akin to my thinking and provide the philosophical imperative for both national and international realms of teaching and learning.


LEARNING AND ITS INTENT:

Learning is a sensitizing process by way of which the intelligence in children is awakened. Learning can take place only if there is a quality of relationship. All learning becomes relevant when it is life-oriented and deeply understood at the backdrop of human relationships. We learn better when we are able to understand ourselves and others through the mirror of relationships.

Learning how to learn, and being able to understand how the mind learns and unlearns constantly will foster effective and deep learning. We need to look at the large canvas of education and try to understand the very purpose of education. As the world-renowned Religious and Educational Philosopher J. Krishnamurti has brilliantly put it: “The whole movement of life is learning. It is essentially the art of learning, not only from books, but also from the whole movement of life. The school is a place where one learns not only the knowledge required for daily life but also the art of living with all its complexities and subtleties. The responsibilities of the educator is to bring about a new generation of human beings who are psychologically, inwardly free of miseries, and anxieties. It is a sacred responsibility.”1

Thus my educational thinking stems out of a deeper understanding and impact of a fiercely independent thinker J. Krishnamurti’s Teachings. He emphasized on not following him but questioning and exploring. K. has strengthened my conviction of being able to see education and life as one whole. Here the challenge is to understand the learning process at the backdrop of human relationships. In all our relationships we tend to take each other for granted and develop a casual approach in our thinking and actions. Then the question is does a real relationship exist at all? Real learning cannot take place without a quality of relationship and affection. Krishnamurti thought that right education and right living go hand in hand. He continuously asked whether learning can take place without reward and punishment.

At the very outset it (National policy of education –1986) had stressed that elementary education was to be made child-centred by introducing long-awaited reform in the system. The most important aspect of this reform will be to make education a joyful, inventive and satisfying learning activity, rather than a system of rote and cheerless, authoritarian instruction”
(Rampal Anita: Texts in context: An EFA 2000 Review). 2

To learn means to probe, find out, ask questions, critique, understand acquire and assimilate. It is also about acquiring the ability to make new discoveries, raise new questions and critique the status quo and refuse to conform.

“Students will be Inquirers: Their natural curiosity will have been nurtured, their sense of wonder and love of learning will be sustained throughout their lives and they will have acquired the skills necessary to conduct purposeful, constructive research. “Open-minded: They will respect the views, values and traditions of other individuals and cultures and be accustomed to seeking and considering a range of points of views. Reflective: They will be accustomed to examining their own learning and analyzing their personal strengths and weaknesses in a thoughtful, constructive manner” (Bartlett Kevin: International curricula: More or Less Important). 3


LEARNING AND LIFE-ORIENTATION:

I share a lot of ideas of the Constructivist Learning Theory. The constructivist strengthens my conviction of holding together learning and life and knowledge and knower as one and the same. I wonder whether Krishnamurti, was a Constructivist himself. No, saying that would amount to limiting his magnanimous Vision. Nonetheless, Constructivist learning theory appeals to me a lot and vindicates my teaching practice and I can vouch for the validity of it. Constructivism supports both the teacher and taught to be reflective in learning process.

“Constructivists believe in both nature and nurture of the child. This means that the child is the centre of the learning experiences. Constructivists also believe that children are active learners, where they construct their understanding of the world through interactions……….” (From a Website) 4

Learning is Life: Knower is the Knowledge

“What is meant by Constructivism? The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves ---each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning-----as he or she learns.
“Constructing meaning is learning; there is no other kind. The dramatic consequences of these views are twofold:
1) We have to focus on the learner in thinking about learning (not on the subject/lesson to be taught):
2) There is no knowledge independent of the meaning attributed to experience (constructed) by the learner, or community of learners.
“Let me discuss the second point first because, although it appears radical on an everyday level, it is a position, which has been frequently adopted ever since people began to ponder epistemology. If we accept constructivist theory (which means we are willing to follow in the path of Dewey, Piaget and Vigotsky among others), then we have to give up Platonic and all subsequent realistic views of epistemology. We have to recognize that there is no such thing as knowledge "out there" independent of the knower, but only knowledge we construct for ourselves as we learn”(Institute of Inquiry-A Website link) 5

Learning is both an individual and social activity as it is very important to link it up to daily life for learning to become effective and relevant. I teach language and literature, culture, and history and I know how children when helped to link the characters and life situations and circumstances to the life around, understand human nature better. This in turn will nurture their sensibilities and make them observant. They will have constructed meanings out of their learning when they are able to see how human beings all over the world, through lack of affection and care, apathy, insensitivity, violence, destructiveness, greed and jealousy create wars and hunger and endless suffering for them and others. On the other hand, when they become conscious of their social heritage of which the ancient civilizations and cultures are a part, they will be able to appreciate Art, Architecture, Music, Philosophy, Human Values, Folklore, Poetry and Literature.
“The new vision as it was finally delineated was meant to transcend the conventional understanding of education and help construct new paradigm.
“Linking educational processes to social processes, while promoting an understanding of crucial interfaces---school and life, education and work, curriculum and culture, theory and practice, etc.
“How far have the new curricula (and materials) addressed issues of diversity, of different knowledge systems and linkages between life and learning?”(Rampal Anita: Texts in context: An EFA 2000 Review) 2

One of the concerns expressed by the National Curriculum Framework with reference to our educational practices is:

“Learning has become isolated activity-no linkage with life”

One of the guiding principles set by NCF is:

“Connecting knowledge to life outside the school” (National Curriculum Framework- A summary) 6

“I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race.”(Dewy John) 7

Learning has to generate both skills and content from the constructive activities of social life it is actually based upon. That is the mechanism of equipping children with social, economical and cultural awareness. One of the major drawbacks of our education system is, it perpetuates dependence in every aspect of life. Education should unconditionally liberate and empower children through the understanding it brings about of the social consciousness.
“Learning is contextual: we do not learn isolated facts and theories in some abstract ethereal land of the mind separate from the rest of our lives: we learn in relationship to what else we know, what we believe, our prejudices and our fears. On reflection, it becomes clear that this point is actually a corollary of the idea that learning is active and social”
“WE CANNOT DIVORCE OUR LEARNING FROM OUR LIVES”
(Institute of Inquiry – A Website link) 5
Learning brings an understanding that one is the world; one is not very different from the rest of the world and when the individual who is the microcosm of the larger changes, the world will have changed for better.

“Let me be schematic – and shamelessly anthropomorphic. Every culture must make sure that its younger individuals master certain areas of knowledge, acquire certain values, master certain skills. It is important that youths develop intellectually, morally, socially, emotionally, and civically. Certain educating bodies are available, including parents, peers, teachers, masters, relatives, the media, schools, and various forms of technology. Certain rewards, punishments, and institutions can be evoked as models, motivators, or menaces.”
(How cultures Educate- Howard Gardner) 8

Although understanding our heritage and exposure to it in terms of culture, mythology, and folklore make an impact on learning, one cannot undermine the importance of critiquing all that has been inherited from the historical perspective. And it is equally important to adopt scientific temperament that questions and discriminates from the ancient body of knowledge superstitions, irrationals beliefs, authoritarian ideas and concepts, models and motivations that encourage submission and imitation and advocate narrow and divisive purposes.


THE PRACTICE:


What makes learning effective?

 Initiate a dialogue on the topic of study and brainstorm to generate ideas.
 State the purpose or learning objectives clearly and precisely.
 Emphasize and hone listening and observation skills in children.
 Hold education and life together as one whole continuous process.
 Encourage questioning.
 Open up varied and diverse aspects of the topic and analyze.
 Encourage self-study.
 Create a blend of self-study and direct teaching.
 Encourage co-operative grouping and working after designing and assigning the task.
 Use a wide range of Readers /text books and also put together one’s own textbook.
 Use resources like newspapers and magazines, features, stories to generate reading/teaching material and also show the relevance of the topic of study to the daily life.
 Facilitate a vigorous and critical interaction with the content.
 Create opportunities for real life interactions with people in the children’s environment.
 Encourage speculating, hypothesizing, predicting and testing out ideas with each other and with the teacher.
 Encourage free writing and diary writing for expressing their ideas and thoughts creatively.



The teacher turns out to be a facilitator providing all possible inputs without imposing their authority.

At this juncture the new paradigm assumptions of paradigm shift in learning come in handy (M. Ferguson 1982):

 Emphasis on learning how to learn.
 Learning as a process, a journey.
 Student and teacher see each other as people not as roles.
 Flexible structures, varied starting points, mixed learning experiences.
 Integration of age groupings, learning not age specific.
 Priority given to the self-concept as the key determinant of successful learning.
 Guessing and divergent thinking encouraged as part of the creative process.
 More emphasis on right brain, intuitive activity.
 More concern for the learning environment- colour, space, safety.
 Education as a lifelong process and only partially related to schools.
 Teacher as learner too, learning from the pupils.

These assumptions, I would rather call them facts, vindicate my thinking on learning process.

I’ve made an effort here to respond to the following questions, which are central to planning learning. The response as a whole may throw light on one’s understanding of learning process and provide an insight as to how children learn.



 What is it children learn?
 An idea, concept, attitude, particular skill, content, body of knowledge, discovery, genre, form etc.
 What activities and experiences will promote such interaction?
 Reading, listening to a presentation, clarity of presentation, course organization and adequate preparation, observation, attention, discussion, questioning, hands on experiential activity, reflection, extension-modification-elaboration of existing knowledge, showing, telling, modelling, and demonstrating, experiment, responding to feedback.
 How can you assure yourself that the children have understood what is required of them?
 Quizzing, participation, getting feedback from Children, testing the understanding by asking them to present their learning to the rest of the class, conduct a dialogue, brainstorm, written expression, and solving tasks.
 What evidence will be collected about such learning?
 Pieces of written work, project report, mind map, illustrations, portfolio, etc.
 How do we interpret the evidence?
 Clarity, deeper understanding, creativity, imagination, group work capacity, implementation etc.
 Which important information will be recorded?
 All that which depicts the depth of understanding needs to be documented.
 What are the next steps in learning?
 Ask the children as to what is that they want to carry forward. Find out whether there is a movement in terms of understanding and expression. Think of a reinforcement programme to further their sense of exploration. This is very important as Chris Kyriacon puts it elsewhere. “………..provide……… opportunities for pupils to ‘discover’ actively what is to be learnt and for such learning to become meaningful to them by allowing them to ‘construct’ their understanding through their own efforts. This more active approach (so called ‘active learning’ or ‘pupil-centred’ learning) is important in providing motivation for pupils by linking the more open-ended and problem solving approach to the pupils’ natural sense of curiosity and exploration.” (Chris Kyriacon) 9

Thus the effectiveness of learning and teaching rests on the individual teacher’s aptitude, inclination, capability, integrity, commitment, passion, flexibility, openness, and quality of the teacher-child interaction because no method is either teacher-proof or student-proof. As Chris K. says “There has been much debate over the years concerning the relative effectiveness of different methods of teaching. Unfortunately the complexity of evaluating teaching is such that research studies can only offer limited evidence regarding relative effectiveness. First, the vast majority of teachers use a variety of teaching methods, even during a single lesson even more so over a programme of study. Second, the intended aims of a lesson involve a complex mix of intended learning outcomes in terms of the knowledge, understanding of skills and attitudes being fostered. Third, the effectiveness of teaching depends on both the features of the lessons on the one hand, and the characteristics of pupils on the other. Moreover, these may interact in different ways. Fourth, each teaching method can be used either well or badly. No teaching method is teacher-proof or pupil-proof!” (Chris Kyriacon) 9

“As historian David Tyack has wryly noted, there is no such thing as “the one best system.” At every educational level, good teaching can be practiced in various ways. Even those who attempt to re-create the Reggio model must realize that it inevitably takes on the colouration of its new surrounding, with its idiosyncratic mosaic of parents, faculty, and community.” (How cultures Educate- Howard Gardner) 8


THE VISION

“This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

“Desire for approval and recognition is a healthy motive; but the desire to be acknowledged as better, stronger, or more intelligent than a fellow being or scholar easily leads to an excessively egoistic psychological adjustment, which may become injurious for the individual and for the community. Therefore the school and the teacher must guard against employing the easy method of creating individual ambition, in order to induce the pupils to diligent work.

“To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity, and the self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject.”
(Albert Einstein 1949, On Education) 10

“Effective Education can take many different forms, but certain features must be present. Those who run the school---or network of schools---must have a clear vision of what they want to achieve. Mission statements may be helpful,……………..The school’s stakeholders must have a clear idea of how its classes should operate………….” (How cultures Educate- Howard Gardner) 8

Nurturing a questioning mind that refuses to conform is central to the school culture envisioned by me. Activities both hands on and that stimulate the intellect would be devised.

The School is committed to bring about excellence in all aspects of life, nurturing sensitivity towards Nature and the whole of Humanity, and exploring the possibilities of right living, right education, and right relationship. It intends to bring about inquisitive minds and raise the next generation to be observant, affectionate, responsible, holistic, and global in their outlook.

The school is committed to initiate and sustain inquiry, exploration, and sensitivity in the learning process. To harness both intellectual and physical energies into the flowering in goodness of an inquiring mind and a sound body. To create time and space opportunities for learning to take place in an atmosphere free of pressure.

The Schooling is a realm of transitional and formative years in the life of a student. The focus at this stage is on development of varied study skills and passionate exploration of both the inner and the outer by the blossoming young adult.

The School years merit close monitoring as this phase is meant to nurture an energetic and inquiring mind that begins a journey of independent learning and understanding the linkage of such learning to life at large.

The School is a place where the student is happy and develops tremendous self-confidence. It is a place where the art of learning is learnt and taught.

The School is concerned with the total development of a child.

The academic subjects and other knowledge skills are taught in an excellent and innovative manner. The students are encouraged to work independently.

Physical education, Fine arts, Carpentry, Pottery etc. are not labeled as extra - curricular but form an integral part of the school curriculum.

A network of experts is built to organize guest lectures, fieldwork projects for students.

Best Progressive schools all over the world are undergoing fundamental reforms and have successfully adopted Non-Grading policy taking the parent body into confidence in this regard. I had been a part of such an assessment culture for over twenty years. Nonetheless a lot of us continue to remain caught in the examination trap, not knowing what it means to assess and how to assess.

“Education is concerned with preparation for meaningful life, and evaluation should be a way of providing credible feedback on the extent to which we are successful in implementing such an education. Seen from this perspective, current processes of evaluation, which measure and assess a very limited range of faculties are highly inadequate and do not provide a complete picture of an individual’s abilities or progress towards aims of education.



“As long as examinations test children’s ability to remember and recall textbook knowledge, all attempts to redirect the curriculum towards learning will be thwarted.”(National Curriculum Framework-A summary) 6

What is assessment?

Assessment is a continuous process of student evaluation by means of varied mechanisms intended to bring about excellence in teaching and learning of the entire curriculum and enable sharing of meaningful feedback among the students and teachers and parents.

The School will have a Comprehensive and Continuous Assessment Policy, which is guided by the following Constructivist Principles:

“………………..encourage and accept student autonomy and initiative.

“………use cognitive terminology such as “classify”, “analyze”, “predict”, and “create” when framing tasks.

“… encourage students to engage in dialogue both with the teacher and with one another.

“…encourage student inquiry by asking thoughtful, open-ended questions and encourage students to ask questions of each other.

“………seek elaboration of students’ initial responses.

“……… allow a waiting time after posing questions.”
“……provide time for students to construct relationships and create metaphors.

“………nurture students’ natural curiosity through frequent use of the learning cycle model (Brooks and Brooks, 1993). 11

Conclusion:

A passion for innovation, clarity and intensity of intent and to be able to look at learning as a whole are central for our educational practice to become progressive and excellent. Openness and readiness to incorporate and experiment new ideology is also very essential. Our entire endeavour to constantly develop new strategies and review them to make learning more and more creative and effective makes a difference in the lives of children entrusted to our care. Not to mention the importance of affection and dignity towards the learner and not letting them down on their self –esteem.

“……………..but the best progressive schools end up with students who are both skilled and innovative.

“What is achieved (or not achieved) at Reggio Singapore, or Germany stems partly from the exquisite particulars of each region, partly from a judicious exploitation of the mental representations, proclivities and intelligences of young human beings. If we want to think strategically about the best education for all human beings, we must ground our thinking in the latest insights about psychology, neurology, biology, and anthropology; and we must seek to synthesize these findings from science with time-honoured lore in ways that serve the individuals with whose education we are charged”(How Cultures Educate-Howard Gardner) 8




REFERENCES:

1. Krishnamurti J. (1978) --- Letters to Schools Vol. I
2. Rampal Anita: Texts in Context: An EFA 2000 Review
3. Bartlet Kevin: International Curricula: More or Less important?
4. A Website: http://sws.mnstate.edu/figenshe/philosophy.html
5. Institute of Inquiry – A Website link: http://www.exploratorium.edu/IFI/resources/constructivistlearning.html
6. National Curriculum Framework – A summary
(Azim Premji Foundation)
7. Dewy John: Dewy’s Website: My Pedagogic Creed @ the informal education archives.
8. Howard Gardner (1999) - How Cultures Educate- The Disciplined Mind.
9. (Chris Kyriacon) & (M. Ferguson) Reading Material provided during Learning & Curriculum Workshop at MAIS.
10. Einstein Albert (1949) On Education, A Website link.
11. Brooks & Brooks (1993) A website link: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/methods/assment/as7const.html

2 Comments:

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger a.v.koshy, at 2:55 AM  

  • Dear sir, It was good to read your essay. Your breadth of vision is uplifting. I did feel that one thing was missing though. I wanted a few anecdotes from your personal journey.

    By Blogger a.v.koshy, at 2:57 AM  

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