Monday, 18 September 2017

Fail-land or Finland lets ‘unbox’ education.

Finland method in India, a dream or achievable? Its time to ‘unbox’ education.
“One of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn.” ~Diane Marie
Indian education is abuzz with discussions and speculations when the PISA test scores are released every year. Educators and even Education Ministers and their teams make a beeline to Finland to understand how their children score so well on the PISA test. Well, this year its time to cancel the ticket to Finland and book one to Singapore because it’s the students from Singapore that have scored well on the PISA tests in 2016! Jokes aside, one of the crucial aspects missing in all the discussions on how to address the abysmal performance of Indian students in international tests like PISA, is the focus on ‘schoolification’ of our kindergartens and the lack of transition between pre primary and primary curriculum. Our own ASAR report by Pratham shows poor performance by our students in primary education, but the most important link that is ignored by all is the lack of quality early childhood education in our country.  Many countries including Australia have studied their student performance in PISA and their analysis of the PISA results shows that those 15 year olds who had one or two years of early childhood education did better in their scores for Reading, Math and Science than children who had less than one year, or no attendance at early learning.
We have had enough time to ‘think out of the box’, its time now to throw away the ‘box’..’unbox education! The first thing that we need to focus on is to bring back the engine of early learning- Play. Almon and Miller used this analogy of describing play as the ‘engine of learning’, “as an engine is a machine that creates the force and is self-propelling, so with play as the engine of early years and primary years curriculum, self- directed learning is achieved.”But our kindergarten curriculum hardly leaves any time for play because kindergartens are busy preparing kids for primary. So the first thing we need to ‘unbox’ play and bring it back for our preschoolers. For that we need to educate parents who are mostly ‘incredulous’ and upset when a child comes home from preschool and says happily that he played! Parents are clueless that most of the learning required in the early years happens through play. Play fertilizes brain growth.
One of the constant struggles for primary school children and their teachers is children not being able to write and not being able to sit or focus to complete a task. Well, Early-years specialist Dr Rebecca Duncombe, who led a study monitoring children of school age in UK, found a higher number of kids experience problems with their balance and coordination ultimately affecting their ability to learn in class. “A child’s physical development level impacts their ability to complete simple tasks such as sitting still, holding a pencil, putting on their shoes, and especially reading – all skills essential for school,” she said.This happens to our children in India, because we coop up children for hours together in a desk-chair prison and make them do ‘worksheets’ and ‘workbooks’ that can show us their achievement of having learnt to ‘write’.  Children need movement to develop their body and brain. Play is the work of childhood and important foundations of learning are laid through simple play. And if you need one more reason to increase playtime, then well, kids in Finland play and their children score well in PISA!
The second aspect we need to look into is the curriculum of pre primary and primary. Presently the primary curriculum is being pushed down heavily on kindergarten leading to its ‘schoolification’. Primary schools and parents want kids to be able to read and write before they come to grade one which makes the kindergarten more of a preparatory time for primary school goals. Instead the focus should be on laying the foundation for creativity, thinking, logic, problem solving, and pro social skills.  Why are these important? Because besides assessing students' strengths in mathematics, science and reading, Pisa also assessed students on an important 21st century skill - collaborative problem solving and creative thinking skills. So simply put, how we teach our kids in kindergarten will impact how they score in PISA.
Look at these photos of work done by 4 year olds. Their task was to write number 4 and draw four objects. Well, they wrote number 4 and it all looks the same. But look at their drawings of 4 objects and you will notice that when it came to drawing 4 objects each child was creative and drew something different, a perfect example of a task that nurtured their creative, thinking, logic and problem solving skills. It is this creativity that we kill early on in the kindergarten and primary years thus leading to students who can’t think or create but can only rote learn and cram knowledge, these are not the skills required for future success. Lets unbox our kindergarten curriculum and this can happen only when we lessen the academic load on our primary kids.

Students should spend more time in real world scenarios studying interdisciplinary issues and questions.  The human brain is designed to make connections.Finnish educators have listened to neuroscience and are basing their teaching and curricula on how the brain functions and learns. This is something that is completely ignored in India. Here is an example- Finland does not introduce writing till age 7 or 8 because according to Gesell Institute for Child Development, the average child cannot perceive an oblique line in a triangle until age 5 1⁄2. This skill is a prerequisite to recognizing, understanding, and writing certain letters. And yet in our country children as young as 3 years are writing letters! Math is another foundation that we are rushing into without giving children the time required to master the basics. So at age 2 we teach them to recite numbers, age 3 count, age 4 add and age 5 subtract. Well research says, the key to understanding concepts such as subtraction and addition is “number conservation.” A child may be able to count five objects separately but not understand that together they make the number five. The average child does not conserve enough numbers to understand subtraction and addition until 51⁄2 or 6! So unlike Finland our curriculum is not based on developmentally appropriate practices.
And that is why when we teach reading, writing, subtraction, and addition before children are ready; they are ending up memorizing these skills, instead of understanding them. And this is definitely not helping their achievement later on.According to Yale professor Edward Zigler, a leader in child- development and early-education policy for half a century, the academic takeover of early learning can be understood as a shift from an “ideas-based curriculum” to a “naming- and-labeling-based curriculum’- what we in India call Rote learning.

Children learning about Food Pyramid with hands on activity. 

Hands on learning about angles by moving the classroom door.
Rote learning is definitely one of the reasons we don’t score well on PISA, which is quite evident from a 2012 PISA report that found that students who used memorization as a study technique were the lowest achievers.  Learning in classrooms that have ‘chalk-talk’ methods teaches children memorization is the priority, not understanding. We do have a small number of schools using Project method, coding, experiential learning, which are all great ideas but will never work if not understood by teachers. Once teachers understand how the human brain learns then they would know how to create learning situations. So it is important we change the way B.Ed. syllabus is designed, it is important to include more emphasis on teaching teachers how to teach, instead of what to teach, and then they in turn would be able to focus on how children learn and not on what they learn. If we don’t change the way our teachers teach then any change would not be possible, as the teachers themselves would become roadblocks.
The third aspect is we need to bring back our focus on the third teacher- the environment- According to Early Years specialist Fiona Zinn, who lectures in the Masters of International Education programme at Melbourne University; the third teacher- environment is missing. Most early years educators make a beeline to study Reggio Emilia educational approach of Italy, well the most effective inspiration to observe and implement would be the fact that Reggio Emilia recognizes the environment as the ‘third teacher’ (Malaguzzi).  Our students still sit in classrooms designed 70 years back! Its time to match their outside world to their classroom. And so in this new world it is important to renovate educational spaces to help education become truly the development of the mind, body, and soul. It is important to break the monotonous image of a traditional school and bring in a more contemporary and scientific image of an educational environment. It is time to fold away the ‘box’ that we call classrooms and unfold new age classrooms that are breathing classrooms, with ‘sense’ible material, comfortable seating and have an infusion of color inspirations and motivational designs.
Isn’t it sad that we expect our students to be creative thinkers but the environments that they are cooped up in for study are a far cry from being creative?One of the biggest influences on the child’s thought process is the typology of his/her immediate surroundings.  Brain expert Jensen writes, ‘brain – friendly learning environments strengthen neural connections and aid long- term memory, planning and motivation. To be brain – friendly, they need to be places that are comfortable and aesthetically engaging.’ Its time to bring in flexible seating in our classrooms, the immediate benefits of flexible seating according to Kayla Delzer, include burning more calories, using up excess energy, improving metabolism, increased motivation and engagement, creating a better oxygen flow to the brain, and improving core strength and overall posture. It's no surprise that physical activity is linked to higher academic performance, better health, and improved behavior. 
It’s become a ‘senseless trend’ to look to Finland’s educational system for inspiration and visit their schools in an attempt to try and change the way our students/schools achieve. Well, for that we will have to ‘unbox’ education as it is perceived in our country and actually study how Finland achieved it and how Singapore too is now achieving the same. What have they ‘unboxed’?  Well, Finland began in the 1970s and abandoned most of the performance standards. So we need to do away with our obsession with standard 10th and 12th results, schools instead of assessing children need to start assessing the environment in which children are taught. Its time to ‘unbox’ assessment to include life skills that are becoming increasingly crucial to thrive in the workplace and the global world. Its time to assess collaborative skills, problem solving skills and,how students tackle a problem by collaborating with a partner.  The importance of collaboration skills can no longer be undermined by India schools, as the next round of Pisa tests, in 2018, is likely to include a new measurement of global competence, which will look at how well students can navigate an increasingly diverse world, with an awareness of different cultures and beliefs.Time to ‘unbox’ our curriculum and teaching-learning environment if we want to move from being ‘Fail-land’ to ‘Finland’!
Many of the skills that our schools have traditionally embraced, requiring students to master content, are becoming less important for success in the real world. Instead, creative thinking, teamwork, and social skills are becoming more important. Lets base our curriculum assessments on concepts and application and not content, memory and recall. Time to move from bringing the heat on students to making our curriculum HOT!HOT- is Higher Order Thinking skills that is thinking on a level that is higher thanmemorizing facts or telling something back to someone exactly the wayit was told to you. HOT takes thinking to higher levels than restating the facts and requireschildren to do something with the facts like Understand, Infer,Connect, Categorise, Manipulate and apply them as they seek new solutions to new problems. It is such deliberate curricular shifts that Finland and Singapore havemade over the years that have worked in moving their students beyond mastering content knowledge to becoming problem solvers.

Its time to make digital literacy a common part of our primary and secondary school curriculum. We are scared to allow kids to bring mobile phones in class, we are afraid they will use apps, Facebook and twitter, we fear the negative impacts of digital social media use if kids are left on their own. But we fail to realize that we can only monitor them in school, what about when they are on their own? So instead of becoming gatekeepers of social media and it is important that we become role models of how digital media and social media can be used effectively. Teach our kids digital citizenship so that they can go out in the world as sensible digital citizens who have made great connections on twitter and Facebook, use effective apps and rejected ineffective ones because their school taught them digital sense. Lets help our students leave positive Digital footprints. Protect them for a lifetime and not only for ‘now’.

Rote learning. Chalk and talk. Drill and grill. These practices are shackling our students and its
high time we ‘unbox’ education, lets begin with doing away with senseless practices- red and blue line books, cursive handwriting, writing things 30 times, developmentally inappropriate curriculum and senseless assessments. Lets bring focus on application-based hands on learning, lets change the way our teachers are taught and enrich the environment in which children learn.

The CEO of Google, Sunder Pichai, rightly said,  “Indian education should allow a system of creativity, project-based experiential learning. We should teach students to take risks and not penalize them for being different.”

Lets learn from Finland and truly ‘unbox’ educational practices in our schools.  Let us start with revamping our teacher training programs so that teachers are geared to teach in 21st century classrooms with 21st century tools. Teachers who understand children and are able to relate to their changing needs. Let us invest in our teachers, because as rightly said by Kayla Delzer- “Relationships between students and passionate teachers will always be the foundation of successful classrooms.”


Unknown said...

一wow superb parent of kindergarden student I could co related it..with my thoughts...full trust on podar..a very happy
parent..�� good work Mam

Dipali Galande
PJK wagholi

Unknown said...

一wow superb parent of kindergarden student I could co related it..with my thoughts...full trust on podar..a very happy
parent..�� good work Mam

Dipali Galande
PJK wagholi

radha duppelli said...

A thought provoking article once again by you mam. I would like go hand in hand with you in this process of unboxing.

Amar said...

Prelude is excellent. Work at hand is extremely important. We have prepared a digital format for teachers to learn and deliver every day preschool activities in remote schools. We at LIFE HAVE ALWAYS BELIEVED IN ECE AS KEY TO INDIA'S REVOLUTION FOR EDUCATION. lets partner and make every preachool teacher understand her role in Nation Building!

frieda parker said...

We all know that play is the work of children but most of the time we forget about play and make our children 'work' their way through school.
This thought provoking blog is an eye opener for all and must be implemented to ensure profiecency in education.

Swara Patel said...

Superb article ..... It explains the need to emphasis on skill development through play and physical development in early years beautifully.

Podar Jumbo kids PLUS said...

It's an eye opener for all parents and educators. We need to change our thought process and Outlook of our current education system.

Jumbo Kids Dhule said...

It's an eye opener for all parents and educators. People from small cities yet trust on marking and grading . It's again the great support to make them understand that needs of next century citizens . Thankyou ma'am.

Shahnaaz Shaikh said...

Superb article.It helps us to understand why play is important for the child.
Thank you ma'am

Shahnaaz Shaikh

Rashmi Gawde said...

It has been rightly said that change is the only constant. We must change and adapt, especially in the field of education. Let us wholeheartedly "unbox" our educational practices and help our children become problem solvers rather than mere memorizers.
Thank you Ma'am for this wonderful article.

Rashmi S. Gawde.
PJK - Nashik.

sejal pandya said...

It's indeed a very informative article to parents as well as teachers who play a key role in the upbringing of a child.It is crucial to understand the learning years of kids and provide a happy playful environment to them through which they get a firm base in their academics.Teachers as well as parents should nurture children with patience,understanding and love.

Sunita Jadhav said...

Indeed true, a teacher would defintely become a road block if she perceives that rote learning and traditional teaching methods are key for a child's academic success. Let's break ourselves from the shackles of such a system of education and embrace to an education which teaches our kids to work with creativeness,team work .
Sunitha sagar