The world and its sister know that education, especially from the age of six to 16, is crucial for every individual, for the society and for the nation. In the last two decades, the education system has undergone a sea change in many parts of the world. The pen and paper of the present generation is technology — every classroom, every teacher, and every student needs it. The old order may gasp at technological innovations, but we would do well to remember, that, for the young and the younger, these are blasé. It is their norm. So what is new in the education line across the world?
Be the change you want to see
Innovation is a word that gets tossed around quite a bit to describe a different approach in pedagogy practice, evaluation technique or policy change. As Albert Einstein pointed out correctly, “The world we have created is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Given that growth and change are inevitable, learning and innovation have to go hand in hand. Countries across the world have put together curriculum and practice, best suited to their requirements.
A comparative study, titled ‘Innovative Practices in Teaching and Learning’, of different regions of the world has brought to light that the key areas of change have been in curriculum content, innovative pedagogic techniques, assessment and evaluation practices, and they drive to encourage schooling and implement change (especially in Third World countries).
The wisdom of the traditional and standard system of teaching and learning, while being sound in principle, lacked dynamism and flexibility, which was needed to cope with the ‘www’ culture. This change had to be effected where it mattered most — in schools and colleges. The arrogance of success is in thinking that what you did yesterday holds good for tomorrow. It does not. Therefore, the revamping of existing patterns and the reinventing of implementing change!
Early childhood education in Finland emphasises respect for each child’s individuality and allows each child to develop as a unique person. Finnish early educators have come up with a unique way to foster a culture of reading, wherein parents of newborn babies are given three books — one for each parent, and a baby book for the child — as part of the maternity package. Formal schooling begins at the age of six. Outdoor activities are stressed, even in the coldest weather; and homework is kept to the minimum to leave room for extracurricular activities.
Finland authorities insist on 10 years of compulsory schooling for every child, from every economic bracket. Parents are paid to participate in this drive and can run homeschooling programmes for their own and other children. The emphasis is on education, not the institution.
Innovation in curriculum
In Finland, the entire education system is monitored by Municipal officials. Schools up to the university level are funded and administered by the local government.
The transversal competences in the schools’ core were in the thinking and learning process, cultural competence and self-expression, self-care and basic life skill competence, information and communication technology competence and smart world entrepreneurial skills to help build a sustainable society.
The education thrust in Singapore is research intensive, and their innovation and enterprise programme based on the slogan ‘Thinking Schools, Learning Nation’ has taken off beautifully with phenomenal attitude change right from the primary level through secondary and university levels. The new approach allows for intellectual curiosity and a willingness to think originally and nurture individual ability and strengths. This learning atmosphere encompasses students, teachers, parents, workforce, companies, community organisations and the government. The whole nation learns and moves forward.
Schools in England and elsewhere in English colonies felt the need to address not just curriculum content but the teaching methodology as well. Curriculum planners had a free hand to be creative in their approach to a subject. Thus, thematic design of lessons has found favour with teachers, as against the normal practice. The themes are drawn from the subject and they include topics like the impact of rivers on the environment and socio-economic growth. This basically gives them better perspective and helps them explore, assimilate, understand and create.
Certain subjects like English and Mathematics need discrete study of the subject; however, the students have enough opportunities to apply their literacy and numeracy skills during thematic learning sessions, involving simulation and role play.
New ways of assessing
New Zealand found that what worked for their high schoolers was an open posting of achievement data to egg them on. Almost like a performance chart or a scoreboard in sports. As a result, the climb and dips are up for peer assessment too and motivate the student to perform well consistently. Even the teachers come in for external evaluation by education inspectors, experts and senior faculty at regular intervals.
Projects and assignments have replaced unit tests. The system of grades and points has replaced the traditional percentage system. Closer home, our own Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has adopted this new method to ease conversion situations during admissions to universities.
In Finland, the assessment is an ongoing process, during the entire period of learning. Also to be noted is that the assessment is based on individual student’s skill and growth or progress. Evaluation of lesson plans and periodic appraisals keep the teacher’s creative juices flowing. The teaching staff strive to perfect their role of facilitators to motivate the student and allow for self-regulated learning and total involvement.
Drive to encourage schooling
Large pockets of our world are economically underdeveloped and the existing education system faces completely different challenges. The curriculum and teaching are not their primary concern. It is healthcare. In many parts of the African continent, the Education Department works with health officers and non-profit organisations to supply medicines to students in the school for deworming or to fight the malaria parasite, by providing insecticide-treated low-cost bed nets. The multi-pronged health drives to implement and promote education have been very successful, with attendance in schools going up by more than 55%.
A full circle
Our very own glorious Takshashila and Nalanda traditions and the ancient gurukula systems have been praised for all the right reasons. They have regained world recognition and high praise in recent times from scholars in foreign countries, who are clamouring to study Sanskrit — one of the oldest languages in use — to better understand the genesis of oriental philosophy, history, languages, sciences and culture, and discover some of the earliest thoughts and discoveries. In truth, India can give a few lessons to the world in developing genius and nurturing body, mind and soul, the essence of holistic education