There was a time when memorisation played a big role in classrooms. A lesson was read out by the teacher and students had to pay attention and focus on recitation: repeating after the teacher. Understanding and absorbing the lesson taught were of little value.
Preferences were never meant to be factored, and students had no choice but to memorise what was taught that day in class. Homework was a chore. A student’s aptitude was rarely considered. The focus was report-card driven. Getting high marks was the goal.
The old ways were anti-creative, a deterrent to curious, gifted minds. Teachers could get away with boring an entire generation of students and permanently put them off learning. Think of the damning, far-reaching effects of this previous reality—unless you were lucky to have a few good teachers and were spared this fate.
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Unlike today, educators of the past, in the pre internet era, were not terribly concerned about the real world application of lessons taught in the classroom. It was of no concern that a chapter in a textbook bore no relation to the outside world. The focus was on “finishing the syllabus”, not improving the curriculum to enhance a student’s understanding or to nurture his thirst for knowledge, and hone his skills. Application, integration, engagement, interaction — these were yet unheard of concepts.
For a long time, the fact that the staid approach never worked didn’t bother educators, parents, students. Perhaps they knew no better. This was the norm. Students were bored and uninterested in the subjects for how they were taught.
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If you are over a certain age, you might be familiar with this blinkered approach to learning.The high cost of it is easy to glean. The damage it does to young minds when it turns them away, however inadvertently, from the pursuit of knowledge is immense and not easy to fix later in life.
Think back to your time as a student. See if you remember any lesson that you were supposed to ‘mug up’, or learn by rote. If you can recall instances of having participated in a lively exchange of ideas in a classroom, consider yourself in a lucky minority. Was there much student-teacher participation in your time? How about a flow of feedback? All vital aspects to impart healthy well-rounded learning, and unfortunately, the absence of these comes at a high cost to the future labour force.
Today, much has changed. The approach to education has been overhauled. A comparison between older methods of teaching and practices of today are different in several regards: the methods of teaching, the syllabus that is taught, the parameters of assessment, even the physical environment of students is vastly different from just a decades ago, and in more ways that not, this is progress.
Earlier, it was the norm for a student to struggle because the syllabus wasn’t integrated. Social sciences and history would have no common ground, a vastly different syllabus. Today, there is a focus on real world skills: creativity, time management, problem solving and critical thinking — concepts that were nowhere on the scene earlier. Today, there is an emphasis on the STEAM approach: integrating science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics in one discipline.
Assessment is project-based, and students are graded on their level of engagement. Computers have taken the place of blackboards. We live in a world of robotic teaching assistants. It’s no exaggeration to say that everything has changed.
Assignments are uploaded. Students have the benefit of group study, workshops, teamwork and exchange of ideas. In Denmark, students can access the internet during exams, any site they like, including Facebook (no messaging or emails though).
In the US, learning has become so personalised, students create their own schedules. South Korea has introduced digital textbooks so that students can learn anywhere. In Australia, kids are enabled with internships during school to get a broader real-world experience. All this is primarily to equip students with skills that are actually useful and in demand: communication, problem-solving, creativity, flexibility, and so on.
Students graduating from high school today are hyper-connected. They need these skills. They leave school with of thousands of friends on social media and enter a world with diminishing resources. It is crucial that they are equipped with skills to deal with the challenges of the 21st century. No longer can learning employable, useful approaches to jobs and life be left for them to simply figure out on their own. It is a good thing that the old ways of rote learning are left behind in the past.
One aspect of old-school learning that should not be done away with is actual student-teacher interaction time, human contact. Computers may have entered the classroom, but they are no substitute for the guidance of a good, kind, competent trained professional who is invested in students’ futures and works to equip these kids with the sensibilities and skills that most needed to stay relevant and employable in the future.
Let’s concentrate on the several beneficial advances of technology, but let’s keep the few aspects that were good about past methods, the human touch, to ready kids for the job market in the 21st century.