Activity-Based Learning (ABL) method for the primary classes, Active Learning Methodology (ALM) for middle school and an Equitable Standard School Education for all and discussions on evaluation reforms — the School Education scene in Tamil Nadu has seen some interesting moves in the last few years.

All these initiatives, which seek to help students develop critical thinking, emphasise the need to understand, rather than learn by rote.

The efforts also seek to impact the higher education scene in many ways — perhaps, in their attempt to draw more students towards higher education and by ensuring they are better equipped to compete at collegiate level.

School Education Minister Thangam Thennarasu spoke to Education Plus about the trends and what the Department seeks to do.

Deeming the need to strengthen the school education system “absolutely essential” to see positive changes in higher education, he says: “Our output is their input. We are consciously trying to make learning more meaningful for students.”

While the ABL and ALM introduced a pedagogy that gives more scope for student participation and involvement, Equitable Standard School Education seeks to bring about changes in a few other aspects of teaching and learning — evaluation and assessment. But how?

“So far, students of the State Board were just used to answering exercise questions after each chapter. There has been little scope for testing based on overall understanding of a concept. If the examinations have even one question that is not part of the exercise after chapters, there is a lot of noise made about an ‘out of the syllabus' question.

“Why does a student who scores 200/200 in the board examination find it so hard in his first semester in college? We have to nurture students' inherent spirit of enquiry and make them confident learners who can take up challenges.”

Observing that the State government is actively considering examination reforms, he says: “What is the point in reducing learning to a few predictable questions like these or base them on the notes/guides. So we are keen on bringing about changes in evaluation that will, in turn, encourage a more comprehensive approach to learning and also equip students better for national-level competitive examinations like the JEE or AIEEE.”

The new syllabus, he says, would focus on developing critical thinking of students and help them learn by asking the right questions.

“We have to look at learning in a holistic sense, and not as a set of isolated activities that are just examination-oriented.”