“Schools must function as joyous, healing spaces in which learning is embraced.” said Shekhar Seshadri, professor, child and adolescent services, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences. He was speaking at the XSEED conference held to discuss then concept of ‘school of tomorrow’, on Saturday.

XSeed is an academic solution for schools that aims at raising student performances and building quality teaching.

To create such spaces though, means a change in the prevailing system. And that is what conference focussed on. According to Chand Das, CEO, ITC’s Education & Stationery Products Business, “We aim to encourage the motive of bringing path-breaking ideas in education to practicing school leaders.”

Small tables with people cloistered around it filled the Rani Meyyammai Hall in Egmore where the conference was held. Most of the participants were teachers and principals from various school and colleges across the city. A group of little girls with braided hair and striped pinafores giggled softly as they shared biscuits — they represented schools in which the XSEED system has already been implemented. A large red and white poster in front of the hall detailed the five-step experimental learning process — aim, activity, analyze, apply and assess. A television in one corner of the hall screened information-laden videos.

The programme had a series of talks and panel discussions by experts including Prof. Noel Tichy from the University of Michigan, Dr J.P. Narayan, president of the Lok Satta party, child psychiatrist Dr. Shekar Seshadri – one of India’s leading child psychiatrists, Govindraj Ethiraj, former founder-editor in chief of Bloomberg UTV, Nirmala Sundaram, head of curriculum development at Lalaji Omega Schools and Ashish Rajpal, founder and CEO of iDiscoveri Education.

According to Ramya Venkataraman who heads Education Practice, McKinsey India: “Resources, though not unimportant, are not everything.” She backed up her statement with numbers that clearly showed that the same investment in educational institutions around the world, translated into varying levels of performance.

However, as Dr Narayanan said: “Education is the most democratising tool.” And making that tool effective means changing the way one looks at it.

“It is important to recognise, understand and develop multiple talents.” said Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala, professor at IIT-Madras. “Many of the youngsters we get at IIT are no doubt bright, but they are very single-minded in their way of looking at the world. They lose out on large aspects of human life and training such people is not easy. “

This holistic development of young people needs to start at the school-level itself, and that will happen only when classroom atmosphere is improved. “The top-down hierarchal approach that plagues most classrooms today needs to be replaced by more egalitarian practices that foster better student-teacher interactions and open communication channels.” says G Gautama, director-secretary, The Chennai Education Centre

Prof. Noel Tichy, who delivered the keynote address over the web, believes that action-based learning was the best way to learn as “it connects people and creates real value.” His session was interspersed by case studies and video clippings that highlighted the benefits of action-based learning models.

“I enjoyed his discourse but was rather disappointed that Prof. Tichy was not physically present.” said Aarthi Ram Kumar, a school principle and member of the audience.

“Some of it seems a little out of the Indian context” added Dhruv another spectator. “The theories are interesting but I don’t know how much of it is practical.”

Ashish Rajpal and Nirmala Sundaram then proceeded to translate theory into practice by showcasing a series of real-life examples of learning and innovation in schools through XSEED. “Different children do have different needs. Some level of personalisation needs to occur even in large classrooms.” remarked Ashish.

But isn’t such a learning model rather elitist asks Poorvaja, another member of the audience. “Not at all,” confirms Ashish. “While we do have some upmarket schools adopting this system, most are regular schools. Honestly, infrastructure doesn’t matter – children can be taught even under a tree,” he said.

“We have implemented this learning system recently,” said Rajesh from Vasai Matriculation School in Vellore. “It has worked wonders. Children are much happier and understand concepts better.”

Perhaps what has helped is that, as Dr Narayanan says, “As a society we value learning.” Yet we need more-much more.

After all as Prof. Tichy remarked, “We as educators are responsible for the next generation. So we need to set the bar as high as we can,” he said.

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Teaching & LearningSeptember 24, 2010