A radical re-organisation of schools and classrooms and the teaching-learning process has become essential to meet the needs of the current generation of students.

It was the year 2003. As a part of my efforts to understand schools and children of all ages, I happened to visit a Bangalore school that had a pre-school section. I followed the standard strategy of being a “fly on the wall,” observing, absorbing, and when the situation was conducive, asking questions to students, teachers and administrators there.

The four-year-old in the junior kindergarten class was smart and highly communicative. She was very forthcoming with her responses. I asked her what she liked and what she did not like in general. She loved her school, her teacher, her mother, and her grandmother. She did not like it when her elder brother fought with her. She also did not like it when her grandmother told her bed-time stories!

This was rather strange, since I had believed that most children liked stories told by the elders in the family. So I was wondering why she did not like her grandmother telling her bed-time stories. Maybe the grandmother saw too many “Ramsay Brother” movies and told her some horror stories — so I thought.

After some patient interaction, the little girl told us: “When she tells me the stories, I go to sleep. But she wakes me up and asks me — the moral of the story!” I was stunned by her unexpected explanation. What struck me personally was the girl's ability to explain her discomfort. I also began to think about several misconceptions that elders have about issues related to the next generations.

Such as that we believe the stories are told in order that they would understand the moral of the story. Or that children go to the school to learn. Or that employees go to office to work.

Is it correct to assume that children go to school only to learn? They could be going there because that is what is expected of them by their parents. Or because they like to be with their friends in school. Or for the one teacher who tells them nice stories. Or they like the playground and the sports facilities.

The children are not even at a stage to understand the “moral” of the story. They may understand it cumulatively through several stories — which would be sunk in several layers of their understanding, only to emerge later. Or their moral of the story would be different than what we understand it to be. What about the pure enjoyment of the story by itself? What about several other uses of the story — such as understanding the language, relating to the characters, imagining the ethos, the feelings, and so on?

Third-generation learners

As in many spheres of life, one of the biggest challenges in the educational system is that we have a first generation of leaders and educators that decide the education policy, the second generation of teachers that are responsible for facilitating education for the children who belong to a third generation.

Understanding third-generation children is a complex process and needs special efforts on the part of all concerned, including parents.

The third-generation children are fearless, articulate, independent, rational (capable of a high degree of analysis on “what is right and wrong” for them), impatient, non-hierarchical, and have wider methods of accessing knowledge. Therefore, what is likely to work with them is not position, age, seniority, power and experience, but strategies that promote equality, democracy, placing before them hard data for them to analyse and infer, and where required, allowing them to take charge of their own learning.

The steps needed

This requires a radically different organisation of schools and classrooms, including in terms of the seating arrangements, the teaching-learning process, methods and material, and the quality of interaction with the children. Parents and teachers must jointly understand that comparing situations with their own childhood and therefore expecting certain types of responses from the children, will not work.

The first step towards making this happen is to completely overhaul the teacher education agenda. Today's teacher education must educate them with multiple current and future scenarios, provide ample opportunity for teachers to interact with the current generation, understand them in a more systematic way and evolve effective processes to interact with them based on this understanding.

The second big requirement is to develop excellent “Teacher Educators” who have such an understanding — since the teacher educators are even more far removed from the current generation of children and hence add to the list of challenges.

The third important step is to find a method to educate parents to accept the fact that their children are bound to respond differently to situations than what the parents did when they were children.

The fourth requirement is to sensitise the educational functionaries outside the schools to appreciate the need to transcend generations, while determining and understanding the needs of the schools, the school administration and the education system.

Children and their future must be at the heart of any decisions about curriculum, classroom practices, examination system and school management system.

(Dileep Ranjekar is chief executive officer of the Azim Premji Foundation.)

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