Education Reviews

‘What Did You Ask at School Today?’ review: Everyday curiosity in and outside the classroom

The first thing about Kamala Mukunda’s book is that it is not about how to teach a child, but about how a child learns. From the title itself, it centres the child in the parent’s question: What did you ask at school today?

I’m not sure how many teachers and how many classrooms really welcome questions from children. It takes a lot to create a school culture in which a child feels empowered enough to ask.

It is the curious child who asks a question; the child who is not afraid of being embarrassed before her/his peers; the child who knows that their question will be heard with respect. A child who feels the urge to ask questions is one who wants to know the answer.

Process of learning

A teacher who creates a classroom environment where a child feels free to ask questions has already accomplished the major portion of work.

A questioning child is one who is in the process of learning. In the classroom, a child will ask questions, looking for answers from the teacher, the textbook, or her/his joint learning inquiry. Outside the classroom, the child’s mind will continue to ask questions, observe the world around, evaluate the evidence, and try to find answers.

With eight chapters covering subjects ranging from the developing brain and neuroscience to attention, behaviour and learning styles, this is a fascinating book for teachers and parents about how children learn.

The fundamental principles underlying the book are a mission statement for a compassionate and enlightened approach to education: “Children are capable of much more than we give them credit for. We adults should examine our attitudes and biases while working with children, allowing compassion rather than judgement to guide our interactions. We teachers should take a more scientific attitude toward our profession and re-examine conclusions about how children grow and learn, including our own home-grown ones. Our teaching must shift its centre toward our observations of the children in our care, and away from prescribed textbooks and standardized examinations.

To meet (the challenges of) life, our children need a somewhat different education than we are currently giving them. They need questioning minds, independent and critical thinking, the desire to learn and understand and a capacity for self-regulation, and we have to nurture these in them.”

Little is dangerous

Everyone thinks that because they once went to school, or because their children now go to school, they know a great deal about education. But this is a field where, in the words of Alexander Pope, a little learning is a dangerous thing — where it is important to drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring. All the more important in India because as more and more children from diverse backgrounds enrol and stay on in schools across the country, we must do everything we can to help all our children achieve their full potential.

Kamala Mukunda lives and works at a teacher-run school outside Bengaluru. With a Ph.D. from Syracuse and 25 years of experience working with children, she knows something about creating an affirming learning environment for students.

This, her second book on the subject, is an interesting and readable one about child development and learning, but it is not meant for the tiger mom or the helicopter parent. It is meant for the parent who wants to understand how to help the child grow and learn independently, without hovering over them, and without educational props and gimmicks. It is also meant for the educator who wants to get better at helping children learn.

Most of all, it is for education policymakers to understand how complex and beautiful a child’s learning journey can be, if only we are able to make it so.

What Did You Ask at School Today?; Kamala Mukunda, HarperCollins, ₹499.

The writer is in the IAS.

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Printable version | Apr 12, 2021 9:18:22 PM |

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