Batting for humanity in the curriculum

‘Instead of asking what we are teaching the children, we should ask how we are teaching them’

September 27, 2019 06:52 pm | Updated September 28, 2019 04:20 pm IST

Did you know that the most recognised song in the world, ‘Happy birthday to you’, was written and composed by two sisters who were school teachers? I learned this fact from Anil Srinivasan, who recently gave a brilliant lecture, Music and the Brain , at the TAISI Conference in Bengaluru. Srinivasan argued that music should be included in every lesson, and he showed us how. We sang along to popular songs in both English and Hindi, he gave us Mozart’s 12 variations of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’, he pulled up childhood memories and made us realise the importance of music in our lives. Sadly, once we move past kindergarten, music almost disappears from the classroom.

Reality check

These days there is a lot of panic about whether we have enough STEM or STEAM education. I like these programmes, but we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking what we are teaching the children, we should ask how we are teaching them. Is there enough humanity in the curriculum?

By ‘humanity’, I am not referring to history, literature and geography. I’m talking about kindness, compassion, wisdom and understanding. Kids want to learn, but they want to learn skills that will help them understand the modern world and be successful in it. STEAM is popular because in these programmes they sit in groups and ask each other questions. They collaborate and try to figure out tough challenges. They are thinking, tinkering, communicating and problem-solving. This type of teaching does not require robots, technology, or the arts. It requires an understanding of the reality of being a child in the digital age. It requires dedicated teachers who are well-trained in modern methods.

Trained minds

If we want to address the crisis of irrelevant school practices, the key is to invest in teacher training. I was recently at DIDAC India, where thousands of exhibitors came to sell the latest innovations in curriculum and gadgets. But I ask school leaders: is this really what we need? There are no robots who are ready for the enormously complex and emotional role of a teacher.

At our school, we use kind and compassionate methods to teach everything from organic gardening and Ultimate Frisbee to mathematics, music and Tamil. We do not spend time debating whether to call a new programme STEM or STEAM. The world of education does not need another acronym. If it did, I would propose FIRE: make every lesson fun, interesting, relevant and engaging.

Michael Purcell is the Head of School at KC High, Chennai.

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