Lessons from a hidden curriculum
There is uncertainty in the air and our educational priorities are undergoing a sea-change. How do we counter it?
We are on a disruptive reset, educationally. The pandemic has exposed the value of the hidden curriculum represented by the unwritten, unofficial, and unintended lessons, gathered from family, classrooms, and the broader culture of beliefs and norms. This is subtle and far removed from the formal syllabus. How does it enact in different dimensions and how do we address it?
Out of syllabus
The first dimension is the lost certainty. Our traditional educational practice encourages a mental model of certainty. But the pandemic contradicts the false certainty assumed in a written syllabus. A medical practitioner recently wrote how the pandemic has seen professionals adapting to changes and physicians from different specialities practising in areas entirely outside their discipline. Similarly, the professional identities of teachers may also take turns without warning. Many subjects are still taught as if we have unlimited certainty of natural resources. We limit ourselves by discussing opening of institutions and conducting exams and continue to encourage a false sense of required status quo.
The second dimension draws attention to variability. Beyond the simplistic notion of replacing classrooms with the Internet, subtle variables need to be studied. Internet connectivity does not always equal effective learning, not every online course is well designed, neither are all teachers well prepared and not everyone is capable of learning from home. This situation seeks us to acknowledge variability and to think of ways to deliver learning even in suboptimal conditions.
The third dimension is unintended consequences. Do we have a plan to navigate the unintended byproducts of online learning and digitisation? Individuals worried about phone addiction now expectedly find themselves immersed in unending video calls. The shift to online education, increased enrolment in digital courses, and higher capital infusion to ed-tech companies suggest that the leap in digital activity has long-term impacts. This also means pressure on institutions using outdated pedagogy, to reaffirm their worth to the young learners.
Misplaced priorities and choices are the fourth aspect. The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of our existing procedures and priorities. The latest example is that of a state university demanding approval for courses from its affiliated colleges at least a year in advance. In an age of fast-evolving disciplines, this rarely convinces learners.
What can be done
Here is how institutional leadership can make sense of the hidden curriculum:
Solutionist approach: Many universities have reported dozens of pandemic-related inventions and solutions. Many need to be scaled up so that we can move towards a solutionist approach. To make the education system solutionist, Tavian Jean-Pierre, a young futurist, suggests a simple pedagogical template. First, highlight a knowledge gap. Second, point out that we do not have the resources to solve it, if we continue to think and operate at the current level. Third, show the work that is going on to try to solve it and invite students to be a part of that.
New spaces and actors: Localised learning approaches such as small group outdoor works, safe pods by neighbourhoods, and miniature community centres are possible experiments. Educators may also include parents, volunteers, older children, and experts outside of academia. A live curriculum requires learning design collaborations from practitioners outside of the traditional academia.
Short-term measures: The urgent short-term measures, which are already in progress, include continuing safety as a priority, vaccination drives, immunity building, engaging families, and weaving into the virtual campus. In hard-to-reach places, use television, radio, and content transfer through drives as practical emergency ways to make students feel connected.
Long-term pre-distribution measures: This involves equal access to material through sustained investments. India’s true potential can be explored only if long-term pre-distribution measures are met. Indian education’s true potential can be explored only if these are met.
New certainty: Assuming that this period of uncertainty is fleeting will be an educational error. Instead, deconstructing it and taking this as a humbling moment for educational change may result in seamless learning. Reconcile to the fact that some educational structures are obsolete and figure out solutions, some of which may be unorthodox.
The conclusion of the pandemic’s educational relevance is yet to be written.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
The writer is Education Officer, University Grants Commission.