Education

Look beyond textbooks

We cannot prepare future generations with textbooks alone

On a recent trip to a small village outside the city, my friend’s little daughter screamed in delight when she saw a herd of brown cows. Curious, I asked if she hadn’t ever seen cows, to which she replied, “Yes, but never a brown one. My book says they are usually white and black.”

Many Indian cattle breeds or desis come in hues of brown, I told her, something she seemed to reflect on and continued to think about, as we went closer to the herd of cows. Truth was, her textbook with a curriculum that is as dated as the colonial rule in our country, hadn’t described cows in the Indian context.

Experiential learning

It is safe to say that today there is consensus across all stakeholders that we cannot prepare future generations with textbooks or any online variations of textbooks alone. Learning that combines various methods, that also include textbooks, is the way forward. Learning beyond the textbooks that give a Gen-Z child an opportunity to experience and learn in a multi-sensory environment is necessary. Experiences that also engage senses such as speech, smell, touch and taste, make learning deeper, when compared to traditional forms that only include seeing and listening. My friend’s daughter understood more about Indian cattle and the ecosystem that surrounds them, in the half hour we spent in the field, than she ever did from her textbooks.

In addition to making learning multi-sensory, effective experiential learning also engages learners with real-world scenarios that help them contextualise their learning and understand the challenges in solving problems. So, while ‘going beyond the textbooks’ can often mean asking children to build a model or develop a project in a controlled and manicured environment, it doesn’t necessarily solve the purpose of learning. Effective experiential learning should ensure that children experience the real-world interactions, the limitations and pitfalls, the possibilities of new connections and new opportunities that come with a true immersion into the real world. So in many ways, simply going beyond textbooks is insufficient, what might be most effective is to go beyond the classroom as well!

Communication, another critical challenge, in our education system can effectively be addressed with experiential learning. Often, a lot of undue importance is given to language with children being pushed to perform out of their will that ends up becoming counter-productive. This approach ignores all the other aspects of effective communication beyond the knowledge of a few languages. A good experiential programme teaches children all critical aspects of communication — simple articulation, the art of gesture, body language, listening deeply, cultural variations, understanding scripts and reading symbols and so on. These are all things a child learns automatically, when put in new, alien environments and diverse groups.

It is important for us today to not just look at a learning model that goes beyond the textbooks, but to also seriously analyse the need, purpose and value of doing so. Often, the term experiential gets thrown around a lot by schools that focus overtly on being so without understanding the purpose of actually doing so. We see children who face an ‘application vacuum’ where they do random experiential activities without retaining much of what they learn. Parents too, tend to miss the point of why they want their kids to opt for programmes that ‘go beyond the textbook’ in a mad rush to blindly follow others. As two important stakeholders in the child’s development process, both parents and educators need to first understand the needs of the child, the purpose of a chosen experiential learning programme or activity before investing time, money and other resources into them.

A great education is one in which the child learns to observe, predict, understand, think critically and intensively and apply his/her education to solve challenges and contribute to moving society forward. That is how we will transform Gen-Z into a generation of solvers. It is not an over-reliance on any single method but a balanced amalgamation of varied learning methods that will get us there.

The writer is founder and CEO, Worldview.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 12:25:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/look-beyond-textbooks/article26480154.ece

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