Schools

Many ways to learning

The students have just settled down in their places and the teacher is about to start a new lesson on Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. But just before she can start her discussion, she is interrupted by one student. He has been trying to work out a problem involving Newton’s third law of motion — so simply stated but not that simple when it is thought over. The teacher had taught this topic the previous week, would she refer to her notes and write on the board — no way, this is a smart classroom and these teachers do not do the “chalk and talk” anymore — she simply walks over to the computerised “board” and with a touch of her palms, she can roll back the display to what was taught last week.

This is a common scenario at the public schools in the U.S.

“Everything that is displayed on the board is preserved, so you don’t have to write it all over again,” says Suresh Sundaram, a school teacher from Vellore, who recently visited the Arizona State University and public schools in the U.S. He was one of the teachers selected on the International Leadership in Education Programme, organised by IREX - International Research and Exchanges Board, Washington D.C., U.S.A.

“Spending a semester teaching and learning and exchanging information and knowledge on culture has been a transformational experience,” he says, beaming.

There are many things about the U.S. public school system that are worthy of being emulated in India, according to him.

Clean and stimulating

“The first thing that would catch your eye on entering a public school is how spic and span the environment is. You cannot find a speck of dust anywhere,” he says. The schools make efficient use of the space they have, and the same space is put to multiple uses by re-arranging, or re-organising, equipment and furniture. For instance, a play area could well be used as a place for demonstrating an experiment or to hold a small meeting.

Mr. Sundaram is amazed at the excellent atmosphere in the classroom. “There is a maximum of 25 students in a class, and they are not seated in rows, but in groups.” The whole arrangement is designed to facilitate discussion and exchange. The students are provided breakfast and lunch at school, and they also get laptops to do their work with. “We give less importance to practical work and self-study, whereas in these schools, students do a lot of this,” he says. A group of students in a school where he even taught some classes was engaged in making a 3-D printer for a school project! It is phenomenal, for such printers have been discovered only about a year and half ago, and here they are, learning how to build it on their own.

Power of self-study

Students are encouraged to learn on their own and not depend on the teacher. “Don’t give them all the details,” his partner teacher advised, when Mr. Sundaram was presenting to a class of students the properties of a capacitor. He was teaching at the class at Bio Science High School, Phoenix, Arizona State, as part of the programme along with a partner teacher, Cory Wax Man. He taught six different topics on six days.

Culturally the visit was an eye-opener, meeting people from all parts of the world and learning to get along with those whose habits were so different from his own. He says, “I learnt the value of managing time, punctuality, cleanliness. There is so much less of gender bias and more of equality.”

With such details as lesson plans and syllabuses being sent across by email, the class duration is left free for essential interaction, not just between the student and teacher but between students as well. The whole effort is directed at making learning easy and fun. On returning to India, taking a leaf out of this book, he urged his school in Vellore to make it possible for students to watch a cricket match during the lunch hour, and also tries to involve them in projects and self-learning. Still he finds using online tools difficult because the Internet speed is low. Children grow up fast in the U.S., with college students taking up part-time jobs to support themselves. They often live away from their families.

Given all these advances and improvement, did he not find anything that he could pass on to the schools abroad from the Indian schools?

He smiles and answers, “Children and teachers here [in India] bring lunch from home, sit together and share their food and eat from each others’ plates. This is something that I would like to pass on to students in the U.S.”


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 7:47:09 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/school/suresh-sundaram-vellore-teacher-finds-that-us-public-education-system-holds-many-lessons-for-indian-schools/article6365083.ece

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