Education

Big school here we come

1:42 PM

While quite a few schools have re-opened this week for the 2013-14 academic year, Ishita’s one is one of the few that will start next week. We had the orientation session yesterday, where they gave us a temporary set of ID cards to fill with pictures and details until they issue the permanent ones, got told about the school rules, the date at which the uniforms are to be picked up, how the first few days will go, and given a run through on the curriculum to refresh our memories about what made us all go for that particular school and curriculum.

That part gave me warm fuzzies, because as I already mentioned I picked up the school she is going to based on how well it would suit’s Ishita’s learning style instead of going by the whole brand name brag factor some parents like to go to around here. More clearly put, DH and I are less than impressed with schools that brag about teaching kids how to write at age 4 and the level of 95 percenters they bred. We both know that it all comes at a personal cost, a young child not cut for the academic pressure will suffer a great deal, and in general academic “excellency” comes at the expense of something else in the development of a child. While most schools are aiming at a more rounded curriculum these days, we really wanted one that is as child friendly and as uncompetitive as possible, we want our daughter to grow up to be a grounded, balanced human being, not a performing monkey able to spit out complicated math formulas on demand. And I think our multicultural family set up is showing there, I grew up in a school system that put emphasis on problem solving, thinking out of the box and that pretty much went by the principle of the famous Latin quote: “Mens sana in corpore sano” (a healthy mind in a healthy body). meaning that Physical Education is as important as what you learn in books, and back home PE is graded, a bad enough mark in gym class can fail a student and cause them to repeat a year. Though of course to flunk gym usually means you have been behaving badly in that class with your attitude rather than performance, kids are not expected to be sports achiever, their overall attitude and willingness to help the teacher set up and store away the equipment and general spirit in the class are graded to and a good spirit can salvage a craptastic performance at a sport discipline.
DH grew up in the Indian traditional rote learning system, in which he fared average, having difficulties focusing on studies. As a result he is one not very impressed with it, and recognizing its flaws, and admits that not much of what he learned in school really prepared him for real life. A thing we both don’t want for Ishita.
But I have been there writing about it already so I will stop there. The orientation session reminded us about the things we loved about the curriculum we chose: no forced writing session and rote ABC learning in Jr Kg, more emphasis on communication skills, personality development, art centric activities, music, dance, PE, kinetic learning, refining motor skills and deduction learning. they also reminded parents that competition had no place in the school, all kids are equals, learn differently but are equals, that just because one kid is better verbally than another doesn’t make one superior. They also are interested in seeing their parents involved in their kids life and and told us that we should all pay attention to what is learned in school as several themes will be touched during the year and they highly welcome parents volunteering to come to school to teach the kids about the skills they have, or the cultural activities their families observe and share it with all the kids in the class.
All in all that whole orientation session not only made me feel even more certain I made the right choice, but that I was right to go ahead and admit her in that school without waiting if any of the other “big brand” schools in the area would even admit Ishita.
Now we are in the final few days before D-day, off with a list of things to do: take passport photographs, buy a rain coat as no umbrellas are allowed, pick up the uniforms, ask about what they mean by “black velcro sandals” for the monsoon in the process, and start getting this whole gig on the road. I opted not to put her on the school bus and will go by Auto daily to drop her and pick her up, because I personally feel she is not yet ready to sit quietly in a big bus and could not live with myself if she got harmed in a sudden harsh breaking from the driver, especially when I am a SAHM and consider it my job to do this drop off and pick up thing. My only concern at the moment being that the Auto driver union is threatening to go on strike when the school starts, and of course the monsoon which makes driver reluctant to take you anywhere while it rains, but I am sure we will figure out in such event.

8 comments

  1. apple9:27 PM

    Today schools use technology to teach, which is so wonderful. Back in our times, this was not the case. However, education can be made fun to a certain extent only. Rote learning has its own merits in the overall scheme of things in education. Practicing maths and alphabets do improve the overall mental efficiency and motor skills of the child in the initial stages. Sometimes a more structured approach to learning gives a more definite picture of education to the child. I don't think there is anything wrong with a healthy dose of competition. It is already there in the outside world. If you do not award the hard work of achievers then where is the incentive to work hard. I am talking in general terms, your child is little and perhaps need a more holistic approach towards education.

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  2. heathy dose of competition, sure not bad, the level in schools in India: BAD NASTY AWFUL, seriously I had to move to India to be exposed to the reality of kids comitting suicide around exam time because they felt they failed the world and their parents.
    Rote learning is nothing but a parlour trick, boost your memmory and ace exam, it's not learning, learning comes from making mistakes and from failure, if you never fail if you never have a negative result from doing an experiment yourself, that's not learning, that's replicating someone else's work and getting the same result.
    I come from a family with lots of teachers, in Switzerland you can't even call yourself a playschool teacher unless you attend a 3 years college course and one year of internship, the course teaches you about learning philosphies, psychology, early childhood brain developpment, teaching methodologies, and legal rights. Recent researches have proven that toddlers and even 1st and 2nd graders will not actually learn much if it is not integrated into an interactive environment, it has nothing to do with technology as such, Ishita's school is not making them use TV and computers, it's about giving the kids tools such as paint, toys and engaging them in role play to develop their motorskils, enable them to express themselves, and figure out things on their own. A thing Montessori pioneered in her time proposing that kids should be left to interect with their direct environement at their own pace and engage into kinetic activities to establish the brain connection they would need to solve more complex problem as they grow.
    Just because there is no memorisation and rote learning involved in a curriculum doesn't mean it is not structured.
    There is also the fact that all people have a different type of memory and learning. I am myself highly visual and kinetic, DH is more auditive, Ishi looks to be highly kinetic at the moment. As a child I had massive diffculties grasping topics that were dispensed to me only via lectures, and abstract format, I can't retain much from just sitting and listening, to be able to retain anything from a lecture, my hands and eyes need to be engaged into something, my best trick to make myself retain orally dispensed topics in school was to doodle, most teachers understood it, a few were dead sure I was not paying attention and would only warn me that my doodling would have me fail the exam...only to be shocked to see me score well, the fact is that the doodling brought the visual association I need to be able to process what I heard, and the doodles don't need to make sense, it could have been a lecture about the role of Bismark in WW1 but my doodles were tribal tatoos, snails, and random patterns. But looking at the doodles a few days later would immediately bring back the lecture to the top of my mind.
    Competition, never got it in school, ever, the Swiss system do not do class toppers, and State toppers, and push for students to compete against one another in school, it values team work. Competition is something that kids get in their extra curricular activities when they pick a sport, and a sport is pretty much something all kids pick. So we grow up into adults that will be achievers, and get promoted at work too, just not be taught that come exam time you are worthy only if you kicked all your classmates butts.

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  3. Rote learning comes under different categories not all of them are bad. Not everyone has visual memory and can recall facts and materials through visual aids. How do you solve mathematical problems if you do not remember your tables and equations. Once you have internalized the material and can recall it at your will, it helps you to solve problems using your imagination. Just like in sports you train your muscles to perform, in academics you train your brain to achieve results. But sporting achievements are lionized while academic achievements are belittled. I am against rote learning too, but to play down academic achievements is not good. It is as if studying hard is as stupid a job like cutting grass in a garden.

    Academically brilliant people are also well rounded. It a fallacy to believe that people who study hard lock themselves up and do not enjoy life. School life in India is cool till about the 10th grade when you have to take the Board Exams. From 10th to 12th it is tough because you need to get good grades get into good colleges, Once you have put in the hard work, your life is set. Oh, you must be thinking I am lecturing, but I just want to put my thoughts on paper. No offence meant, I believe that hard work always pays, if not in academics than maybe somewhere else.

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  4. Personal achievement on a personal level always pays off, not the one decided by external factors.
    As for the math and table...believe it or not I never learned them through rote, the school system in Switzerland teaches math principles through play until what is 3rd or 4th Standard here, we never recited the tables, we had play time with a pytagorus table instead. The school system was a mix of auditory and visual learning because it was understood that children learn differently. I started having some struggle in math when the teacher started to teach the concept of doing calculations mentally with no aids, not even finger counting in 5th grade got some relief back when the use of the calculator was autorised again in 10th until 14th which were the high school years back home. I went from math making sense, to it not making much sense in for a couple of years and to it finally have some sense again :) the system back home as changed it seems because during the years I was not allowed a calculator and visual aids to solve problems, they are now allowed which is good sense, they must have realised that along the way seeing half the students suddenly lag in math by grade 5 :)
    In highschool one book that was compulsory to buy for out math class was a book of formulas and equations, as we were not expected to memorize them all, but learn to use resources available to us to solve them, that was the only book allowed during our weekly tests and exams, we were also allowed the periodic table of elements in chemistery. te reasoning being that learnign it by heart is a sure way to make a snafu when not familiar with how to use the informations, but that regular practice and uses in problem solving quizzes and lessons would end up making us remember what we would use the most, knowing that for all those less commonly occuring situation, the place to look is this and that book, giving the biggest lesson in life that all things in life come with a learning database that we can access through books, website, experiences. Ridiculous at might seem the only time I really used rote learning in my life was when I was 18 and about to get my driving license, simply because the error of margin on the Swiss theory exam is very low: 50 questions and only 3 errors allowed if I remember correctly, so most go to driving schools and do mock up tests that use the actual questions and pictures used in the RTO test, at this point we anyway all already know our basic traffic rule because while driving a car or a scooty is not allowed without a license, most kids go to school by cycle or foot as there are no school bus system as such, but the theory exam for the license is mean, very few pass it without the mock up test cramming. Funny though that it is the only test in Switzerland you can only ace via rote learning, as all school tests attempted to be aced via rote will only fetch you an average mark.

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  5. Beatrix10:20 PM

    I too feel that 'problem solving' and reasoning is not taught in most Indian schools.

    Perhaps because it is the hardest thing to teach?

    Anyway memorizing equations is completely useless & a 'performing monkey trick' if you can't follow the reasoning behind them. Memorizing just leads to the 'plug & chug' approach to mathematics- insert said value for x,y or z & perform functions 'et voila' you have your answer with absolutely no knowledge of how or why you got there.

    I think 'technology' as it is used in Indian schools is just a gimmick, adds no overall value to education except by holding the child's attention a bit longer.

    I agree competition has no place in education except where 'teamwork' is taught. Every child's brain develops differently & there should be no shame in that. A child that is 'behind' in math this year may excel at math with a year's development- same for language skills, motor skills, etc. I've seen way too many Indian children labelled 'dumb' for their entire scholastic career due to 'low scores' early on in their schooling.

    I think education can & should be fun, it is a proven fact that all children (and adults) learn & retain more when education is 'fun'. I've certainly found this to be true in my medical career which has consisted mainly of teaching at both adult & child levels.

    PS -
    Part of the reason 'technology' holds kid's attention longer is because it is designed to be 'fun' as well as educational.

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  6. srcgreen016:58 AM

    Interesting discussion. Just today the New York Times carried a critique of "reform math" because it devalues basic algorithm learning methods, leaving students unprepared for college. I quote: "Reform math has some serious detractors. It comes under fierce attack from college teachers of mathematics, for instance, who argue that it fails to prepare students for studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. These professors maintain that college-level work requires ready and effortless competence with the standard algorithms and that the student who needs to ponder fractions — or is dependent on a calculator — is simply not prepared for college math. They express outrage and bafflement that so much American math education policy is set by people with no special knowledge of the discipline." Somewhere in the middle is where extreme advocates of both sides need to meet. Creativity unbounded by basic mastery of facts is as bad as rote-learning of facts without imaginative understanding.

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  7. I think I had one teacher in HS that did "modern math" in the sense that he would let us try to solve problems on our own first and then only then would tell us about the theoreme that would help solve it. The idea was to let us find things out on our own making mistakes. I actually hated the idea while I was in HS not because it wasn't interesting but because homeworks would get time consuming, I remember spending two hours playing around with fractals figuring out that I had an infinite process in finished set shape, absolutely fascinating to understand the process, and years later really wished I learned all my maths that way, but the problem is back then high school students in Geneva had 36-37 hours of classes a week, and all 12-15 topics of the entire curriculum taught in said week, so 2 hours playing along with fractals without having the theory to solve the problems was a bit annoying when I had 40 pages of German, 40 pages of Italian, 100 of French lit, 40 of English, 3 chapters of Socrates, a paper for Biology, a few Physics problems and some Chemistry to do as well. Fascinating, as discovering the fractal process on my own term was. It would have been a great thing if the Swiss school system did limit itself to teaching 4-5 topics a year instead of all of them at once, because then I would have had the time to go in depth.
    Pretty much all of the greatest discoveries in history were the products of labourious trials, errors and accidents. The problem we face today is that despite having tools that claim to save us time, we are more crunched for time than ever.

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  8. This is exactly what I meant. You need to have basic mastery of facts, which comes from tried and tested ways. Without basic facts, you have difficulty in understanding higher concepts. It is trying to build castle in air. Even geniuses need to get their facts right before they discover something new. Everyone cannnot a be a Newton or Edition who disovered new things without formal education.

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