03 December, 2008

Education for Life – Meaningful and Productive Learning

BY Neha Gehlot (Faculty,ERD)

The dilemma that has persisted since the earliest days of formal education is whether the foundation of curriculum and instruction in schools be child initiated or teacher initiated, in order to meet the needs of society by preparing learners for life. Getting to a clear answer is the necessary first step in designing a meaningful and productive learning experience. But to commit oneself, to only one of the above approaches for designing such a learning experience is to take a deceptive step in overhauling our entire system of education. Each of these approaches for education for life is important in their own way. An ideal curriculum design, development and implementation should include a blend of both the approaches to enable learners assume the responsibility of informed and enlightened citizenship.

Each learner is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and stimulating atmosphere in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. In order to cater to this, a learning experience should aim at (1) the teacher acting as a guide (connecting the learning experience to academic content/subject matter), (2) allowing the learner's natural curiosity to direct his/her learning, and (3) promoting respect for all forms of life.

The learning experience is organized in a way that the learners' instead of merely 'covering' material, uncover and recover important ideas in the context of real life situations. For learners to construct knowledge, they need the opportunity to discover for themselves and practice skills in authentic situations. But simply placing learners in authentic situations is not enough. Such situations provide an opportunity to "try things out". However, there are two things to consider here. The first is where a learner learns independently by exploring around and seeing what happens, and the second is, where a learner is supervised or monitored by a teacher, advisor, or mentor. This allows others to interrupt him and give perspective on what he is doing, sharing with him the experiences of those who have preceded him. The second approach allows a learner to gain from the experiences and observations of others. In such "mentored role play," the learner might never need to ask a question. His actions will precipitate answers. His mentor will wait until the right moment to tell the learner what he needs to hear. Equally important to self-discovery is having the opportunity to study things that are meaningful and relevant to one's life and interests.

Every classroom presents a unique community of learners that varies not only in abilities, but also in learning styles. Designing and organizing a learning experience around learners' interests fosters intrinsic motivation and stimulates the passion to learn. One way to take learning in a direction relevant to learner interest is to invite dialogue about the lessons and units of study. Given the opportunity for input, they generate ideas and set goals that make for much richer and relevant learning experiences. Providing ownership of learning will tie learning into world community and help learners' become sensitive, responsible and productive members of society.