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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Classrooms for new age learners


New classrooms for a new age of learners



Most educationists today are talking about restructuring classrooms. The first and foremost consideration is infrastructure. An insight on how the existing infrastructure in schools can be effectively used as learning spaces



VISUALISE a 21 st Century classroom — Around 40 students sitting in rows and listening patiently to the teacher. Udai Lauria, a senior educationist questions: “Are these classrooms any different from the 19 th century classrooms? And if not, then what is the future of these children?” 


   Most schools, even today, follow the conventional practise of making children sit in rows, which merely facilitates a one-way communication. So the question which arises is how would children develop skills like peer interaction, leadership and communication? What is worse is that there is hardly any place for experimentation or exploration, which not only hinders the physical mobility of children but also affects their mental agility. 


While children more or less enjoy schools because they get the opportunity to be with peers, the routine and uniformity that characterises school life bores most children, feels Asha Singh, a reader with the Department of Human Development and Childhood Studies, Lady Irwin College. 


   She adds: “It is the routine blackboard and chalk method of teaching that fails to engage children. Secondly, our classrooms have large numbers and children, especially the very young ones, experience a sense of anonymity in such a situation. Teachers need to be familiarised with methods that allow them to deal with groups. They need to know how to create small forums for children to work together. This also enables the teacher to reach out to individual children. In other words, what is required today is an orientation of teachers to adopt project techniques that encourage children to search and engage in self-study with peers. It is then that children will become young explorers, motivating each other under the guidance of the teacher.” 


   She adds: “We will also need to map our physical spaces in manners other than rows and columns of desks and chairs. Children sitting in small circular groups should function like teams. Such classroom processes will enhance the children’s confidence and enthusiasm. When they start seeking information under the guidance of supportive and approachable teachers they will develop critical thinking and analytical skills.” 



Similarly, Priti Narain, principal, Gurukul Pre-School, says: “I strongly feel the infrastructure of a school should be such that children have adequate space, to play with friends, eat together during lunch breaks and gather together for morning assembly.” 


   She emphasised that classrooms should have limited children and not be overcrowded. Classrooms should be attractive, colourful, lively and have sufficient natural light and ample space to move around freely. This, according to her, will go a long way in engaging children and making learning fun. “All nooks and corners of the classroom must be beautifully decorated with animals, toys, cars, plants and flowers so that children can play with them freely and also learn in the process,” says Narain. 


  She adds: “Walls must have pin up boards where the work of children can be displayed. This gives them a sense of appreciation and makes them confident and happy. All the toys and boards should be displayed in a manner so that the children can easily see them. Permanent paintings on the walls should be replaced by work done by children. This will induce a sense of belongingness. Flexible furniture like stools, desks, and carpets need to be incorporated into classrooms so that children get their own workspace. In addition, collapsible partitions which can be adjusted and can create spaces for individual activities as well as activities of varying group sizes is also a good idea.” 


  Similarly, the Indus World Schools strongly believe in bringing nature into classrooms. “The concept is to have a great deal of natural light and air coming in, creating a feeling of openness. The schools have sports/music/ drama facilities and more, even a swimming pool and mini amphitheatre, because we believe that what children learn on the football ground or on the stage is far more valuable than the classroom learnings in terms of their future life,” says Gopal Karunakaran, vice-president, Career Launcher Education Infrastructure & Services (CLEIS). 


Karunakaran adds: “We believe the most important person in the school is a teacher. Teachers must be role models for the children and more importantly, they must symbolise a person who the child can trust and easily relate to. In our schools, teachers are called mentors for this very reason. The teaching methodology is based on a curriculum that emphasises observation and activity at every stage as children learn best by seeing and doing.” 


  The physical environment affects the child's learning and development, feels Hazel Siromoni, vice-president, CECN Global Schools (SAARC region). Elaborating on Maple Bear Schools, an international early childhood education programme based on current Canadian practices, she says: “Well-designed environments enable children to engage in focussed, self-directed play. It supports both exploration and a sense of control. Physical environments also affect relationships and hence, well-designed spaces promote a sense of security which is a prerequisite in the formation of a healthy identity- a healthy sense of self.” 


   The physical environment also affects the programme’s ability to promote the best teaching practices. Siromoni adds: “Well designed classrooms encourage active engagement, extended play, pro-social interaction and childdirected, teacher-facilitated learning. The environment, in effect, will assist in directing teachers towards more appropriate interactions with children.”







Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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