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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Creating Intrest in Students


Spark the curiosity




THE National Knowledge Commission believes there is a growing tendency among talented students to pursue studies in areas other than mathematics and basic sciences. But, why is it so? According to government officials, the curriculum is outdated and needs to be overhauled and learning pedagogies needs a revamp; academicians say that there are neither any incentives nor motivation to experiment and innovate; and students feel that it's all about securing high marks and nothing more. So, is actual learning even taking place? And if it isn't, then how can we nurture young scientists and mathematicians? 
   According to Marmar Mukhopadhyaya, former joint director, NUEPA and director, ETMA, students need to be taught subjects in ways that relates them to real-life situations. He says: "If I ask my students as to what temperature they enjoy tea or coffee, I am sure most of them would be keen to experiment and in the process learn the concept faster than by merely reading the texts. So, knowledge should be linked to real-life situations." But, then again, how feasible is such a suggestion in the present context where a teacher has to complete the syllabi in a stipulated time? 


Different kinds of problems can be seen in different set-ups owing to a variety of factors. While most teachers agree to the fact that an 'activity-based' approach is essential to bring back the lost interest in these subjects, there are various constraints that act as barriers in the process. Here is an indicative list of problems faced by most educators: 
• High teacher-student ratio 
• Outdated curriculum 
• Inadequate interaction 
• Time constraints to finish the syllabi, so no innovation 
• Marks-oriented education system that encourages/forces rote learning 
• Lack of motivation among teachers. And hence, the following possible solutions. 


Says A P J Abdul Kalam, a scientist and former President: "Teachers play a pivotal role in inculcating interest among students and, therefore, they need to have a love for the subject to deliver their best. They should package the information in such a way that it becomes interesting for students." Kalam was speaking at a national conference on ‘science and maths education in secondary schools’ organised recently in the Capital by SRF Foundation in collaboration with the ministry of human resources development (MHRD). He recommends: "Students should be told what science discoveries have led to. Besides, the syllabus and teaching should include some actual case studies to nurture the young minds." 
   Similarly, Subhash Khuntia, joint secretary, department of school education and literacy, MHRD, adds: "We need, now, to create a scientific temper in students. No amount of infrastructure or books can help students unless there is a motivated teacher. But, once there is such a teacher, then everything else falls into place."


Hukum Singh, professor and head (science and mathematics), department of education, NCERT, says:"Learning should be such that it encourages 'construction of knowledge' by students. They shouldn't limit themselves to what is being taught. So, teaching methodologies should be such that students should be able to construct knowledge from whatever they gather from classroom teachings, the environment, their family and so on." 
   On the present assessment system, he states: "The long answer type questions should be structured in such a way that it tests concepts and application of concepts.This will encourage students to think before answering.This will also evaluate as to what extent students have actually understood the concepts." 


Sujatha Ramadorai, member, National Knowledge Commission, opines: "We need to streamline the curriculum, emphasising a well defined set of the most critical topics in early grades.We need to integrate pedagogical research, especially in mathematics and the mode of instruction should neither be completely student-centric nor teacher-directed." She also added that special emphasis should be given to knowledge and skills. 
   Adds Abhinav Dhar, senior vicepresident, Educomp Solutions Ltd: "Ideally, a learning system should include evaluation, synthesis, analysis, application, comprehension and knowledge. This is what the curriculum should come to include." 


According to Mukhopadhyaya: "For science, the focus should be on simulation exercises, case studies, experiments and explorations, solving real-life problems, research, re-inventing and re-discovering than merely adhering to textbooks. There is a need for reconstructing textbooks and learning materials, classroom reorganisation and building a teacher's capacity." 
   Elaborating on classroom reorganisation, he says: "Besides the curriculum, the infrastructure also needs to be overhauled. Why should every classroom be rectangular with students sitting in rows? They can be seated in groups in a circle. They can even be seated on the floor instead of the furniture. The idea is to create opportunities for students to interact with each other." 


"The ICT revolution has been very helpful as many concepts can now be taught effectively," opines Khuntia. This is so, not only because the visual medium has a better retention span, but also because students find it easier to understand. Besides, multimedia is far more interactive than textbooks. 
   Says Sanjiv Aggarwal, deputy director, Mathematical Sciences Foundation: "Even with simple applications like Windows Paint, students can learn to draw curves, quadratics, parabolas. This makes learning interesting." 
   He adds: "There is a variety of software available today that students can use to interact with at different levels. Even for higher classes, it is easier to understand concepts like volume of a cone, for instance, as students can justify for themselves their formulae through various visual media and animations."


Sunil Sharma


Dil Se Desi Group


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