My son was preparing for his third grade annual exams. A chapter in his Environmental Science was dedicated to the universe and there was everything from the sun to earth to moon. When he came to the ‘different phases of moon’, there were quite a few hiccups and no matter how much I tried to make him visualize the different positions of moon with respect to earth and sun, he preferred to take a short-cut when things got a little complicated. The short-cut was learning by heart! Hadn’t it been explained in school? It had been. It bothered me to no end that he had silently taken the route of cramming when the time came to dive deep and understand what was actually happening! I found it difficult to explain to him that learning a conceptual thing is not a quick, single step. It involves knowing the facts, relating them and imagining what could result from stringing the facts in the right order. And that is where lay the hitch. Beyond a point, he could not imagine or he did not want to take the pains of imagining when the easier option lay before him – memorise and throw it up when needed. That set me thinking.
Checking with children in the neighbourhood, I was surprised to find most of them stood in the same bracket as my son. They were happier cramming than sitting down to relish the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of things. What was wrong? Flipping through the pages of different books, there seemed to be nothing amiss. The illustrations were great, there were photographs that supported the information neatly laid out in sections, there were experiments described that could be carried out at home. There were some questions that were brain-teasers too! Then why didn’t the children love to think and understand and then learn? Where was the block that prevented them from spending some extra time to absorb a new concept for it to get etched in their tender minds?
It would only save them the trouble of re-learning a concept again and again! How could the point be driven home that studying doesn’t mean loading the head with facts and figures, rather it means comprehending something once and for all in a way that when the need arises to explain the same to another, it can be done easily? To give an example, a Social Science book mentioned Jammu & Kashmir had Srinagar as the summer capital and Jammu as the winter capital. It also said that winter made Kashmir intensely cold while it was much kinder to Jammu. Now, why does one state have two capitals at two different times of the year? Did the question come up in the reader’s mind? What is it that goad the children to straightaway go on a “learn by heart” spree instead of letting questions poke them? It’s widely known that children are born curious, they are born inquisitive. Somewhere along the way these precious traits are lost! What goes wrong?!
I looked deep inside me and an ugly answer began raising its head. It was me, the culprit. As a parent, I wanted my son to excel in his studies, to stay somewhere at the top. How could that be achieved? Good grades, of course! And how was that to be accomplished? Well, with spending the major part of the day with a variety of subjects and extra-curricular activities in and out of school, was there any scope of delving into the depths of a subject, look for the links between the different portions of a chapter and glow with understanding that suddenly fills the learner with thrill?
In the rapid, mad rush to accumulate information and reproduce it on the answer sheets, aren’t the young learners missing out something vital during their journey? Are we giving them ample time to look for the pearls in the ocean of knowledge or are we hurrying them, pushing them too much to move fast to that one goal – GET GOOD GRADES! SOMEHOW! Are we allowing them enough time to ponder over what they’ve just got to know? To try out what they’ve learnt from books? Are we not denying them the satisfaction of trying out something they’ve got to know? In the pursuit of grades and marks, are we allowing them enough time to develop love for any one subject? Do they ever feel the urge of looking up at the night sky? Or do they have the time for it? How can we expect them to tell readily why the twinkling stars of the night disappear during the day? Maybe we are tuning their minds to study for the sake of it, not for the love of it. Maybe we’re killing a few Einsteins and Newtons as we let curiosity die a slow, silent death!
Wouldn’t it be lovely to have teachers (who are part of the system, but can bring about some… subtle changes) as well as parents getting involved in this discussion on curiosity dying an early death? I also look forward to inputs from ParentEdge. Couldn’t we make learning a pleasure even after the kindergarten years? As long as the good scores keep coming in, shall we take it for granted that everything is fine?
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