Education was not something I have ever critically thought about throughout my life. My school and college days were pretty usual. Sit in class, study the day before an exam, score averagely, pass the test and move on. Unlike a lot of the people I currently work with, I don’t recall thinking about why we were studying math, science, geography, Kannada, or even machine learning for that matter. It was a part of the syllabus. That’s what my parents, teachers, and friends asked me to do and that’s what I did. No sweat whatsoever!
Having been in the education sector for the past nine months and observing, listening, reading, and comprehending the space takes me back to my classroom. It makes me question a lot of its aspects. This is an attempt to pen down some of the things that I have revisited and thought about over the course of the past few months.
What Are Our Exams Assessing?
As an above-average student studying under the central board, I took extreme pride in my ability to study for an exam and pass tests. Looking back at all the studying I did, it made me realise that all I was doing was by-hearting the answers word-to-word, question-to-question. That’s what all of us did, wasn’t it?
My agenda for studying was pass the test. Building an understanding was never a part of the plan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s of course not our fault. We were doing what we were told to do. Our assessments were judging us for our memory. None of these assessments, including mathematics and science, ever cared about our understanding of the concepts. Have you ever been excited about an exam? Do you recall coming out of the exam and saying “That was a fun test”? or felt like you learned something new after an assessment? I know I haven’t! The only satisfaction after my exams was that of being able to answer all questions and completing the paper on time.
My intellect was never challenged. The questions never compelled me to apply my understanding anywhere. 16 years of science education and it took me one Aavishkaar Charcha to define and see Force around me. What a pity!
It Is Ok To Say “I Don’t Know”
Another thing I remember from school is the constant pressure to perform. Do you remember those sleepless nights before a test and that fear of failing? Not just failing a test, I also hated getting called out during class and being questioned in front of 30 other kids.
“What if my answer is wrong?”, “What if I don’t know the answer?”, “My parents and teachers will hit me, scold me and my friends will laugh at me” – because not knowing the answers meant you’re not good enough. It’s not just the parents and teachers, I myself have judged a lot of my peers for scoring less in exams. Have you ever felt the liberty to say that you don’t know the answer? I know I haven’t. Any system has the most favourable conditions to produce the outputs that it is currently producing. In this case, through my lens, the output is that of fear of failure. The pressure of being right clings to us the minute we write our first exam and the minute we get our first slap for not knowing the answer, never leaving our backs!
Your exam score tells you how right you are – positive marks for the right answers and negative for the wrong ones. No one wants to get negative marks, do they? How will that look on their CV? Only people who have been right 70% of the time in their lives are eligible for a job interview. That’s how important knowing the answer is! In this race of getting things right what I do not remember is my teachers, parents, and peers telling me why my answers were wrong and how I could better my understanding.
I just wonder, in a parallel universe where I am assessed for my understanding, would I be this guilty and ashamed of my knowledge and rightness?
Teachers Are Learners Too
Do you recall the number of times you have laughed at your teacher for not knowing the answer to your questions? I very clearly remember the one time a classmate of mine had asked our math teacher a doubt that she was unable to clear. She said that she will get back to us the next day. I labeled her as “She doesn’t know anything” in my head and believed that for the rest of my school days.
It’s not just the students, I have seen a lot of teachers themselves carrying the pressure of having all the knowledge there is. Why is there an inherent expectation from a teacher to know everything? We often forget that we as humans grow, learn and understand things throughout out lives. One cannot know it all despite their experience and qualifications. Our system does not allow the teachers to let their guards down and say “I don’t know” without feeling shameful.
A teacher does not have to have answers to everything but should have the courage to be authentic and show the students that learning is a continuous process, with themselves as examples. This takes us back to the blunder our assessments make! We are compelled to know rather than live in the reality. Every day, conversations and questions bring with them a new perspective and learning. That’s what is the most beautiful thing about life, isn’t it? If, that day my teacher and I gave more importance to reality, then the class would have had a discussion as fellow learners trying to decipher the world instead of judging our teacher.
A Teacher’s Main Job Is To Teach
“We do not get to plan our lessons. We have to do so many other things” – a comment I’ve heard from a lot of teachers from government schools to high-end private ones. The first time I heard it from a teacher, it left me shocked! How can a teacher say that they can’t conduct a certain activity because they need to do admin work? Do software engineers say that they can’t code today because they need to do data entry? I don’t think so!
Being a teacher how can teaching not be a priority? Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming the teacher here. It just bewilders me when I think about how the system has been built. How the teachers are compelled to do tens of other ad hoc tasks as a result of which the space to prioritise their primary responsibility is getting lost. If only teaching was given the attention and respect that it deserves, our math teachers would be immersed in algebra and not the office register today.