On a recent tour of certain international schools across Uttarakhand, I discovered aspects that were common among them with many of the other regular schools across different places; however, there were some aspects which seemed to stand out, and those are the ones that matter in the long run! What’s different between such schools of international repute, such as those from Doon Valley and those other schools from across the country that have a single minded focus on competitive entrance examinations to the exclusion of all else? How do the Doon valley schools manage to produce outstanding students across a wide range of fields and professions, which are not limited to the traditionally accepted career choices of Engineering and Medicine, or of a similar ilk? How do their students continue long after leaving school on the path of success in diverse fields such as the Defence Services, Administrative Services, Diplomatic Careers, Films & Television industry, Business & Industry Leadership, Public & Private Sector Leadership, and the pursuit of Higher Education? These were some of the questions playing upon my mind as I visited them.
Ecosystem: The right field and the right seed but the wrong ecosystem comprising the learning environment and the learning influences can result in failure. For Example: A bright young mind in a typically understaffed State school run by demotivated teachers with poor facilities; another example could be a bright young girl who has to give up studies due to regressive gender-based discriminatory practices within her immediate society and environment, with no support forthcoming from the education authorities!
Higher-Order Thinking: Higher order thinking skills (HOTS) is a concept of education reform based on learning taxonomies (such as Bloom’s taxonomy). Some types of learning need more cognitive processing than others, but they also create more generalised benefits for the learners. Bloom’s taxonomy, for example, says that skills involving analysis, evaluation and synthesis (creation and absorption of new knowledge) belong to a higher order of thinking, requiring different learning and teaching methods than the learning of just facts and concepts.
We have barely scratched the surface and no significant progress has been made in this direction, hence It is not surprising that very little research of international acclaim has come out of Indian universities, even the premier ones, in many long years! However, these very Indian scholars doing research in the Knowledge Ecosystems of Europe and America come up with outstanding research output!
Over the years I have personally perceived that there is a lack of the appreciation of the ‘Abstract’ in the Indian scholastic system, to the particular detriment of the students. The real-life application-side of concepts and theories comes only with a thorough understanding of the Abstract side of such concepts. For example in most schools, Calculus and Trigonometry are taught merely as technical concepts in a way that does not develop any understanding of the practical applications.
A very good reason to study calculus is that the student will be more competitive and have more career opportunities, and it is well accepted that students who enjoy intellectual stimulation and the power of Abstract Thinking tend to enjoy the beauty of calculus the most. To illustrate the point further about some interesting ways of how the study of Calculus should be presented to a beginner, readers may visit: http://www-math.mit.edu/~djk/calculus_beginners/chapter01/section02.html
This is also true for subjects other than Mathematics, such as the study of Economics, Social Sciences etc. However, an introduction of such a subject without appreciation of its Abstract side will only create confusion and discontinuity for the learning effort unless there is a systemic and systematic study of the ‘Abstract’ as a part of the school curriculum.
Many schools avoid demanding challenges such as teaching the Abstract side of concepts; however, those schools willing to face the challenge head-on have evolved into premier institutions with a high pedigree output spanning a century of students who went on to have successful careers. This is the fundamental difference in the approach to education at the school level of these highly successful residential schools of international repute and the rest of the schools following the competitive coaching school programmes.
They invest significant amounts of time and effort in building systems and infrastructure for developing the above mentioned holistic skill sets in their students. One accepts that these schools charge premium fees, however the question that begs to be asked is what must be done to innovate and implement some of these practices in other schools as well.
Most parents, since they cannot afford the premium fees of these holistic schools, are faced with the tough choice of taking the risk of opting out of the rat race and having faith in the innate abilities of their children to develop the Higher Order skills, or of joining the rat race very early in the lives of their children in hopes of beating the competition by getting a head start.
The scholastic system needs to gear up to meet these challenges in a more significant manner than ever before. Otherwise we will continue to see student suicides and other such drastic outcomes of the boiler room pressure situations prevalent in coaching schools.
With Permission from Chandrasekhar (The author is a senior consultant and strategist in education sector) @PoduriChandra