Tag Archives: rote learning

A school is a school is a school…not!

When we knew we were shifting to Navi Mumbai, my first concern was a good school for my daughter. However, I saw that the area we were shifting to, had a number of reputed schools, so I was reassured. I decided a school was a school was a school. Any child in middle school has to start working hard and it really did not matter which school she is in. I found a reputed ICSE school – walking distance from home and I was happy.

However, three months down the line, as we are cramming for first term exams, I’m plagued with guilt. I feel that I should have researched a bit more about schools in the area.
Not that the current school is bad. Everyone seems to think its ok.

I mean if you are extremely academically oriented, this school is perfect. But we have always favoured a school that offers a more all-round education. I believe, a school is after-all the microcosm of society. Children learn social behaviour, they enjoy their childhood and somewhere in the process they also gain knowledge. If you ask me, a child learns from every little experience. You take them to participate in inter-school culturals – they learn. You have a carnival in school and involve the senior children in organizing the event – they learn a hell of a lot! If you have debates and JAM sessions, they prepare for the topics with enthusiasm – and before you know, they have learnt a whole lot more without even realising it. Or how about you ask them to work out a drama on a particular topic they are learning…say in history…how much fun is that!

For me, formal, academic, learning at school is a by-product. Whatever else they learn is what matters more.

So, here’s a reality check. My daughter’s current school has 4 tests a week. Two on Mondays and two on Fridays. It essentially screws up our weekend (among other things). Then they have maths teachers who write sums on the board and ask the students to copy, without really explaining the concepts to them. Copious notes are given on every topic in every subject and students are expected to memorize and vomit! Whatever happened to students understanding and writing it in their own words? I’ll tell you what happened – the students in this English medium school cannot speak English. In grade 7 they are not comfortable speaking the language. So they need to be spoon fed the answers!

However, by doing so, the school is completely curbing any kind of independent thinking. The children are not imaginative or intuitive. They feel helpless to learn if they do not have the answers.

Ok fine. Let’s accept that for the moment. What horrifies me more is that they have exams for art, music, general knowledge and…wait for it…value education!!

I mean…what?!

Why can’t the kids learn art for fun? They are actually given topics to prepare! What happened to spontaneity? What if the kid prefers shading and does not want to use colours? What if the child has a penchant for abstract drawings? Or, what if, the child’s drawing abilities stopped at stick figures? If you have to grade the child at all, why not give them the freedom to draw or create whatever they like. Creative expression. Mark them for the thought behind the art – not for the artwork itself. The point of art is freedom of expression – right?

Ok. Let’s grudgingly grant them the art exam. But value education? This is not an exam subject. This is something, the child needs to imbibe and practice every single moment of their life. This is their foundation as human beings. As global citizens. However, in this school, they are given question and answers to memorise and write. In the meanwhile, outside the school gates, children unwrap chocolates and throw the wrappers right there.

General knowledge exam? How about making that a bit more fun? And having just a quiz and getting the kids excited about it a bit?

Music – kids are given a choice of 2 Hindi songs and one English song. They can opt for any one. And mind you, there is no like a ‘music period’ that the kids have during the week. These songs are sung during the school assembly. So if you happen to have learnt it…good for you! I mean, imagine a school with no music. Sad.

Wait. There’s more. So apparently when the kids are in grade 3 or 4, they are asked to choose a musical instrument. I’m not sure, but I think they are given a list of instruments like guitar, tabla flute etc and asked to choose one that they would like to learn. And then…wait for this…they have to LEARN IT THEMSELVES! So what the hell was all that select-your-instrument-process all about? What if I don’t want to learn an instrument from your list? What if I want to learn the Saxophone? Or what if musical instruments are not my thing. If you are not planning to teach in the school – why make the kids choose at all? I don’t get the point!

Now comes medical check-up. Firstly, I think every school must have medical check-ups. Every school I have been to, or heard of, has it. I remember my school used to have an annual medical check-up. A stern looking doctor and nurse would visit the school, make us stand on a weighing scale, check our height, make us stick our tongues out, pry apart our eye lids…and so on and proclaim us to be in good healthy, albeit a tad overweight or some such thing. But in this school, they give us the medical check-up form and we go get it done ourselves. What? Seriously? If I feel there is problem with my child, I will do it. If you are not doing it, why are you dictating that I must?

Ok, back to the academics. Right. If you are a wholly academic school, let me sigh and accept that. But then, live up to that name. Till date, my child says, they have not visited any lab in school. Not even the computer lab. And computer is such a practical subject! Instead they learn things like –
Step 1 – to open a file go to the top left corner of your computer, click on File and Click open
Step 2 – a new file will open. To save this file click on the top left corner…
Well…you get the drift! What’s the point of learning computer this way? They need to be hands-on don’t they? Fine, have the theory classes, but also take them to the lab and show them how it’s done! Seeing is learning – at least in case of computers.

And Chemistry. An entire lesson on physical and chemical changes. Not one visit to the lab. The teacher gave them the experiments and the results. Duh.

The heavy school bag she has to carry is another Pandora’s box. But I do not wish to open it here. My child lugs a heavy bag (at least around 7 kgs) – up six floors to her classroom. Eeveryday. It breaks my heart. I would like the school’s director the try doing that for a day!

I really think this school needs to loosen up, have fun, allow its students to have fun. They are not allowed to talk – even during lunch breaks. It’s a school, not a monastery, dammit! The poor class teacher is forced to eat lunch with the kids – because, you know, she has to ensure that the children behave! I’m sure she needs a break from the kids and vice versa. I’m not surprised to know that the teacher turnover is very high in this school. All the good teachers leave!
Honestly, I’m really really really disappointed. I expected the school to be up to some standard. People always say education is better in the Southern states – and I thought that was a mindset. Until now. Now I wholehearted agree.

So hats off South Indian schools. Especially the top Chennai schools. You guys have got the formula right. You are the right mix of fun, learning, social skills, cultural grounding and sports. My daughter and I miss you immensely Chettinad Hari Shree Vidhyalayam, Chennai. You are truly one of a kind school.