As every parent will agree, a child’s thirst for knowledge is incessant and insatiable. Exhausted parents often resort to using sedatives to get some relief from the kid’s unstoppable barrage of questions – most popular sedative being the television.We train them to sit still for hours and watch TV, much like how we train them to sit still while potty training them. By the time they are in their 20’s and finishing their education they watch TV all night but generally hate the thought of picking up a book to read! Surely something seriously wrong in the way we educate our children…
Very few will argue with that, I guess. After all, most of us have also grown up hating school ourselves with passion, thinking of studies only as a necessary evil. Today when we hear about the terrible state of education at national level – be it Africa or India, it almost appears like a combined result of our individual hatreds for the education system.
My daughter and I discussed this a few months back. It did not take too long to figure out that the root cause is the teacher. Very few teachers have the passion to make education interesting and exciting. We have an education systems that appears to create far too many teachers who hate being teachers themselves, making it a career of last resort. However, teaching is supposed to be the noblest profession on earth and one of the most deeply fulfilling jobs of all. How did we end up creating such a distorted system?
Historically, in the last few hundred years, our lives and our societies have changed dramatically primarily due to the revolution that technology has bought about. It’s impacted every aspect of our lives, except quite ironically the very bastion of knowledge, the teacher himself, who has remained bereft of the benefits of the very knowledge he imparts. Listed below are all major developments in education from the start of mankind itself to prove the point:
3500BC: the Phonations were the first to create alphabets.
100AD: T’sai Lun of China is credited with invention of paper and producing the first bound books.
1811: James Pillan (1778 – 1864) a geography teacher from Scotland invents black board and colour chalks.
Since 1811, things have not changed much, with majority of teachers still facing a classroom everyday still equipped with just a blackboard, chalk and books, exactly how it was during James Pillan’s times more than 200 years back! True, computers and internet have come to change the world, but that has not changed the experience within a classroom. Teaching still involves delivering a monologue to an increasingly unruly bunch of students. No wonder then we are where we are today. Hence without a fundamental shift in teaching methods within the classroom, there appears to be very little hope of arresting the decline.
Romina, my daughter, mentioned the use of podcasts by some of her University professors to deliver some of their lectures. That conversation created what’s figuratively called a light bulb moment. Perhaps this is the important breakthrough in teaching that the world has been waiting for. Maybe we have just turned the key, unlocking the future of education.
Over the next few months, we discussed how a podcast-based education system should work. We researched to locate simple techniques to make a podcast that every school teacher could use on a daily basis as a new way of preparing for class. Thereafter, we got a few teachers to make pod casts on trial basis. They were all reputed high school teachers who were quite excited to participate. These teachers had a lot of pride in the way they taught. However, listening to themselves after recording it made it quite clear to them that their teaching was not as good as they had always imagined. Hence, podcast-creation turned out to be a major self-development tool – especially in this country where average teaching standards are very low. In addition, podcast is very versatile aid to teaching since it allowed liberal use of pictures, video clips, PowerPoint presentations and music to enhance the quality of their lessons. Teachers could create pod casts in the comfort of their homes, when they have the energy to give their best shot. Pod casts also helped avoid the drudgery of repeating the same lesson again and again in the class.
We made DVD’s of these podcasts and distributed them to their own students so that they could watch it at home on TV. The ability to play, pause and rewind their own teacher’s lessons, especially in the comfort of their homes in the company of their family and friends who could assist them in understanding as well made a difference. It became a perfect way to catch up on classes they had missed and to also revise portions before the exam.
However we figured technology alone cannot be the answer. After all, a podcast DVD in the hands of a student who has consistently failed and demotivated is not going to make much difference in him. There is a need to incorporate a new set of value system that encourages learning. Problem with existing education system being it is primarily designed to indoctrinate selfishness in students. He is taught to take care of his own studies, worry about his own marks and there is no incentive for him to help his fellow student. In fact the fear of competition promotes a culture of becoming secretive about his knowledge. However once out of school and Universities when they start work, organizations primarily require them to work as a team, which they are ill equipped with. Hence we tried to replace this debilitating impact of current system by introducing
__MCE_ITEM__1. Group based learning that allows fellow students to form groups of not more than 10 to create a year-long team. They meet after school to watch the podcasts together and help each other understand the content much like how a movie that is watched together is discussed. That a podcast is not more than 15 minutes long and deals with only one concept made it easier as well.
__MCE_ITEM__2. Podcast watching is followed by tests that every member has to write individually and pass for the team to qualify to next level. Hence everyone focus on helping the weakest students. It’s all made like a game; with points won by the team as the group pass each test and accumulating certain number of points qualify them for rewards.
Absence of any real form of rewarding and recognizing teachers is glaring. Current systems does very little to encourage hard working, sincere teachers. Hence we experimented with a new kind of symbiotic relationship between organizations and schools. Fortunately podcast based education lent itself measurable performances allowing performance incentive systems for students and teachers so organizations only pay when they see well defined targets every quarter. Most importantly, we bring the two much closer to enable organizations to perform a year-long interview process to select deserving students for jobs and bursaries. Focusing on just one school in their neighbourhood – helped organizations improve their status in local community and with their own employees.
In conclusion, in many ways the future of education would resemble pre-historic days before books and writing were invented with education mainly taking placing by watching and listening in a jungle of podcasts and other new multi-sensory tools that will get invented in future. Most importantly, it will bring back the culture of self-study with exciting, entertaining podcasts and other such tools, dragging you deeper into the forest of knowledge. Your teacher becomes your mentor who guides you in your journey to discover yourself by discovering the world – shepherding you thru the infinite choices of podcasts to discover a path that allows you to become what you are born to be.
Just like in the real jungles, you can’t survive by being alone, being a part of a strong group is critical. You learn early how you can strengthen the group. Learn to help the weakest person – as your only guarantee to get helped on a day you are not at your best. And just like in the jungles, reward for your achievements will be immediate and not at the end of the year.
History may just be about to start repeating itself….this time starting from pre-historic times !!!
By Mohan Nair