Classroom Teaching in India

Every truth has four corners; As a teacher I give you one corner and it is for you to find the other three” – Confucius

The teaching profession is widely considered to lay the foundation stone for nation building.Teachers have the immense responsibility to nurture students who are capable of thinking out of the box and taking independent decisions so that they can face the toughest of life’s challenges and become leaders of tomorrow.With teachers having such an immensely important role to play, it is only fit to introspect on whether our education system and specifically our classroom teaching techniques live up to expectations of the 21st century.Are traditional modes of imparting learning to students within a classroom worthy enough to be continued in the near future or do we need an urgent course correction? Has the time come to adopt a different set of tools to prepare students for the ever burgeoning competitiveness that is becoming so ingrained in our social fabric ?

Below is a list of different methods of teaching and the retention rates they produce,

  1. Lecture = 5%
  2. Reading  = 10%
  3. Audiovisual  = 20%
  4. Demonstration = 30%
  5. Discussion Groups = 50%
  6. Practise by doing = 75%
  7. Teach others = 90%

Traditional modes of classroom teaching in India have primarily revolved around lecturing and reading with limited focus on practicals.The driving intent behind teaching has largely been to complete the ever growing curriculum instead of fostering comprehension of the subject matter.Reading out the chapters from the book line by line interspersed with answers to queries from a few inquisitive students and ultimately rounding up everything by discussing answers to the questions in the Exercise section at the end of the chapter has largely been the modus operandi of teaching in any average classroom in the country.This is finally followed up by testing the student’s learning through internals,tests,exams etc. where questions are mostly formulated in straightforward and predictable ways and in fact, sometimes are just copied from the Exercise section. Answers are evaluated on the basis of whether all the points from the text have been covered or not.Sometimes even this is sacrificed due to the huge backlog of papers to be corrected, and random marks are rewarded based on superficial things such as handwriting,presentation,direct quotations from the book, quality of introduction and conclusion etc.All this leaves little room to guess that our prevalent education system lays more emphasis on raw memorization of facts and figures than on strengthening student’s analytical skills,creativity and ingenuity in approaching a problem.

As most of us would have already experienced that text and lecture based teaching encourages only rote-based learning , besides offering little stimuli to capture the student’s attention in the classroom.By easily falling into the trap of monologue, this style of teaching is almost unavoidably characterised by minimum student participation.In fact, our archaic modes of classroom teaching suffer from so many loopholes and drawbacks that having a detailed discussion on the topic would easily run into several pages.So leaving that aside, the question we should be asking ourselves is “Are traditional teaching styles sustainable in the long run? What are the other alternatives? And how urgently do we need to change our education system?”

With passing years, school and college curriculum is only bound to increase and entrance exams will become more competitive.If we were to continue down the existing path, teachers will find it increasingly difficult to complete the curriculum within deadline and students will be simply swamped and over-burdened with study material.There’s only an extent to which memorization can work without the assistance of comprehension.The pace of study will become so fast that all the joys associated with learning will be nipped from the bud and students will become more exam-oriented as opposed to learning-oriented.

So there’s enough evidence on the table to suggest that we need to start looking at other alternatives.As per the tabular data cited above, teaching others, practicals and discussions are the most effective teaching methodologies.Encompassing all these three is a newly emerging teaching strategy called Cased-based teaching  that has currently been adopted, albeit in a smaller way,  in the premier management institutions in the country.The principal hallmarks of this style are,

  1. Students are divided into small groups of 5-10 people. Each of these forms a study group.
  2. Students are apprised of the study material prior to the classroom session.
  3. After individually going through the study material, the study group meets to further discuss the topic so that as many points can be laid on the table as possible.
  4. During the classroom session, each study group puts forth their viewpoints.
  5. The teacher is responsible for guiding the discussion towards a logical conclusion, while prodding students for a 360 degree analysis.
  6. Most of the time discussions are open-ended and more often than not there is more than one possible solution to the problem.

Since case-based teaching is very student-centric as opposed to lecture-centric, it successfully creates a breeding ground for student participation.Under this, spoon feeding and a passive flow of information from the instructor to the student is replaced by an environment that is conducive to letting the students construct their own knowledge, challenge assumptions, expose contradictions and ultimately leading to new knowledge.During the classroom session, students are actively processing the information,instead of just absorbing the information.The results of this collaborative learning model is that we nurture quality students with a strong understanding of fundamentals and having the ability to critically appreciate a problem and it’s solutions.

While case-based teaching is a good fit for social science based courses, science and maths related subjects require a blend of case-based teaching and lectures. This is so, as in the case of the latter, significant work needs to be done by the teacher on the classroom board by way of demonstrating theorems, formulae etc.Nevertheless, case-based teaching seems to be a more valuable way of utilizing time within the classroom as the focus is more on fostering comprehension and analysing the topic from all possible perspectives. Once students understand the topic, memorising becomes so much easier, probably even fun !

The fact that a paradigm shift is needed in our classroom teaching styles is more than evident.Teaching methodologies that encourage students to think independently, enables them to handle pressure and nurtures their confidence are the need of the hour.As we get surrounded by more competitive times, it’s become necessary that we stem the rot in our education system that currently seems all but poised to becoming a breeding ground for mediocrity.Because, Thinkers and not Nerds is what we need from our future generations !

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