A Curriculum Which Matters

27 Mar

By Nikhil Mahen

How many of us today are historians? How many of us use calculus in our every day work? Why do we study dead people, or things which don’t appear to affect our daily lives – like physics? Who cares how far the ball can roll or how much x and y are worth? The existential crisis of letters in mathematics aside, school children today don’t understand why they study what they study in school. In the age of information where a not-so-subtle evidence of a need-being-filled is paramount, school education has not caught up.

The teenager’s sub-conscious today questions the validity of textbook school knowledge as the educational tutelage method seems to interfere with practicality, or in some cases – interferes with not-studying. However, this changing world view among today’s youth has a strong positive side. It might finally compel the education system to explain the utility of what the content is for.

It is said that kids are very discerning, but they aren’t always extremely gifted in articulating what they do or don’t understand. It is the job of educators to help them articulate their doubts. However, in many cases, educators (in my limited experience) respond with – “because this will come in the test” and kids respond with – “who cares” or “I’ll study only the relevant stuff at the last minute”. For proof, observe the study habits of college students. They pick up the habit from somewhere, don’t they?

Dale Carnegie once asked us to “start with the end in mind”. My rant so far at some level is inspired by this statement. I don’t advocate “the end” to mean “end of syllabus”. The end refers to the “why”. I personally prefer an educational method which displays the ‘coolness’ aspects of the subject at hand. For example, in economics, when teaching about demand and supply, maybe showing real-life effects with a game might appeal more to students. Rotational motion can be made quite interesting as it is fundamental to how everything works – from a compass to Formula 1 race cars! It is not hard to glorify History, as many of the stories of the past inspire many of the blockbuster films kids watch today.

In the interest of transferring this intent of study, or showing interesting applications of the content, it would make teachers lives easier if the there were some dialogue with curriculum designers to understand the intention behind each piece of information in the curriculum.

Maybe that might reduce occurrence of the “because I said so” response.

Narrating information tied to either practicality or an observable context can be a powerful teaching method. The fact that it takes a lot of effort to tie new ideas with the study material should not be a deciding factor on how education is imparted. Ultimately, the aim should be to inculcate a sub-conscious desire to learn as opposed to over-value higher test scores, especially since many kids today are inspired by college drop-outs, and see that as a viable career path.

Nikhil Mahen is a Clinton Fellow with American India Foundation and has a Masters Degree from Duke University, US and a Bachelors Degree from Manipal University, India. He is also a military brat and has grown up across India, attending 6 different schools in his primary education before college.

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