Priorities of Primary Education


Dear Parents and Teachers

A class of Nursery children who had just learnt basic shapes began to see the world around them anew, in circles, squares, rectangles and triangles. Everything they saw, they tried to fit within a known shape, and they were only interested in things that fit those known shapes. When they saw things that did not match these shapes, they pestered teachers and parents to identify and name these new shapes.

This is a simple instance of how any learning make us see and interpret our world in a totally different way from that moment onwards. Science, mathematics, literature, history, no matter what we learn, it changes forever, the way we think of the world around us. The capacity to learn being ingrained in our brains, we cannot limit the learning instinct within the school. The textbook of real life experience is everywhere to be read and understood. Therefore, a good student tries not to miss an opportunity to learn.

It is with this intention, that at DPS Tapi (and many other institutions) teachers put into practice research findings that suggest diversification of the resources of learning. The textbook, Internet, Library, Human Experts and Real Life are all sources that need to be explored judiciously. Information need not be taken as a pre-existent construct or package. Every learner needs to reconstruct information and for this uptake the brain is a powerful organic mechanism. It controls every impulse of the living body, as traced by Neuroscience. The entire focus of schooling and parenting, therefore, is (or should be) on allowing the brain to work without hindrance in constructive ways.

This complex process can be broken down into fundamental steps.

  1. The brain needs nourishing foods. This means, not an exclusive diet of nuts or even ‘brain boosting’ formula drinks but a balanced diet with the recommended quantities of the basic food groups. Click on Healthy Diet for a simple practical formula.
  2. The essential nutrients that nourish the brain can be absorbed more readily from food through digestion if the body gets proper hours of sleep.
  3. The nutrients absorbed reach the brain through blood circulation which is maintained through regular physical exercise.

This is the 3-step formula we communicate to parents in our Learning Partnership. Food, sleep and exercise lay the functional foundation of the brain that begins at home, with parents.

Education is thus, not just literacy and numeracy. It has other aspects including health, thinking skills and values. At school, we try to promote this fourfold order of development in students:
1) values
2) health
3) thinking skills
4) literacy and numeracy
I have listed these, in their order of importance to some of us. You may have a different sequence – but essentially, I think we will agree with all four aspects of education.

The National Curriculum Framework 2005 also states these basic principles of education. In fact, nothing I have said so far is original. I am reiterating facts that we all know and yet tend to side-step in pursuing our limited dreams for our children’s future, centering on careers or  stability or a nebulous state of ‘happiness’ that does not stand the test of logic.

I do not believe that school is meant to produce engineers, doctors, pilots, dancers or what have you. That is the job of institutes specialised in career training. If society wishes to have more doctors or better engineers, then they need to promote more and better medical and engineering institutes. In mistakenly trying to foist this career-focused goal on to school education, we often forget that school is meant to encourage the development of fully-rounded human beings with socialised values, health awareness and fitness, divergent thinking as well as literacy and numeracy. By foisting career-goals on schools, we tend to promote a lop-sided development in literacy or numeracy alone, often paying mere lip-service to the other three aspects listed above.

The outcome of this unbalanced focus is evident in negatives detected in students graduating from schools and the reaction to these in an increasingly strident demand to “de-school society” or even “home-school” children. I do not think this is a solution to the problem that we face in school or in society. There is an increasing antagonism between parents and school that is reflected in periodic outbursts against teachers, syllabus, security systems, transport, or other infrastructural aspects. But I suspect the root of this disharmony lies embedded in the problem I have outlined in the previous paragraph. Parental expectations from school, especially as their children grow older, mistakenly centre on career goals. Any school, that focuses on literacy and numeracy at the cost of the other three aspects, however, is doomed to turn out students who are likely to be total misfits – especially at home.

I would also like to point out that the commercial explosion of education/learning ‘systems’ and the systematic promotion of these by allied commercial testing systems, are also encouraging parents to continually force-feed their children on information and then benchmark the accruing gains in them, that has no correspondence to the social reality of today’s world. Your child may have a file of certificates showing high scores in numerous ‘olympiads’  ‘assets’ or ‘PISAs’ that will neither guarantee social success, nor financial stability and not even peace of mind. That these tests fail to prepare students for real-life challenges is evident from the rising trend of young-adult suicide rates. I may candidly compare such commercial distortion of learning with the nurture of animals for commercial exploitation – it is equally debasing!

As parents, we are also teachers. Let us educate our children by promoting their ingrained awareness of physical and mental health, by encouraging their curiosity about our universe, by challenging them to empathise with ‘others’, and by egging them on to solve the problems that beset them here and now. Let us allow them to enjoy their childhood and the talent/gift of learning that every child is born with. Who knows but they may dream up careers which lie beyond our present imagination, yet synchronise rationally with the reality of their future. The purpose of ‘primary’ education at school is the purpose of life – to enable human beings to evolve on all fronts. Leave the lesser challenge of career training to the institutes of ‘higher education’. They will be able to build better engineers, scientists, artists and soldiers, if the foundation is solid.

Principal

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