Thursday, June 12, 2008

Let's get practical

Students appearing for XII board exam in Maharashtra Board also need to pass the course called Environmental Studies. The assessment for this course is done internally and the students need to pass the theory as well as practical test SEPARATELY. Now, about 100 students cleared the theory but failed the practical. As a result, they were declared failed in the overall board exam. This mean that they effectively lose one year, and at best, they can attempt to clear the practical in the next attempt. The story does not end here. As a special case, the Board convened a meeting of college Principals and they all agreed that the failed students could resubmit their projects and get assessed again.
The students will clear it, no doubt. But this episode throws up a deeper question about our education system. What is its purpose - to become aware and learned about the world or to clear exams? It is ironical that the students cleared only the theoretical component on environment studies. The argument being offered is that the colleges did not inform the students and parents properly that it was necessary to pass the two components separately. (Read the article about this in Times of India above or here.) I feel that getting PRACTICAL hands-on knowledge is not seen as as important. I myself remember how in college I passed some practicals that we thought were not important. We had a subject called 'Physical Education' and it was necessary to pass its practical exam for being allowed to take the bigger University exam. (Thankfully, the University did not think of theory tests for this subject!) Now, if you represented the college at inter-collegiate level in any sport, you were exempted from this test. One year, all the boys in our class went and enrolled ourselves for selection to the hockey team and ALL got selected. This, in spite of the fact that more than half us had never held a hockey stick in our lives, but we got in because there were only about 14 boys who appeared for selection. Next year it was basketball. Believe it or not, on the first day, we discovered that two of the "first five" on the court did not know that in basketball you are not supposed to run holding the ball!!! Be that as it may, this loophole in the rules let us sail through the physical education exam.
A generation later, not much seems to have changed in our outlook towards practical learning. Here is something that makes the irony stark. My daughter Vallarie is currently in USA as a cultural exchange student (in XIth std.) through AFS. Her Physics exam is something which a lot of our teachers and education policy makers can learn from. Her teacher based the entire final exam on the various rides in the nearby amusement park ! So she had to figure out the principles of centrifugal forces, circular motion, gravitational acceleration, etc. that she had learnt in the theory class and apply them to the way the rides moved and THEN give her answers. Thank you Hopkinton High School, Contoocook, NH, USA and in particular Mr. Welch, for giving my daughter this insight. She might not pursue Physics later in her life, but I am sure she will never forget the nuances of high school physics.
I would say my daughter is fortunate (in addition to being talented) that she got a chance to study in US for an year. What about millions of children in India who mug up answers to pass their exams?


Sachin said...
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Sachin said...

Nice reflections Pushkya,
I have similar aligning thoughts on this issue, but there is a "but".
Many a times these thoughts are group instigated we follow as others are doing. The other hitch is parental guidance for doing away with "non value adding" things in education and that gets into our minds not just by parents telling it to us directly but also from the discussions amongst the elder friend circles. I have similar memories about how i used to build image of some things from hearing such talks which after long years appeared wrong when I realized it by myself. As you narrated the experiences of the US school it might be possible that the school has an excellent system to put students to work and apply their minds as we always hear about US educational systems, but I found it more effective when the parents and children engage in such exercises. We see the examples of apple inventor Mr. Wozniak from books like I WOZ and also in our friend circles if I have to give example of Mr. Shivaji the great son of Mr. Bipin Raje.

Swati said...

i agree with Sachin. If you remeber our conversation in Mocha tonight, it all depends on he peers and discussions at home. I was fortunate to have a father who made us (we sisters) think beyond the obvious, made us question about things unknown - which would eventually lead to a search for finding more information about an event or thing that had lead to therising of the question in our minds.

Similarly, what I had experienced as a child being in Tarabai Modak's school for one year in Kosbaad is indelible. 'Experential learning' was not just a concept but the way to 'education' - which started from the balwadi stage.

So if the school does not give such oportunities of 'education' , we as 'learned' parents can definitely do our bit. And I believe each parent has the inherant capacity to 'teach'.