Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Teaching Styles

I think we are all familiar with the teacher-centred teaching style that is still widely used in the Nepali education system. It is an authoritative teaching style where teachers transmit knowledge to students who act as passive listeners. What generally comes to mind when one says “learner-centred teaching style”? Obviously, learners are the focal point in learner-centred classrooms. So, they must be actively engaged in the teaching-learning activities, right? While students are active, all the teaching content and activities are under the control of teachers in such classrooms.

As long as the curriculum is controlled by teachers, how can the lessons be learner-centred even if students participate in teaching learning activities? They simply become recipients of teachers’ knowledge and wisdom. Research suggests that teacher-centred learning actually prevents students’ educational growth.
In contrast to the teacher-centred teaching style, the learner-centred teaching style encourages learners themselves to take charge of their learning; which is why it is better to say learner-centred learning style rather than labeling it a teaching style. Learner-centred lessons are focused on how students learn instead of how teachers teach. The learner-centred approach reflects and is rooted in constructivist philosophy of teaching. Literature says that constructivism is based on learning by doing and creating own knowledge rather than depending on teachers for this.
An example of learner-centred methodology would be Montessori Method, according to which teachers are supposed to provide children with appropriate environment and children choose what to learn, when to learn and how to learn. On the basis of teachers’ deep observation of students’ interests and learning pace curriculum will be developed; it is more individual-based rather than being one-size-fits-all kind of curriculum. In this way, learner-centred method is all about self-learning and exploratory learning. If this sort of learning is instilled since the very beginning, students can become life-long independent learners.
Based on these indicators, can we say that Nepali education system is learner-based? Until now, it can be seen as being very examination oriented. Even in primary level students are encouraged to study set and same content so that they can answer the examination questions in an excellent manner. Students’ individual learning needs are not addressed in almost all of the cases.
Yes, if some teachers use activities that clearly encourage students to take part in the learning process actively, such as group work, pair work or different types of games, their lessons seem to be learner-centred at the surface level but in fact they are not. It is because the teachers take a lead role to decide what to teach and how to teach. 
If we really want our children to be independent and inquisitive learners they must be provided with opportunities where they can learn from their experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, talents, interests, capacities, and needs. As literature suggests, moving from teacher-centered to learner-centred teaching style, five areas should be considered for change. They are the choice of content, teacher’s role, responsibility for learning, process of assessment, and power relationship between teacher and learners. Learners must have ownership of their own learning, contribute to the design of curriculum, and the responsibility for some levels for instruction too. Then only can we claim of practicing learner-centred teaching.        
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Expression Of Love

A pair of doves come around the charpoy where my mother-in-law is sitting with her ailing body and follow some pigeons and sparrows. It is her daily routine to feed those birds. She has a container filled with some rice, maize and mustard seeds and she scatters the supply when the birds come near to her. Since it is hard for her to move around with a weak and aging body, it is her pastime to feed these birds and a calf. When other members of the family are away she talks to them as if they understand her language.

So was the case with the 90 year old lady Maryam when she had no one around her to listen to her stories of how she escaped from Iran to Australia on charge of being a Baha’i follower. She used to feed Magpies that came to her front yard, murmuring a mixture of Persian and English words.
This is not something that can only be seen with women that are running their final laps; I also found a middle aged lady who was deeply in love with her cockatoo. She said that she had been keeping the bird for the past 25 years and she was boasting of the longevity of the bird as it outlasts the total love life of her five lovers. “This birdie, my Wallie, knows all my secrets. She knows who I was with for how long and how I got dumped and for what reasons.”
Unfortunately, I got a call one day at midnight from that friend of mine. She was wailing and she said in her
trembling voice, “My Wallie died.” I was perplexed to hear that. Though I said some words of comfort to her I was not sure what to do after that. The lady with the bird did not come to work for three days and I with other friends raised some money to buy a bouquet and a card to be delivered to her home. It was hard for me to understand how a person can be in love with a bird so much.
After a week or so, she asked me to visit her home to see the funeral site of her loving bird. She led me to the backyard of her home and a large flower vase was filled with flowers where she had laid her Wallie. With a choked voice, she mumbled some words and I added some to show my support.
The third example may be quite exceptional in our context but the similarity I found among my mother-in-law, Maryam and my cockatoo-loving friend was that people cannot survive without expressing their love. At a young age, they generally have their children around them and it is not difficult for them to pour love to them. As time passes, children grow up and start leaving home to explore the world so that they can build their own families, their own lives.
 Once the house full of children’s incessant noise becomes quiet; to get rid of loneliness the ageing people who are left behind may turn to animals or birds for love. This may make it easier for them to cope with the reality that even though their children are not with them forever they can survive by finding a way to express their love.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

Monday, 27 November 2017

Producing Best Teachers

Last week I got the opportunity to visit several community schools in Far Western and Mid Western Regions under the programme Career Counselling and Motivation, organised by JKK Foundation and has been in operation for quite a while. As with my earlier experiences, headmasters once again told me about their misconceptions regarding the redesigned SEE letter grading system.

While talking to them I felt like they were speaking out of their preconceived notion that no matter what, students who are admitted into the ‘education’ stream in grade 11 are the ones that achieve the lowest GPAs in their SEE. One of the head teachers complained, “I don’t agree with this new type of scoring system which suggests that the weakest of all students should be the ones studying education. In reality, we need the brightest students in this faculty so that they can make the best teachers in the future.”
Yes, I completely agree with the second part of that statement, but her criticism of the SEE scoring system seems unjustified. The descriptive chart for the SEE letter grading system released by the Ministry of Education clearly indicates that the minimum GPA to study science in grade 11 is 2 or “C” and in all other streams including vocational education it is 1.6 or “D+”.
In addition to the minimum GPA of 2 the students have to score 2.4 or “C+” in science and mathematics if they want to go for science otherwise they need to score at least 1.6 (D+) in particular subjects (list of those subjects is also available) if they are joining management, humanities, education or vocational streams, and the minimum average GPA is 1.6. Nowhere is it mentioned that education is the only option for all those students who score the lowest in SEE or who do not get admission in other faculties.
Another issue the head teachers raised during our conversations was the qualifications of the teachers who teach in lower grades. According to a head teacher, the secondary level teachers hesitate to go to the primary level even as substitute teachers. They think that it does not suit their particular skill set. She further expressed her frustration with the fact that the lower grades are the foundation for upper grades, so the teachers who teach these little children must have master’s degree if we really want quality education in community schools. Yes, she was right to some extent; a master’s degree may not be a possible qualification but to be a school teacher at any level a bachelor’s degree is a must in my opinion too.
My argument here is not to support the SEE letter grading system because it may have its strengths and weaknesses, but my concern is teachers’ understanding of it. What is clear from the above conversations is that school teachers need more orientation on the letter grading system so that they will understand that there is no discrimination between different streams in grade 11.
Generally, it is expected that students who choose to study science must have a greater level of academic aptitude, and thus the GPA threshold for the science stream is relatively higher. However, this is not the case in non-science streams. The concerned people should also think about upgrading early grade teachers’ qualifications to offer students quality education from a young age.
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 

[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]