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Making a radical departure from the school system’s assembly line mentality


By Moin Qazi*
Never let formal education get in the way of your learning. — Mark Twain
A Rip Van Winkle who may wake up today after having missed the information revolution would be extremely dazed to see the changed world. We now have Wikipedia instead of libraries, and Google to provide round the clock access to information. In the new social and educational explosion we have lost the pursuit of knowledge .Our brains are powerful creative processors, but we have made them receptacles for storage and retention of inert facts. We are slowly devaluing the human mind which has sparked the creation of so many great civilizations.
Socrates would have been a sworn enemy of Wikipedia. Plato recorded that Socrates’ detested the written word because it allowed people to parrot facts without understanding and assimilating them. There is a difference between a disaggregated collection of facts pulled in and out of storage as needed and the kind of knowledge that comes by constructing knowledge. We need to garner concepts, synthesize them, draw inference and apply the learning to the real world. True learning can best be done in a format that infuses enthusiasm and meaning into the educational experience.
Learning has for long been administered by conventional pedagogy. We are slowly becoming a counterfeit generation faithfully producing clones. To remind ourselves of the words of T.S. Eliot, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
Yet not everything is bleak.There are still a number of visionaries and champions , may be islands of hope, who are committed to preserving education as tool for intellectual nourishment and empowerment. The Knowledge Centre at Priyadarshini Institute of Engineering and Technology (PIET), Nagpur is one of them. This initiative aims at facilitating natural learning through a cafeteria approach with a focus on four Es —enjoyment, employment, empowerment and enlightenment of the learners. It aims at discovering the syllabi through a process that builds knowledge and skills and generates wisdom. Its core idea revolves around the spontaneous way of learning — curiosity — and builds form there. It makes a radical departure from the school system’s assembly line mentality.
KC is the brainchild of Professor Sanjay Jain, who teaches Applied Physics at PIET. Dr. Vivek Nanoti, Principal of PIET is the inspirational co-architect of the project. Resourcefulness is one of the defining traits of successful entrepreneurs, and it is something India has in droves. Whatever the academic background of these visionaries, the motive is always the same: how can they solve a practical problem? India now has a rich ecosystem of established entrepreneurs; and education and learning is the most fertile area for them.
According to Jain, the rapid integration of technology in education sector is recasting the landscape and making learning more personalised. He feels educatin needs more rigorous, serious attention than it has attracted so far. Every student who walks into a classroom comes with a different story. Online learning platforms can provide content tailored to individual patterns of thought and learning, Adaptive assessment is one of the well-known examples of personalised learning where learners face questions as per their depth of understanding.
What is prime purpose of a Knowledge Centre? Jain provides the answers in pithy templates:
  • Inspire a spirit of exploration, curiosity and questioning in students
  • Make available world’s best books in each subject for reference
  • Provide dedicated but overlapping ‘curiosity corners’ for all subjects
  • Provide a knowledge cafeteria for students to work on a concept from classroom to industry
  • Impart syllabus-aligned learning through discovery and experimentation
  • Develop varied skills in students as per their strengths and aptitude
Jain feels that the bane of the modern examination system is its regressive testing regimen which we stubbornly refuse to reform. Inefficient teaching methods, such as rote learning, which focus on memorization as opposed to critical reasoning, are ruining our new generation. Our education system is not knowledge-based but examination or ‘marks’ oriented, with even competitive exams focusing on rote learning and cramming ability of students. Jain believes that the focus of any curriculum should not simply be on attainment – the current buzzword – but on producing confident, well-rounded citizens who feel as though they have value in society.
“Tests have their place, but both assessment and accountability should be about much more than test results. Rather than a diagnostic tool, tests today take a more judgmental tone with a demoralizing effect rather than an empowering one. When we reduce students’ intellectual ability to a single number or grade, we overlook the diversity of talents and strengths that they inherently possess. Instead of just focusing on results learning should also foster intellectual, spiritual and social growth” avers Jain.
Jain advocates a more “playful” learning approach to younger children, rather than making them exam machines which are pushed through “exam factories”. He uses the medium of quotes, jokes, cartoons, visuals to enliven his knowledge aids at th4e Centre Jain’s work has been commended by APJ Abdul Kalam, Dr Sam Pitroda and CNR Rao. The concept has also got international recognition in the form of many published papers.
KC periodically organizes exhibitions on topical themes. Interestingly it has an archive of posters of these exhibitions. These include, ‘Wonderful World of Science, Technology and Engineering’, ‘Beyond Marks and Degrees – Knowledge, Skills and Wisdom’ ,‘International Year of light – 2015’ ,‘Learning through Stories’, ‘Learning through Jokes’, ‘Learning by Doing’, ‘Seamless and Holistic Knowledge’ and ‘Wonderful and Exciting Knowledge’. They are virtual encyclopedias containing facts that have been very judiciously culled from rare sources by Jain.
There is a very interesting folder titled “Science, Engineering and Education from a Gandhian Perspective”. It is a collection of posters designed for an exhibition, held to commemorate 150th birth year of Mahatma Gandhi. Each poster is a valuable knowledge sheet they unfold a panorama of entire Gandhian philosophy-embracing Gandhi’s vision of science, his models on the philosophy of truth and nonviolence and Gandhi an Engineering technology and its relevance to modern day problems.
Through the Knowledge Centre and its outreach work, as also through his writings in journals, Jain is promoting the alternative learning approaches so that h distortions in our education system are addressed though an overhaul of processes .Processes designed to judge and grade success on a limited spectrum of learning cannot be a measure for monitoring the students’ entire educational attainment .Traditional forms of assessment are intimately tied to conventional methods of educational delivery. We need to have better metrics for defining success, ones that go beyond simple test and exam results. The traditional format dragoons pupils into rows where they passively listen to their teacher, being stuffed and force-fed with inert facts.
Jain argues that effective teaching should involve recognizing and overcoming the teacher’s expert blind spots. We tend to access and apply knowledge automatically and unconsciously (e.g., drawing on relevant bodies of knowledge, and choosing appropriate strategies). Students need instructors to break tasks into learnable silos, explain their interrelationships, and model processes in detail. Jain has already designed a framework for knowledge based reorientation of engineering physics.
Nanoti is an education entrepreneur in the true spirit. He believes every student has a creative potential which has to be channeled and mentored .He agrees that the future belongs not to job seekers but to job creators.
Initiatives like Knowledge Centres need to be adapted and replicated widely and percolated to the grass root levels. They are the best allies in India’s revolution towards a knowledge society. In a world where finding the right inspiration and insight is often one click away, KC is medium for introducing students to authentic resources.
There’s an old proverb: From tiny acorns grow mighty oak trees. Entrepreneurs like Jain are planting and nurturing seeds that should breed more sturdy trees to provide fruits for intellectual nourishment for the new age. The reward for them is in knowing that they have made a positive impact in the learning of children – a reward that has lifelong results for the future aspirations of the children .We need legions of imitators and replicators if we have to achieve a new superior equilibrium In the field and create a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for children and society at large.

*Development expert

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