Special Report

Reforming Education for an Engaged Learner

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.” -Tagore

Knowledge and Nowhere to Go
The current education system of Bangladesh seems to be afflicted with a debilitating disease that has locked the spirit of education responsible for exciting curiosity, critical thinking, creativity, and innovation.Among many other goals, education is thought to have the power to prepare the learners for their roles in the society and infuse them with a good character, strong values, problem-solving abilities, thoughtfulness, and a strong sense of responsibility towards family, community and the world. However, with a majority of young minds facing a perplexing predicament concerning their roles and purpose, the primary goal of education seemed to have diverted. Many students do not know how to utilize the knowledge they received through their institutional education and live a productive life based on that. The modern-day educational system in our country has fallen far short of the noble goals of schooling with its failure to foster a growth mindset in people. It has instead, employed untested, archaic and formulaic methods to confine, restrict and ultimately mass-produce a citizenry which is driven by monetary aspects of having a profession, that too, of not their choice, always.

Not only has the current education system crippled the expansion of creative thinking for learners, but may have also encouraged frustrated young learners to rebel and take extremist approaches towards life. The essay further lets you explore few possible approaches that could play a role to steer the education system a bit away from the epidemic of disengaged, disillusioned and demotivated learners.

Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, said, “The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.” Unfortunately, apart from a few selected, upscale teaching institutions, most schools that cater to the needs of the lower-income and middle-income groups are handcuffed to only teacher-centered learning instead of taking a more student-centered approach. This has, in fact, created a vacuum in which the learners and the teachers are not engaging enough to build a dynamic two-way learning environment. It is disconcerting to see how the youth today lacks the spirit and motivation to engage in discussions about important issues of the world as past generations did. Employers have also discovered most recent graduates to be unemployable as they lack social and emotional intelligence to navigate effectively in through the different mazes of their economic, social, personal and cultural life.

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
-Tagore

Mapping out the Chalkboard: The Current Scenario and Solutions for Tomorrow
Despite, the 61.49% increase in functional literacy rate in Bangladesh (World Atlas, 2017), true education that equips learners to become productive, conscious and engaged citizens of the country- has not yet reached the stage of its fruition. Following are some of the many challenges and recommendations that could pave the way for the desired state of engaged learning.

Please Take a Seat: How Many are too Many?
A growing body of research shows that reduced class size can build an environment where kids can efficiently involve in learning. It often becomes a daunting task for teachers to manage a class, build rapport with students, and provide personalized teaching based on individual student learning abilities when the class size is big. Furthermore, the stress of grading, and supervising a large number of students also affect the student-teacher relationship. The traditional class layout of a teacher standing in front of the class also contributes further to reduced class participation among students. Therefore, efforts should be undertaken, towards controlling the class sizes and redesigning the layout, to create an environment where interaction between the students and the teachers can be enhanced from the primary grade till at least 10th.

Unreal Standards from Standard Test
A Standardized curriculum in the education system may meet the expectations of teachers, politicians, and communities while reporting data on the country’s performance at the different spectrums of literacy. However, in reality amidst this, the need of diverse types of learners get ignored alongside. It is quite unfortunate to be bound by a system that measures a student’s future success based on their performance on standardized tests. This closed approach, thus, ignores to accommodate a process of learning that can nurture the natural ability and skills of the young learners, to thrive beyond getting high scores in subjects. Moreover, the teachers and the administrations are often pressurized to complete the content on time to meet the standards which discourage deep and meaningful understanding of materials by students resulting in demotivated learners Experiential and service learning opportunities could increase the chances of student engagement. Besides, failures and mistakes through these experiences should not be approached negatively instead be shown as a platform to learn and grow. Thus, the learners can realize the practical implications of education through an active partnership with communities and policymakers, formed with the help of hands-on learning, apprenticeship and outreach programs.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Assessing the Advisor: What are Teachers being Taught?
Personal and professional characteristics of a teacher can contribute largely to a student’s’ success and learning. But the aspect of effective assessment to measure a teacher’s performance focused on skillful teaching strategies, enthusiasm in teaching, pedagogical knowledge, verbal ability and certification status are often neglected in a majority of schools and colleges. The effectiveness of curriculum on learning also has to be measured to assess the impact of learning not only through exams and tests but also through subjective methods such as observation, reflection, and discussion with guardians. Assessment, when done effectively, can guide the instructors to become dynamic change makers, administrators and policymakers by identifying what works, what doesn’t and how to improve.

A Promotion Culture
Despite, recognizing the vital role of teachers in the early learning period of our lives very little appreciation is given to the primary and secondary school teachers by the society. Most administrators and policymakers have failed to develop a reward and motivation system to cultivate and support highly qualified teachers who are the cornerstone of building a nation. This indifference and lack of recognition often result in demotivating the instructors from giving their best to build active learners.
Well-defined scopes in promotions, and continuous educational learning and training programs can ensure opportunities for advancement in the teaching profession and help recognize teaching as a high-status profession in the society.

“Real education should educate us out of self into something far finer – into a selflessness which links us with all humanity.”
-Nancy Astor

The Gravitas of a Guardian
Lack of parenting skills often leads to over-scheduling children. The inadequate involvement of the parents in children’s life regarding every spectrum of activities from academics to non-academics makes them emotionally detached and burdens them with unrealistic expectations and stress which negatively affects their social, emotional and intellectual development.
Research shows that parent involvement significantly contributes to children’s academic success. One-on-one time at parent-teacher conferences can help parents to team up with the teachers to expand learning concepts at home. Parents can also help to build motivated learners by taking children to libraries, museums, parks and having an active discussion at home on global and national issues.

Absence of a Balanced Curriculum
Learning should be part of a child’s everyday experience beyond textbooks and classroom instructions. Robert Putnam strongly advocated for extra-curricular activities to be a part of a broader curriculum to diffuse “soft skills’ such as teamwork, self-discipline, leadership, work habits and sense of civic engagement amongst children. But the scenario of kids and youth participating in extracurricular activities in schools seems a little bleak nowadays. Initiatives should be undertaken through public and private support to build a balanced curriculum where students can explore their skills, interest, and abilities.

Education for the Emerging Generation
The development of our nation lies on how we educate our future generation by designing a human-centric curriculum that can solve the ills of our world by building innovative and imaginative thinkers. It is high time we collectively join forces to rejuvenate the system of learning and build global citizens who can thrive intellectually, physically and socially by responding to their unique skills and potential. Echoing to one of Rumi’s quotes which stated, “Let the beauty of what you love to be what you do” – let us all allow our children to participate actively and grow up being engaged citizens by doing what they love and enjoy.

*Photograph from Asian Development Bank

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