A Journey to 100%: Musings on Reading and our Education System
Looking at my previous 3 blog entries, I realised that I had inadvertently written about
- Onions (https://email@example.com/choices-oniontears-cleansing-and-cathartic-e8f7ae56dd8f),
- Salt (https://firstname.lastname@example.org/salt-symbolism-and-personalities-2d918daea5fe), and
- A lime tree (https://email@example.com/the-autobiography-of-a-lime-tree-dd347b9145e0).
Clearly the small things in life inspire me. I hope all of you enjoyed reading the 3 entries.
This time around I thought I would write about reading and our education system, something I feel strongly about.
A teacher sent me this link from Indian Express — Education Desk — New Delhi dated October 11, 2020 — with a lament “What will our children do”?
The highlight of the article: cut-off list for top courses, Lady Shri Ram College for Women is 100% as their best of four subject scores for their bachelor’s (honours) degrees in Economics, Political Science and Psychology. At Hindu College, the cut-off marks for an Economics degree is 99.25%.
The onus for this lies on the 10+2 and Pre-university examination system. Question papers for all streams and languages and the key for correction are set to allow for a centum. And unfortunately it all starts in Nursery.
I wrote an article in 2004 and I am going to resurrect it with some adaptations to explain our education system.
J is my maid’s daughter. In 2004 she was in the 7th grade of an English medium school in Bengaluru — an affordable private school that received government aid. She was bright and got good marks.
My husband and I decided to take her under our wings and hence commenced ‘Project J’. A good place to start was ‘speaking’ and ‘reading’ English. We began with the Beacon Readers — Little chick chick etc.
We realised quickly that J could not read the word “Why”. Wouldn’t you think that by class seven, the word “Why” would be part of her active vocabulary? I went through her 7th grade textbooks and wonder of wonders; the appearance of the word “Why” in the questions was few and far between. I recently checked the 7th grade textbooks of 2020 (in Karnataka) and nothing has changed. Why? Why!! That is a word that makes one think and seek an answer.
Students — whether in the 7th, 12th or Pre-university:
Yours not to reason, why? Yours but to learn by rote or cry!!
J also came across words like ‘could’, ‘would’ and ‘should’. ‘Could’ was read as ‘culd’ — sounding the ‘L’ and so on. Her other puzzlements were words like ‘sight’, ‘might’ and ‘bright’. Was it possible that she had not heard these words earlier?
‘Speaking’ and ‘reading’ over the years have become the least important skills of language development in our schools. In the larger picture of examinations and marks, writing has become the most important. Most tuition teachers also make the students write and write.
Yours but to write, write and write some more.
Getting you to speak and read is such a bore!
J got stuck over many other words — despite the word having occurred multiple times in the same story. When I prompted her the first couple of times, she would register the word with a quick tap of her finger under the word and move on … and then the wheels would come to a grinding halt the next time the word occurred. On mentioning that she had come across the word earlier, she would turn the pages back, locate the word, tap her finger under it and lo and behold — say the word perfectly.
She had this tremendous capacity to associate by location. Not read — but locate and connect.
Now, I know why questions have to be asked exactly the way it is in the texts.
Mug not just your Answers, but Questions too.
We promise not a word we will change — just for you!
J did Math with my husband. Addition, multiplication tables and mental math. She would labour over dodging but was quick to judge whether the answer was right or wrong by facial expression and body language. The only way to get her to start thinking — was to make her turn her face the other way.
You often say, ‘At home my child does it all right.
Your child, now you know when reading, body language is bright.
By now, J was probably wondering where this was taking her. To her mind, the last straw was when she was asked to ‘do’ Algebra but she stubbornly insisted on ‘studying’ it.
Exams came along and ended, the next day and the following days, we waited for J in vain. She succumbed to years of conditioning, and made her choice for the short-term goal of examinations as against lifelong learning. Thus Project J ended in a disaster!
Rock the boat? — Please refrain!
Let the status Quo remain.
I know and believe a change has to be made. This change has to be in the pre-primary, primary and middle School. It has to be made by every parent, every teacher, and all schools. We should scrap Report Cards in pre-primary and perhaps even in primary school!!
The focus has to be on language development — for at the base of all learning is language. The skills of language should be taught in the order of how a mother tongue is learnt — listening, speaking, reading and finally writing. Sadly our schools start with writing, which all starts in pre-school.
‘Listening’ and ‘reading’ is the foundation of learning a language. Once a child learns to read, the child can read to learn. Parents and teachers scold and punish a child when performance in examinations is not up to the mark — but seldom ascertain whether the child can read and comprehend?
Going back to the cut off of 100%:
Let this not be a sad day,
For in your hands is another way
I will read, understand, interpret,
explore, experiment, and debate.
This is my life, my future
Come what may.
And yes, Teacher dear,
Look into your heart,
And you will find the answer.
The choice is yours!