Out-of-the-textbook thinking

Chandra Shekhar Balachandran

I often hear parents (and teachers) complaining about the amount of television that children watch. This is a genuine concern. They also complain about the kinds of programs that children watch. Yes, another genuine concern. One solution they attempt is to get children to watch Discovery, Animal Planet, and National Geographic instead. Not at all a bad idea.

But …!

Yes, there is a but. Documentaries are not always fun(ny) to watch. Further, it is important that we watch television with kids and engage in meaningful conversations with them about the programs we watch together. This is crucial.

When I used to teach in schools, I often had parents tell me, “I’ve got him Encarta, cable TV to watch NatGeo, subscription to NatGeo magazine… I’ve bought him an atlas, given him a computer with broadband access… STILL he is scoring so low in geography!” (The “him” has just as often been “her”.)

None of these are substitutes to having conversations with kids as intelligent beings, without talking down to them. I have found it works wonders when adults ask them: “What do you think?” “What is your opinion on this?” “Why do you think this happens?” And so on. We have to get them to ask questions. This goes also for the classroom.

Never tell them not to talk in class. Encourage it but get them to do it in such a way that they stay focused on the topic and learn to listen just as well as talk. Be careful to identify lateral thinking and let them engage in it. (I once asked class 9 CBSE students why air moves. One girl answered, “Because it’s FREE!” It made that entire 3-hour workshop that much more enjoyable because we kept returning to look at the poetic view of the monsoons!) Guiding a discussion productively is a delicate task. We must provide a certain degree of guidance. Much of what ails geography education today is lack of conversation in and out of class, formal or informal.

The author is a geographer, Founder and Director, The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies, Bangalore (Web page: http://tiigs.org). He can be reached at geo@tiigs.org.

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