School – A nightmare for students

C Radhakrishnan

Most of us have met someone in the course of our school lives who has made us feel bad about ourselves. For some, it could have been a teacher or a headmaster. For others, a librarian, a class monitor, an attendant, or a classmate. These individuals were stern, arrogant, and intolerant of other people’s opinions. They seem to dislike kids making you wonder why they chose to enter the field of education in the first place.

Teachers, especially at the elementary level, are supposed to be inspired and inspiring individuals. They need to be aware of the psychology behind children’s bad behaviour and emphasise their positive traits rather than their shortcomings. They have a duty to redirect their students’ energy. But how many of our teachers are aware of this? The question is, do our teachers get sufficient training or do school administrations follow a proper system to recruit teachers?

girl-with-books Why are schools a nightmare for many students? Teachers are not the reason kids hate school. They are merely the symptoms of a misconceived system. The issue of students disliking school spans across age and class barriers, though it is rarely addressed as such. What has triggered such a powerful feeling about an institution that is a part of every person’s childhood? Consider this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “See in schools how the system thwarts the natural love of learning by leaving the natural method of teaching what each wishes to learn, and insisting that you shall learn what you have no taste or capacity for. The schools, which should be a place of delightful labour, is made odious and unhealthy, and the young men are tempted to playful amusements to rally their cynical spirits. I would have the studies elective. Scholarship is to be created not by compulsion, but by awakening a pure interest in knowledge.”

I have come up with four possible reasons why children dislike school: the curriculum, the management, the evaluation system and the restrictiveness.

The curriculum
The curriculum in schools is outdated and unfriendly. In my first seven years of being a student, I read no books other than text books. Most of the time, these books kill our excitement and imagination. In high school, I didn’t come across one school book worth the time I spent reading it. What the people who frame the curriculum don’t understand is that a young person’s brain is fertile and yearning for new possibilities. For instance, literature is supposed to entertain. How can students learn to love reading when they are forced to read dull boring texts that they do not understand or relate to? Students should be allowed to read books they enjoy. After all, it is the reading itself that matters. Once a love of reading is fostered, it becomes a lifelong interest and reading makes people smarter.

History, Maths, and Science have less easily-solvable problems, but there is still plenty to be done. For instance, why isn’t History ever related to modern-day life? Children need context. Making them memorise the date when the Allahabad Treaty was signed is simply a waste of time. Or take the conventional way in which an event as important as the 1857 Revolt is taught. This needs to be discontinued. Children cannot relate to the passionate patriotism that incited the revolt.

In order to teach more effectively, children should be shown what history accomplished for them. Parallels to other countries that are not yet liberated should be drawn. For instance, they could be taught about pre-democratic Nepal. Guest speakers and video shows could be arranged. Only by example can a student realise the greatness of most historical events. The same principle of showing rather than telling is also applicable to Math and Science.

I feel those with theoretical minds should be given the freedom to study all the Trigonometry, Calculus and Physics they want. After all, nurturing our future mathematicians and scientists is crucial. But those who are not inclined towards Math and Science should not be made to spend their time studying a subject that does not interest them.

Why is it that necessary skills are skipped – things like reading a map, using common computer applications and filling a cheque book? Why isn’t there more emphasis on self-knowledge? If students were made to study by themselves, the adult population would be a lot more emotionally stable.

The management
The school management system today is totally unscientific. This has its effect on teachers who are dissatisfied, lack enthusiasm or motivation with the result that their ‘negative’ teaching makes school a nightmare for children.

Management is about people, not results, resources or retribution. If you manage people well; if you provide good leadership and the vision that is inherent to being a good leader, then the day-to-day management of resources will be guided by what the people really need and want. Manage as you wish to be managed by yourself. Make the phrase “my staff are my most important resource” mean something. The phrase is all too often spoken at staff meetings, and at the start and end of the school year, and it has an empty ring for many. But the question is how many of our headmasters/principals know about modern education management techniques or are trained for that? How many of them in fact care for the teachers’ well-being and their progress? Do we impart any proper professional training to people who aspire to become school leaders?

From my experience, I can say that teaching resources (teachers) are not managed well in our country. There are many reasons why teachers are displeased and teaching is below the expectation of every one. Let me take the issue of teacher’s duties in schools. In almost all schools, duties of teachers are not specifically defined. Teachers should be allowed to concentrate on teaching and continuous learning for innovating new techniques to make their lessons interesting. They should be given sufficient time during school hours to prepare for lessons. Every one should acknowledge that after school hours they can be free mentally from their work pressure. Dumping work other than teaching, such as clerical work should be avoided. For CCA activities, there must be a separate department with sufficient staff; and language and subject teachers should be relieved from such pressure. We must accept that teaching is not a mere clerical job. It’s a job that involves the emotions, the mind and the body of the teacher. Leave them to the world of learning and innovative teaching rather than dumping them with all unnecessary work.

Effective lesson planning and delivery takes place only when the teacher does his/her home work well. If we succeed in creating an atmosphere of learning and innovation for teachers in schools, a major reason for students disliking schools can be avoided and our schools will become centres of ‘happy learning’.

For better teaching, performance management should be made an integral part of the school management system. There are a number of issues that require careful, sensitive handling. These are:

  1. Staff selection and interviewing, including how to set up an effective staff selection process;
  2. Mentoring newly qualified teachers in their first year
  3. Managing the performance of new and existing staff
  4. Mentoring non-performing staff identified either by inspection or by the school appraisal systems
  5. Regular in-service courses to update the methodologies and practices of teaching, learning and student assessments.

grades The evaluation system
The policy of giving marks or grades in examinations, compiling averages, and assigning ranks is simplistic and demoralising. Ranking students is the same as classification, labelling, or stereotyping: “A” students are Excellent, “B” students are good, “C” students are average, and “D” or “E” students are below average. This is actually the way people think.

Grades not only influence other people’s perceptions; they affect a person’s self-perception. We tend to define ourselves by the opinions of others. Why should children have to doubt themselves? It is better to encourage their abilities, rather than labelling them so that they are turned off by subjects they would otherwise be inclined to explore. Schools need to recognise the complexity of the individual, rather than defining students in terms of grades and test scores. Detailed evaluations should take the place of quarterly report cards. This would not only eliminate the unnecessary demoralising of students, but it would require teachers to evaluate their students as individuals. The sooner we stop rating and labelling kids, the easier it will be for them to recognise their worth, and make more significant contributions to society.

The restrictions
A final and lesser-acknowledged problem for students is the unreasonable restrictions imposed on them by the school system. In short, they are denied their basic civil rights. They are unilaterally subjected to the will of teachers, many of whom routinely allow their personal preferences to supercede the needs of the class. They may not speak freely, choose how they spend their time, or object to authority, for fear of being punished or picked on. In the real world, of course, the student or the student’s guardian has the freedom to reject situations that feel oppressive.

The current system was made to contain troublemakers, not promote a positive learning environment. If the Board of Education had students’ enjoyment of learning in mind when they made the rules, the only guidelines would be conduct-related. Exams and projects would be optional, and students would be able to choose their own classes. The learning experience would be the students’ for the taking. Contrary to what critics say, children would still learn if they weren’t forced to take tests. Learning can be fun if it is individualised. As Emerson put it, “scholarship is created…by awakening a pure interest in knowledge.”

The bottom line
The ‘worst’ products of the school system end up being alienated from the natural curiosity and hopeful idealism they came in with; while the best end up pursuing their own passions anyhow.

My question is why not give all students the opportunity to enjoy learning while they are still in school?

The author is senior post graduate teacher in the humanities department of High Range School, Munnar. He can be reached at smartteacher@rediffmail.com.

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