Sea change – all in a decade!

Vasanthi Vasudev

In a little over a decade everything has changed! School management skills have transformed from those of a trapeze artist to a pole-vaulting gymnast. If ten years ago principals were swinging in perfect balance meeting the needs of various school stake holders, today’s school leaders have to pole vault the vast chasm between the earlier and the current definition of school and expectations from it! And they had better land on their feet with a perfect ten!

Does this analogy sound like a riddle? Well, if it does, then it symbolizes the sphinx – like riddle of transforming schools of yesteryear to tomorrow’s learning centres!

What is the anatomy of the riddle? It goes like this….!!

School school over there…

  1. Whom do you teach here and there?
  2. What do you teach with a care?
  3. And what do you teach with, if you dare?
  4. And how would you know if all is well and rare?

Clue – two comes before one and three follows two, four follows and one ends it all!

The riddle seems twisted as well! To find the answer, we would have to start with the second question as per the clue.

computer-lab

What do you teach with a care?
Schools, a decade ago, were largely content with academic performance as it is the key deliverable although ‘all round development’ was the stated mission. But today’s schools are moving into the demands of the five Cs for 21st Century living – content mastery, communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

Therefore, schools need to deliver a large spectrum of skills that go beyond acquisition of subject- specific knowledge.

And these skills are to be developed in an ‘exam stress-free’ environment! With formative assessments and continuous evaluation systems becoming common practice, and more and more subjects even at the Board exam levels having project based and internal assessments as valid evaluation practices, we seem to be getting close to catching the ‘examinations tiger’ by its tail! Fear of the tiger is on the way out!

But elimination of the tiger brings to the fore the interesting challenge of making very slippery, amorphous beings called ‘skill development and formative assessment’ into ‘tangible, swift and effective’ things. Else, the law of jungle, anarchy, may descend on the school’s academic fortress. School principals now have to put in systems that engender scientific and robust school-based assessment systems and valid reporting and progress charting mechanisms that will ensure that the 5 Cs are being developed and are being assessed in multiple formats.

And what do you teach with, if you dare!
This line of the riddle is sheer truism. What do we now dare to teach with! Damned if you do, damned if you don’t! Today we just cannot ignore technology – it seems to be omnipresent and omnipotent! The secret keys to knowledge and power no longer reside in the teachers alone! Knowledge treasure houses are scattered all over the World Wide Web! Dare we ignore it when we teach? Of course not! If we do, our schools will go the Rip Van Winkle way – into age long slumber. But dare we use it without any care? No! Never! All hell can break loose via the ethernet if sites that are not for under 18s burst on to the computer monitor screens. Indeed! damage control activities can be quite exhausting and embarrassing!

Gone are the days when the teacher collected pictures, made charts and drew stick figures to illustrate and make more vivid curricular concepts. Today, 3D animation software and live videos create powerful virtual realities in the classroom that whet the imagination and interest of the present generation’s visual – kinaesthetic learners.

The text book, which the teacher has for long read and explained like the ‘bible in the hands of the preacher’, is now fast being replaced by e-text books and learning solutions that draw from amazing e-libraries and websites to bring worldwide repository of learning resources and tools into the classroom. Techno savvy teachers who handle digital white boards with the skill of an artist, satellite based lessons from experts, learning management solutions for dealing with course work and home work, electronic question banks, lessons in power point formats are all integral pillars of the fast emerging SMART Schools.

And how would you know if all is well and rare?
Decades ago, by tip toeing through long corridors during ‘rounds’ to see if the teachers were standing and teaching and if students were seated in disciplined quiet, principals could find out if ‘all was well’. Academic performance in Board exams too was another indicator. But many of these check points have shifted or disappeared all together. Classroom dynamics have moved 180 degrees. In learner-centred classrooms which resonate with interactivity and student-led learning, the teacher is a guide at the side and no more a sage on the stage! The shift of the teaching-learning axis from an ‘outcomes approach’ which centred around examinations to a ‘process approach’ which stresses on creating learning environments have also made classroom procedure and management far more complex.

In this changing scenario, quality-based practices such as measuring teacher and student performance against the schools quality objectives, designing and implementing quality based academic structures and school management systems which can bring industry standards and quality benchmarks to schools is the only way to know if all is well and rare.

Whom do you teach here and there?
Change and change alone seems to be the order of the day. In such dynamic times, the first sentence of the riddle, ‘Whom do you teach here and there?’ has a very interesting answer.

Today, everyone in the school system has to be a learner. If schooling is to be relevant to the times and learners have to be coached for the 5 Cs, then the format per se of teaching has to change and to manage these changes, school leaders, teachers and everyone including parents have to change and revisit their attitudes and relearn old skills anew. And central to this change is moving teachers up the learning curve – arming them with new pedagogy skills, technology competence and quality consciousness and tools! The school infrastructure and classroom design too has to change to enable tech-based learner-centric learning. Class sizes too need to get reduced to make new age learning more than a lip service.

To sum it all up, it’s amply evident that there seems to be no way of insulating schools from the sweeping winds of change. Schools in the coming decades will have to acquire new meaning and contexts to save themselves from becoming relics. And helping their institutions to make this leap is the pole vault at hand for all school leaders!

The author is the Founder-Director, APL Global School, Chennai. She can be reached at [email protected].

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