Shifting equations

The latest census figures tell many stories about the new India. The story of changing household structure. The story of growing towns and cities. The story of an increasingly technological landscape. It no longer surprises us (though it may sadden or anger us) that more people in India have access to mobile phones than to clean water and toilets. Most of us have moved into a digital age with varying degrees of ease and discomfort, we have given up the letter for email and telephone calls, we have put aside the pen and taken to the keyboard, we read our news online rather than in print. With these visible changes have come the more subtle ones that creep up on us and take hold of our lives before we are completely aware of them. Changes in the way we talk, think and interact, and in the way we imagine our worlds.

The world of the classroom, and of learning, has similarly undergone both visible and invisible changes. While the structure of school, with its textbooks and timetables, may have remained untouched, the processes of learning, what we learn and how we learn, is changing every day. Each of these processes has undergone a major shift. We have accepted (though not in equal measure) that we need to move from an emphasis on providing content to providing skills, from looking at the classroom as the only point of learning to accepting that learning happens across life spaces. What we have found a little more difficult to accept is the shifting equation between teacher and student in relation to the learning process. Teachers too become learners when it comes to technology-facilitated learning. Children today (in many cases) are completely comfortable with technology, and are able to use it in a variety of ways that adults are only now beginning to comprehend. Ideas such as the “flipped classroom” (attributed to Salman Khan of the Khan Academy) suggest giving student more control of learning, moving the power centre from the teacher’s desk to the student’s fingertips and mind. Flipping the classroom may also mean more opportunities for collaborative learning among children, and from children to teacher (as well as the more conventional teacher to children).

But most of us are not quite ready for this shift, fearing that it might take away the legitimacy of our position in the system. Teachers will always be key to the learning process; they have an important role to play in making things visible, in helping children discover that they can learn. What a teacher does, and how she does it, is what changes – and those are changes we need to stay abreast of, if we are to derive joy and meaning from our work.