The play of imagination

Prof. Nandini Dutta

Imagination is the faculty to form new images and sensations that are not normally perceived through sight, hearing, or other senses. It is the innate ability of the mind to think beyond the obvious or what is immediately presented to the mind. Imagination helps knowledge to be more applicable in solving problems and is fundamental in integrating experience and other learning processes. It could be said to be a process of reviving in the mind percepts of objects formally given in a sense perception.

Piaget proposed that perception depends on the world view of a person and that imagination is needed to make sense of perception. This is indeed very important because a general view would not be an asset to the mind whereas a sense of perception with a keen analysis makes a better learning tool. And this is what can be termed as imagination on a very broad scale.

The latent ability of a child to ‘imagine’ develops at an early age. The power of imagination is with the child all the time and if this ability or power is allowed to grow and can be nurtured it becomes a huge advantage. The more opportunities a child may get to express his own imagination or thought process, the sharper the intellect becomes. It is in the formative years that imagination is at its most creative. This creativity of the mind can be an advantage so that a good teacher can hold it as a powerful tool in the classroom.

Learning is considered to be a process of acquiring a new skill or modifying/reinforcing existing knowledge, behaviour, skill, value, or preferences. This very often may involve synthesising different kinds of information. The ability to learn is not compulsory and not always voluntary. It is contextual and does not happen all at once. It may be viewed as a process rather than a collection of facts. Learning may happen consciously or without conscious awareness. The process of learning takes place in stages in a child’s education but at all times the child absorbs the learning process. However, the desire to learn “or train” is not always present in children. Notwithstanding this fact, imagination is always present in all children at all ages under most circumstances and in fact in grownups too.

It is unfortunate that school teaching or indeed teaching at all levels most often presents a very drab and uninteresting exchange of knowledge between the teacher and the pupil. The teacher presents to the pupil what is to be taught and what is deemed fit. The pupil may not be in a mindframe to take the teaching as it has been presented. Herein comes the role of imagination and the direct link between the intellectual capability of the teacher and the potential intellectual capability of the taught. The latent ability of a child “to imagine” gives the child an edge where he may have the capacity to work out the teaching in his mind provided the teacher motivates his mind to go further. A child may develop within himself a certain mindset, where “unpolluted” by forced teaching he can develop his own skills and can learn in a method all his own. For example, an average teacher will say 2+2 is 4. The young learners may also think further and imagine that 3+1 is 4 or 1+1+2 is 4. And an imaginative child may get around to 3.5+0.5 is equal to 4. This is not because he knows his decimal system but because he has realized that for 4 rupees given in a shop for a toffee, it will fetch him back 50 paise if the cost of the article is 3.50. All children will develop their own path to derive this magic number 4 and the teacher should not limit herself to the standard 2+2 equals 4 formulae.

The author is a former professor who has taught at a college in Kolkata for 25 years. She now teaches at an international school. She can be reached at

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