It’s no news that a large fraction of secondary school students across the country end up attending after school tuition or coaching classes that promise to prepare them to ‘perform’ better in exams. The term ‘after-school learning’ was, until recently, associated solely with achieving a competitive advantage. ‘Tuitions’ were places students would go to finish their homework or revise what was taught at school while ‘coaching centres’ promised higher ranks and better results, and more often than not relied on repetition and cramming to meet that promise.
Given this setting, it is interesting to note the upward trend of after-school learning centres that focus more on imparting quality education than directly on exam scores and ranks. The city of Hyderabad itself has witnessed the inauguration of two such centres within the past few months. These centres use contemporary digital technology to make the teaching-learning less hierarchical and more student-centric. Further, given that these centres are not bound by boards of education like schools are, they are free to venture beyond the prescribed ‘syllabus’ and focus on learning rather than marks.
So what exactly happens at these after-school learning centres?
Take for example the concept of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. Instead of a simple verbal explanation from a teacher supported by a diagram in a textbook, here students can get to see a 3D animation of the process with colours and sounds. The interactive and graphical presentation keeps the students engaged and makes the content easier to grasp.
The environment that after-school centres aim to create is meant to foster inquiry, reasoning and keep students and teachers engaged in the process of learning. The digital learning software that is used has a variety of academically enriching themes, designed to help students become active learners rather than passive recipients of subject content. The higher level of individual attention that students get at these centres because of the low student-teacher ratio means that teachers can cater to students’ individual learning needs, concepts can be explained and questions can be addressed as they arise.
Though after school centres are a recent phenomenon in India, they are commonplace in western countries. Many such centres are in fact funded by schools themselves or by local organizations. The programs range from providing child care to educationally enriching alternatives and often include art and physical activities. They receive strong support from the department of education and the policy makers with Richard W Riley, the US Secretary of Education from 1993-2001 stating that such after school programs are important “because children’s minds don’t close down at 3 p.m., and neither should their schools.”
Experiential learning is a major aspect in this model of education. Datla V, a teacher at Creya Learning Zone in Hyderabad, explains, “The program at Creya is personalized to the needs of the student and is offered using constructivism as a philosophy of learning.” So not only are the children taught in a way that allows them to construct their understanding about a subject but these programs also provide them with the know-how of applying the theories they learn. As he says, “How we learn and what we do with it is becoming as important as what we learn.”
At the Next Learning Centre, teachers integrate unconventional pedagogical tools and modern technology into the curriculum such as rich digital content, virtual and real-time practice labs, hands-on activities, and simulations. Next Education has introduced an exclusive ‘soft skills module’, which empowers teachers to deliver the curriculum using interactive 2D and 3D content to improve the students’ interaction and engagement with the subject.
These centres have broadened opportunities for teachers, who can now look beyond the conventional classroom teaching job. However, working in an after-school learning centre is quite different from working in a regular school. The equation a teacher shares with the students at such centres is more collaborative in nature. The small student-teacher ratio allows for more communication and the teacher plays the role of a co-learner and a facilitator. Datla V notes, “The pay scales (at after-school learning centres) are often a lot better than what regular schools pay. However, the skills required are also very different for the after-school programs.”
Working at such centres requires teachers to be comfortable with the shift from a teacher-centric blackboard style of instruction to a more student-centred style of pedagogy. The tools of education here are no longer just textbooks and that means that they have to possess the skills needed to teach in an information and communication technology (ICT) rich environment. Vijay Rajan, Executive Vice President of Next Education affirms this saying, “Given the whole framework of modern teaching methodologies, professional development of the teacher is vital”.
The timings of after-school learning centres in some cases allow teachers to take this on in addition to working in a regular school. For others, the flexibility in timings provides the option of working part-time. “Given the disparity in the pay scales, teachers are opting to work in after-school centres. Why wouldn’t they?” says Nalini Rao, Principal of Unicent Child Centric School, Miyapur. “As a school we try to cater to the parents’ requirements and the students’ needs while working within the norms set by the Board. We’ve had parents telling us that we need to stick to the syllabus and focus on the board exams and not bring in any new methods as they fear that their children will lose out. So with these after-school centres parents have the option, if they are interested, to allow their children to learn with a different set of tools.”
While there are schools (see box) that are adopting computer aided techniques of learning and skill development, the advantage of after-school learning centres is that they cater to a smaller class size and can provide individual attention that might not be feasible in a regular school. Also, the time and space available to them allows them to complement, enhance, and enrich what happens during the regular school day.
Presenting another point of view is Jayashree Swaraj, a retired teacher, who believes that although learning with technology is a step above learning with textbooks, what is essentially happening is that students are ending up going from one classroom to another. “A lot of ‘learning’ for children happens outside the classroom. Experiences on a playground cannot be taught with a textbook or a computer. So we need to question what we mean by education and take into consideration the skills we want our children to equip themselves with.” With the advent of computer-aided after-school learning centres, we are being forced to re-examine our assumptions in relation to the methods of instruction and learning techniques that we’ve been using so far. While there have been changes in the education process in schools toward improvement, such as the introduction of the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation system by the CBSE, such steps to fill the gaps in the current education system take time and face practical hurdles.
With technology being integrated into instruction, what direction is the role of a teacher going to take? Carolyn Dowling, author of ‘The Role of the Human Teacher in Learning Environments of the Future’ writes, “the human teacher is in a strong position, in particular by virtue of overall life experience and sophistication as a communicator, to both models and facilitates co-operative learning behaviours. And who better than a ‘real’ teacher to recognise and develop ‘authentic’ contexts for learning?”
The demand for skills such as communication and real world problem solving – skills that the textbook oriented approaches to learning do not develop – reflects the arm-chair discussions of over a decade ago on how marks do not truly portray competence and capability. Whether it’s the effect of progressive cinema like Taare zameen par and 3 Idiots, the influence of teachings of educationists like Jiddu Krishnamurti, or perhaps increased exposure to alternative paradigms of education prevalent in countries across the world, the fact remains that the student’s all-round development and actual understanding of the subject has, for a section of society, come to trump academic performance. With the trend of after-school learning centres what’s come to the fore is the change in perspective, in what parents, teachers and students want as part of ‘education’. And that is definitely reassuring!
K12 Techno Companies providing learning solutions services
• Educomp smartclass (Delhi based, centres elsewhere – 1994)
Companies providing online tutoring
• Tutorvista (2005 in Bangalore)
• Discoverplus (Kerala)
Schools using e-learning software/solutions
• DL DAV model school
• Tagore international school
• The British school
• Indraprastha international school
• Doon public school, Paschim Vihar
• Bal bharati public school (Pitampura)
Computer- aided learning centres
• Govt. Schools – Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan
• MS Swaminathan Research Foundation
• Azim Premji Foundation
The author is a student of MA Communication (Print and New Media) at the University of Hyderabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.