Dangerous contextualization

Mohammed Umar

Accroding to the RTE, the State has to ensure that all children between 6 and 14 years of age are enrolled in schools. Since children who have never been to schools before will now attend schools, the government has designed a special condensed course, which will ensure that these children catch up with their peers in terms of their knowledge in different subjects.

Last month, I had the opportunity to participate in a chain of six day teacher training workshops organized to enable teachers to use these condensed course textbooks that are based on NCERT textbooks. I’d like to share here an experience from this workshop.

The session was on mathematics teaching and the master trainer was telling us how to teach equations. The question was to find out the value of x.

Equation written on blackboard 3x + 3 = 15 + x
A teacher who was a participant solved it as
3x + 3 = 15 + x
3x – x = 15 – 3
2x = 12
x = 6

Now, the master trainer asked, “How can this be taught to students in our classrooms?”

“By the balancing method,” a teacher answered.

“Yes, we can teach the equation using the balancing method, but these are students who have never been to school, so we have to introduce it in a simpler manner. Now, I am going to tell you another way of teaching this equation, which is more realistic and easier to remember.”

He started a story and wrote the equations accordingly.

There was a locality in which people of two different communities lived together very peacefully. This whole locality was divided into two by a canal, which passed through the middle. There was a bridge over the canal for the people to cross over from one part to the other.

3x + 3 = 15 + x (the two communities were numbers and variables, i.e., 3, 15 and x)

One day, a conflict emerged between the communities and a big communal riot followed in which both communities lost quite a few people. Both communities now chose one side of the canal as theirs and people moved to their part of the locality depending on the community they belonged to.

Those who migrated from their houses lost many things, i.e., family members, property, etc., so we can use minus signs before them (-).
3x – x = 15 – 3

In this way, people of both communities experienced great loss.
2x = 12
(Despite being from two different communities, as 2 and x were very close to each other, they continued living together for sometime.)

bridge However, with the tension between the communities rising, 2 was forced to shift to his own part of the locality. But, 2 was not really welcomed by the people of his community because he was close friends with the enemy. After a lot of talking to his community, 2 was able to convince his people to let him stay in their part of the locality. However, there was a condition, because 2 lived with the enemy for so long, he would have a position lower than the others in the community.
X = 12/2

After some time, tension between the communities cooled down, but disparities between 2 and the people of his own community grew. One day after an angry outburst, 2 killed some people of his own community and then took his own life.

X = 12/2
X = 6
Now, this is the answer for x.

All the participants liked this story. One of them said that there was a correlation between the steps of the story and the steps of the equation. Another one said, “It will be very easy for students and they can memorize it without any difficulty.”

I, on the other hand, was not so happy. The story simply did not relate to the concept of algebra. It also ended without touching the main logic behind teaching algebra. Algebra is taught to develop abstract thinking in students. And where was there abstract thinking in the story?

Also, our National Curriculum Framework (NCF) says many things on the issue of peace and communal harmony. There is a separate position paper on peace and communal harmony. A few years ago, I had participated in another workshop called, ‘Teacher: an Agent for Communal Harmony’. In that workshop we discussed the teacher’s role regarding this important responsibility.

To promote communal harmony, we are also trying to redesign our curriculum and reading material. But my experience at this workshop shows that work should be done for changing or developing the perspective of our teachers also, otherwise they will not understand the importance of this issue.

NCF says that classroom teaching should be related to the experiences of the child. At the workshop, one teacher said, “This story is real and children can associate with it very easily.”

In my opinion, we should be very careful in selecting real or realistic examples. In our country, communal issues are very sensitive and these type of stories can pollute children’s minds. As teachers and educationists we should work together for national integrity and communal harmony. It’s very important for the growth of our nation.

The author has worked with several organizations in the field of education and is currently working in Rajasthan. He can be reached at umar.jckm@gmail.com.

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