The recent furore in some of the states over ‘non-availability’ of textbooks triggered a panic attack in the teacher fraternity. If faced with a similar predicament next year, what are the possibilities that are perhaps staring at us in the face but we are oblivious to?
It is both astounding and unbelievable that a country that has prided itself in knowledge generation based almost entirely on the oral tradition should be stumped by the non-availability of textbooks! Is this how narrow our take on education has become? Textbooks, syllabus and examination-oriented education have acquired a monster-like grip on our lives; so much so, we have a tunnel vision of learning.
When there are no textbooks, teachers can exercise all their innovative talent that had hitherto been dormant on account of the great importance attributed to textbooks, the exercises, and the compulsion to complete the portions within the stipulated time.
Let’s take an example. Let’s say that you want to teach class 5 the history of Egypt. Isn’t it possible to do so without the current year’s textbook? Pick up any history textbook of last year or the year before last. Go through the details and then talk about the civilization, their art, literature, culture, and what happened to the civilization. Make colourful presentations explaining their dress and the kinds of houses they lived in. If someone in class has already been to Egypt, have them bring in the currency of Egypt. Compare it to the Indian currency or any other currency that you may have available. Talk about what the currency is called, and how powerful/weak the currency is in the international market. What are the languages that are spoken in Egypt? Ask some of the students to browse the Internet to pick up phrases for saying, ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘sorry’. Display the script for the students to understand how different it is from English. Talk about the social status of women in Egypt and how educated the people of the country are. What kind of government do they have? What is the head of the government called? When did queens and kings stop reigning over the country? Who are some of the famous kings and queens of the country? Display pictures of pyramids and the sphinx and talk about their belief systems and why they created mummies. This kind of history fascinates students. Ask each of the students to do a presentation on any aspect of the history that appeals to them. Tell them that they are allowed to draw on references and the Internet, but they must speak and not read out from their notes. Have them support their speech with PowerPoint presentations, pictures, or posters.
What does the geography teacher do in the meantime? She pulls down the world map and asks the students to point out where Egypt is, name the capital, talk about the surrounding countries and also talks about the weather conditions of the country and what is grown there. The students can be asked to look up the different airlines that take one from India to Egypt; they could also discuss the various routes that could be taken to get there. Have the students outline the travel route, and find out which airlines takes longer and why. What route does the other airline take to reach the place in a shorter duration? This is what contemporary history and geography are all about. Students need to relate history and geography to their lives because the world has become so much smaller and people are travelling all over the world. Today, it is not so much the dates that matter, but the culture of the people of a country because travelling to foreign countries has become an almost everyday affair.
If there is a parent who has travelled extensively, invite the parent to talk about the country and the kind of culture shocks or surprises that await most Indians when they visit the country.
What about the science teacher? She can talk about some of the scientific discoveries made in Egypt and compare them to some of the modern inventions. The English teacher has a lot of literature about Egypt that she can dip into. With this kind of coordination on the part of teachers, students can soak for nearly a week in the history, literature, art, and architecture of a country. This is the kind of education that will spur students on to maintain an interest in the subjects.
But does evaluation become a big question? No, it shouldn’t! Students will be able to give presentations on any aspect of a country using visual aids and with only a cursory glance at notes. They will automatically become confident and good speakers. The other students (the audience) should be allowed to ask questions based on the presentation to show that they have been listening! To round it up, the teachers can have a quiz in the form of a written test on all that they have done.
So, is life that impossible without textbooks? When you keep off textbooks, you become more creative and every class becomes a fresh challenge. As teachers, are we ready to let go of our security blanket and instead take a good look at our students and teach them what they need to know?
The author is a teacher educator and language trainer based in Chennai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.