The teaching and learning of social sciences in schools may be the weakest link in school education since the global expansion of the public school system nearly two centuries ago. More interestingly, there may have been quite a design behind keeping social science teaching a little ‘messed up’ because history, geography and civics mark the most important impressions on national identity and mores.
However, by the same token, the three subjects are very critical inputs for personal, community and national development, no less than maths and science. To top it, in a world that is fast shrinking into a village, social sciences are gravitating towards the centre stage of living and economics; a ‘cohesive global village’ calls for inventive approaches to teaching and learning of history, polity and geography.
To the point, the following changes in social science education would better serve the children and the nation:
- These subjects must be taught from ‘near to far’ to start with, because these subjects are highly contextual. History, for instance, must be kicked off in Class VI with ‘modern India’ rather than ‘ancient India’. Similarly, World-War-II could be taught before teaching World-War-I. Once ‘a sense of history’ is instilled, context could be extended far back into history (ancient) or just a little further back (medieval) as the next target to focus on.
- The ‘make or break years’ for social sciences, in terms of interest among students, are Classes VI and VII; we must be able to make social science really relevant to them in these initial two years. Even if the ill-famed dates and names are important for the board exams, there is all the freedom to teach and test very differently till Class VIII to get all students really interested in social sciences.
- In civics too, a lot could be discussed about everything in terms of what is ‘near to students’ – for instance, one may start with the use and abuse of social media and the Internet and connect it to civic issues. For example, elections are now greatly influenced by social media and messaging; in India also the Internet has been used by political parties and candidates to their advantage. Similarly, social order, community services, community opinions etc. are all easily coordinated and influenced using the Internet.
It will not be difficult to discuss the various syllabus topics and concepts of civics as an ‘extension of Internet and social media’ and get students interested and contribute, while achieving the teaching goals.
- Concepts are as important in social sciences as in math or science (though less watertight) and the former must also be taught through a series of interlinked concepts. For example, French revolution, American Revolution and the Russian Revolution are essentially concepts (in fact a set of concepts) in their own right.
- Social sciences must be based upon extensive reading, much like literature; teachers and students must read far beyond the textbooks; books, the Internet in general, blogs of people, news reports, news analysis, you-tube videos are all to be read.
- Social sciences, especially history and civics, must be taught more liberally (generating respect for individual interpretations and promoting the idea of qualitative research) – there are no ‘right answers’ or ‘the right explanations’; after all, war is first won in somebody’s head (‘World War – I’ is just one example) and how can anyone ever read the ‘full mind’ of ‘that somebody’ to tell ‘the truth’, there is always more than what meets the eye.
- Mind maps must be prepared in social sciences also to help children see the big picture and the presence of ‘fundamental realities’ in social sciences. If events, people and places are redefined as bundles of ‘conceptual, behavioural or environmental entities’,mind maps will be easier to present. Of course, it may mean over-generalisation but that certainly helps young minds.
- Social sciences can hardly be taught only in classrooms. Schools must allow more people to interact with students and periodically take them out of school. For instance, the best way to create awareness about cleanliness is to let the students adopt a community space around the school and keep it clean through the year.
- In history, the assessment system, till class VIII, must be significantly changed to encourage ‘thinking and open-ended’ answers. Civics assessments could entirely be case-based and around relevant real events and issues to develop a greater sense of community living. Geography assessments should be more about ‘concepts and their interactions’ rather than facts and figures; for instance, the linkage between rainfall and roofing in an area or the linkage between soil erosion and certain kind of diseases.
- Above all, every teacher and student of social sciences must work hard on securing better reading skills as also higher level of competence in the language used for the subject.
Of course, far more innovation is needed in social science education and the aforementioned are just pointers to the dimensions of change.