Note on supplementary education

Evaluating if there is any good in the Olympiads, ‘Smart classes’, ‘IIT coaching in schools’, ‘NASA trips’

A recurring theme in the book is the medium to long term ill-effects of supplementary inputs (such as tuition) on children’s academic performance and overall development; too many masters are never a good idea. It must also be emphasised that schools are professionally best organised and resourced to offer ‘educationally appropriate’ inputs.

More specifically, we are opposed to the idea of supplementary educational inputs to children who are not organically linked to the educational routine at school. Children cannot really handle too much diversity in the language and content on a given topic or chapter. We have earnest reservations about all the educational interventions mentioned in the question; none of the interventions are organically linked to schools’ teaching processes.

To clarify, a supplementary educational input is organically linked to a school’s processes when a significant amount of pre and post-input activities are carried out by the schools’ teachers as part of their routine syllabus transactions.

Let us discuss each of the interventions in the question (and more):

  1. Olympiads – there are several Olympiads on several subjects, many starting from Class III. On the very face of it, Olympiads have stretched things a bit too far by getting down to Class III; we consider students up to Class V to be assisted learners. Many of the Olympiads promote ‘reference books/materials’ and mock tests too – much like the summative exams in schools – an unacceptable practice for Olympiad exams.
    There is no pre or post-Olympiad follow up with children and schools are not involved beyond the administrative tasks of holding the exams. The ranks accorded to children in the Olympiad results are not really meaningful for most e.g. how does it help a child to know that her rank in the maths assessment is 123rd at the school level, 2038th at the district level, 27,436th at the state level and 1,29,678th at the national level? No way at all.
    What is really needed is diagnostic assessment to support gap-correction for every child and help improve long term performance in a subject.
  2. ‘Smart classrooms’ – It may be interesting to know that ‘smart classrooms’ as we see in the classrooms in India are essentially an Indian invention; no educationally progressive country in the world offers ‘syllabus mapped’ bank of animations to be used by teachers in classrooms as we do. On the other hand, smart classrooms across the world have meant creation of digital projection facilities in classrooms primarily for students to display their work – homework, projects, presentations, multi-media work, and interesting videos from the Internet. Even teachers use it to display their own teaching material or something specific from the Internet as per the content and direction of discussion in their teaching.
    Globally, smart classrooms have enabled and encouraged students and teachers to search, create, and share the most appropriate digital learning content. In India, smart classrooms have constrained content transactions by limiting it to viewing the ‘digital animations’ much the way syllabus/textbook transactions have constrained free flow of thinking and debate in classrooms.
    In India, smart classrooms have ended up on the wrong side of ‘educational appropriateness’ and have been cutting out the time essential for interactive conversations in classrooms and also limiting the use of ever growing content richness on the Internet.
    Most ironically, smart classrooms in India were touted as a ‘teacher-centric educational tool’ but have ended up silencing our teachers! We have emphatically presented elsewhere in the book the move away from teacher-centric education towards student-centric education as the essence of educational transformation.
  3. ‘IIT-coaching’ in schools, but not by school teachers – simply put, it has all the ills of the supplementing nature of coaching found outside schools. It also has several additional ill-effects, such as, hurting the personal and professional esteem of schools’ teachers, not supporting schools’ capacity to coach independently in due course of time, the expected dilution in the quality of coaching faculties compared to the main coaching centres outside the schools, and the higher chances of indiscipline among students.
    The right approach for schools is to support their own teachers to start coaching and use outside coaching faculty resources to train teachers. Initially, coaching by school teachers will have its own set of issues but by the third academic cycle it will settle down. Among the key fears of schools towards this approach are – students not opting for coaching by school teachers in the initial years, trained teachers leaving the school for better financial prospects and the development of course material for coaching. It does not need elaboration to realise that the three issues are not too difficult to address; as of date there is ‘abundance of content’ for competitive exams coaching to act as the initial base.
    The benefits of the internal resource approach run very deep and would help transform schools for good.
  4. ‘NASA trips’ – a true example of a product of a brilliant marketing mind, it is the most perfunctory of educational products. It has no merit except for parents who have high disposable money but no time for even holidays with their children.
  5. ‘Indian tours’ – Always a good idea but in ‘backpack’ mode and under the guidance of professional historians and naturalists. All the related teachers in a school must also join the tours and the objects of the tours must be thoroughly researched before the tour and extensively debated in the classrooms before and after the tour. And the last but not the least condition – all students in a section must join the tour, a demanding condition but no child should be left behind in any educational activity (the ‘backpack’ condition will also help lower the cost to ensure inclusion of all students).
  6. English language labs – a symbol of intellectual bankruptcy, it must be shut down in all ‘English medium schools’. Language labs are standard educational facilities across the world but they are used to train students for communicative level in a language; labs are useless for training students for academic level in a language.
    In English medium schools, English must be taught and learnt at the academic level.
  7. Robotic labs – in the past few years, robotic labs have penetrated schools much the way smart classrooms stormed into schools some years ago. Unfortunately, this one is also an oversold supplementary educational option because it is not tightly connected with the regular syllabus transactions of physics and maths in schools. In the light of the declining achievement and passion of the majority of students in maths and science, it is inexplicable as to how robotics will trigger academic rigour in schools. It has merit only when it completely integrates with physics and maths (and I.T.) syllabi transactions.
  8. Aptitude assessments – a legacy of the hey days of engineering, medicine, government services and business as the coveted career options, such assessments are quite out of place now. Career options have simply ballooned into a few hundreds and people are already shifting career tracks a few times in their work life; no assessment system can zero down a few options out of hundreds and also throw light on possible shifts in the course of work life. Try aptitude assessments, if you must, but do not read much in them.
  9. Career counsellors – in an intensely and uniquely global marketplace of jobs and careers, the life cycle of careers are fast shrinking. Traditional career counsellors’ cannot handhold anymore. The various applications on the Internet, such as blogs, you tube and many others, offer the most livewire and valuable career counselling opportunities. Children must learn the ropes of self-counselling and ‘following’ mentors.
  10. ‘Hobby classes’ – good, if they come almost free of cost and within the free time spaces of the school. Not a good idea if they extend the school by a couple of hours.

We would wish to reiterate that we are losing out on the foundations of education – the 3 Rs – Read, wRite and aRithmetic – at the basic and the advanced levels. At the advanced levels, reading and writing are about exploring and discussing significantly higher range of genre of reading and writing. None of the aforementioned interventions duly support the advancement of the 3Rs.

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