Are traditional learning practices hampering critical thinking in children?

Traditional education has always been about the study of information, facts and ideas rooted in the past leaving little scope to deal with the issues of the present and future.

Discovering the connection within experience between the past and the issues of the present often becomes a challenge for the teacher if she is so caught up with the idea of total reliance on books and instruction in intellectual development of the learner. What is worrisome is that she is also not willing and prepared to give her learners and herself the freedom to critically examine the established theories, principles and practices in education. This approach is problematic as a mere acquaintance with the past comes in the way of dealing effectively with the present and the future, with the learner being denied an opportunity to make sense of the world and actively create knowledge through direct experience with objects, people and ideas.

The good news is that education in its content and method is very dynamic by its inherent nature. Teaching methodologies have been evolving as the learner himself. In its extreme interpretation, a traditional system rests on a teacher centric approach, when she assumes supreme authority and offers  inputs to an otherwise ‘empty vessel’, which is the student. Student is always perceived to be a passive learner and is assessed based on the abject replication of the theories taught in class, often ignoring the correlation between knowledge and understanding. Such a system follows a straitjacket approach to produce what can be mass replicated leaving no scope for celebrating uniqueness of individual responses and the idea of co-construction of knowledge. The expeditionary model of teaching, on the other hand, keeps the learner at its core in the process of decision making from ‘what to teach’ to ‘how to teach’. As a more immersive teaching approach that keeps the age, experience and background of the learner in focus, Experiential Learning  revolves around developing problem solving skills by providing them with practical hands-on training and experience. For a sound educational experience, interaction between the learner and what is learned is of critical significance in making learning purposeful. The idea is that the knowledge gained must modulate the learner's outlook and attitude besides enhancing his skills. The learner’s ability to identify a problem, formulate appropriate questions around that, distinguish between opinion and reasoned judgment and predict probable consequences based on data are some of the skills involved in critical thinking, which is the backbone of all meaningful learning. For the student to be able to evaluate conclusions logically and systematically, it is important for them to have the freedom and facility to examine the problem, the evidence and the solution. In the absence of such an approach towards learning and teaching processes, education forever remains remote and disconnected for the learner.

Experiential learning is not new.  Aristotle spoke of it around 350 BC when he wrote – “Practical wisdom cannot be acquired by learning general rules, we must also acquire social and emotional skills that give us a general understanding of wellbeing and ways to practice it” in Nicomachean Ethics. Confucius also spoke about it around the same period. However, as an articulated educational approach, experiential learning is very recent.

First explored and studied in the context of learning and education by John Dewey, Kurt Hahn, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget, the concept of Experiential Learning was made popular by David A. Kolb. It emphasised on offering meaningful experiences to students to develop skills of critical thinking, analysis and problem solving. While group work and collaborative learning became cardinal teaching  strategies for fostering  ideas of community service and social responsibility, elements of social and emotional needs were cohesively embedded in the curriculum to create confident progressive individuals who construct their own understanding of the world around them.

The traditional schooling  simply expects learners to follow instruction to produce results as per set standards. There is a huge requirement to break free from this approach to truly develop self-aware and socially conscious individuals. In a clear deviation from the traditional ‘rote learning’ method, the experiential learning methodology renders a more holistic approach to teaching and learning, making learning deep-rooted and organic. Encompassing the theory that learners thrive on innovation, collaboration and questioning to understand a concept/ problem, it also prepares young minds to practice empathy and respect for multiple perspectives. 

It is an established fact that learners are only capable of learning if they are invested in their experience to reflect upon and gain insights from it. Albert Einstein once said, “Learning is experience, everything else is information”. When a child wanted to grow vegetables using water instead of soil, she was keen to learn through her experience, not bothered if the experiment worked or failed. She had not been formally introduced to the idea of hydroculture or technique of hydroponics. Her desire to experiment and explore reminded one of the olden times when learning was imparted in the ‘Gurukul’ under the close supervision of a Guru who would give freedom to explore and coach each ‘shishya’ in the values and life skills necessary for a meaningful living. Or in the more recent times when scholars at Santiniketan were seen to explore, learn and freely participate in activities in a supportive natural environment, ably guided by teachers.

Many schools have realized the essence of experiential learning to completely transform their classroom approach. The Heritage group of Schools has been at the forefront of blending the traditional teaching with experiential approach to provide a holistic learning environment to its learners. Dissatisfied with the way classrooms earlier engaged with children and provided limited opportunities for exploration and  practical application of learning, The Heritage School decided to change the status quo and became a pioneer of Experiential Learning in India. What followed was a collaboration with XSEED for curriculum development,  a robust teacher training programme, a drastic makeover of the campuses, and a revolutionary shift in the school culture.

The transformation that started with the Gurgaon branch of The Heritage School,  is visible in learning  outcomes of the students across all campuses. The new campus at Noida is geared towards empowering the students to connect with their learning experiences at a deeper level. Experiential learning requires smart design features in the school campus. It is a delight to see how spaces are designed to aid learning at The Heritage School, Noida. The school has garnered much attention and praise from all quarters and is being touted to be “The Best CBSE School in Noida”. The new age parents  feel confident in the school’s ability to provide the best educational environment and interventions for their children.

Education needs to be innovative and transformative to make learning exciting, enjoyable and challenging for the students, all at the same time. Towards that end, the entire school fraternity is fully equipped to deliver only what is in the best interest of the students. The Heritage School is committed to  produce world leaders who will be change makers and pace setters of tomorrow.

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