Towards a meaningful learning in schools…


Arpita Acharya
Vice Principal, Blue Bells Public School, Gurugram

An integrated approach which is systematic, sustained and has concerted action is required to significantly enhance the creative and innovative capacities of young students in ways that are relevant to the outside world. Generally it is perceived, learning that takes place in dedicated educational institutions such as schools is seen as formal, that which occurs beyond the school walls as ‘informal’. Thus, the challenge being faced and accepted by the schools today is to integrate both formal and informal learning in a way that it benefits the students in the long run.

Learning: a lifelong process

Learning is a lifelong process by which every individual acquires and accumulates knowledge, skills, attitudes and insights from daily experiences and exposure to the environment – at home, at school, at play: from the example and attitude of families and friends; reading newspapers and books; or by listening to the radio or viewing films or television. Generally informal education is unorganized, unsystematic and even unintentional at times, yet accounts for the great bulk of any person’s total lifetime learning. To empower the child completely, the education system must take it upon itself to bring together the two. The need for the integration of formal and informal arises because the skills required in the outside environment are more than the basic skills that were traditionally taught in schools, such as reading, writing, and mathematics. The new skills which the schools need to develop include coping with incompletely specified problems, communicating in heterogeneous teams, developing shared understanding, evolving knowledge artefacts, working at a distance, and making use of Internet-based and specialized collaboration technologies [National-Research-Council, 1999].

Informal instruments of learning in schools…

In general, informal education in schools tends to be underplayed. Given the supremacy of the examination system and, more recently, the rise of the National Curriculum, informal education is found in pockets of activity rather than in explicit policy. However, the term is used to describe different aspects of secondary schooling.

Students make use of ICT which not only helps in better understanding of the concepts but also without the fear of being assessed on every presentation/ video/ activity they are involved in. Teachers use these sessions as opportunities to share personal interests using informal methods. Examples might include making a video, improving or learning a new sport, community involvement, peer learning.

School’s Student Council offers students in the school, opportunities to organize social events or debate issues concerning the environment, bullying etc. and in some cases they can gain access to agreed areas of decision making on the way in which the school is run.

Much of the curriculum innovation through integrated Life Skills incorporates informal education aims and methods of developing the personal and social competence required for adult life.

Home Science is a component within several areas of the formal curriculum. Within this setting, informal education is extensively used and this learning helps them retain it and use it for life.

Informal education complements the work of the teachers by offering opportunities for getting to know students better and for working with students of different ages across curriculum boundaries. Teachers view informal education as a way of gaining greater fulfilment in their jobs, as a chance to share their interests with students and to engage in joint activity with colleagues.

Students are attracted to informal education because it provides them with an opportunity to feel recognized for their own worth in settings in which students can influence and control the pace, as well as the content, of their learning. Many feel that they can contribute in these settings in their own way: that they are valued for what they have to contribute and feel a greater ownership of the learning experience. Informal education can offer students a chance to try out new things, to take risks and extend their experience beyond the immediate environment of the school. It can act as a catalyst where it is a departure from more routine experiences.

Role of rote learning…

Rote learning is a memorization technique whereby the material is learned by repetition. The extent to which you can recall the materials is dependent on how often you repeated it. The problem with this is application. Because one parrot-learns, one might find it difficult to apply what they have learned.

The concept of ‘Rote Learning’ can’t be discarded completely. Up to some extent, it has its own advantages e.g. it helps students learn Tables, chemical and mathematical formulae, grammar rules etc. Look every time you can’t derive s = ut + ½at 2. But we have to move on as in the senior classes, the approach has to differ. Importance should be given to the creativity and innovation. Otherwise we will be having the armies of so-called achievers who will be intellectually bankrupt. The schools need to give exposure to those students who display creativity and innovation in any field and other students should be encouraged not to follow them blindly but get inspiration from them.

Towards meaningful learning…

Meaningful learning is the learning that has taken place when one has engaged with the materials and learned how to apply it. The material is learned due to interest in it (therefore one puts more effort into it). This form of learning is an understanding of the material and memory of the material lasts longer than Rote learning. Now, at the beginning of the 21st century, almost all information can be gleaned from the Internet, so long as you ask the right questions on Google. So is there any point in having students memorize facts? Instead, students could spend their time learning to ask the right questions, which requires critical thinking skills. Today’s kindergarten students will graduate from college in 2029. We do not know the knowledge and skills that students will need to possess in order to succeed in this future world. Therefore, teachers cannot successfully impart 2029 knowledge and skills to students in today’s classrooms. Instead, the best that we can do is help students adapt to different kinds of environments and adaptation requires critical thinking skills.

Integrating informal learning experiences…

Informal learning experiences can be integrated with curricular architecture and there is definitely a scope for providing qualitative education with exact planning and execution. Our school follows an integrated inquiry-based approach wherein learning by doing is pivotal. These include:

  • Assimilation of conceptual knowledge and the application of the acquired knowledge.
  • Theme-based trans-disciplinary approach.
  • Excellence in scholastic, co-scholastic and life skills education is central to our pedagogy.
  • Circle-Time is a specially designed time-slot at the disposal of the students when they avail the opportunity to express their thoughts without any inhibitions and give flight to their imagination.
  • D.E.A.R. Programme (Drop Everything And Read) is initiated to encourage the reading habit among our students.
  • THOTS PROGRAMME provides the students with a structured approach for the development of cognitive, critical and creative thinking skills. THOTS stands for the much needed ‘The Higher Order Thinking Skills’ for today’s generation.
  • SCHOOL ENTERPRISE CHALLENGE– a project taken up by the Commerce Stream students of Class XI. This programme guided and supported the teachers and students to plan and set up real school businesses. The students developed essential skills in business and entrepreneurship in a practical, fun and innovative way.
  • SAFETY DRILLS to apprise about Disaster Management and develop their skills to combat any catastrophe.
  • MUN (Model United Nations) is organized to create awareness about the problems being faced in the world and how amicable solutions can be crafted. This event helps in honing their communication skills along with critical and creative thinking.
  • SERVICE BEFORE SELF – Working with organizations like Helpage India and Indian Cancer Society to sensitize students about various social issues and how they can play a pivotal role in bringing in a positive change in the society.
  • MODULES on Safe Diwali, Dengue Awareness, Health & Hygiene and Substance Abuse so that students are provided righteous knowledge which further develops their thinking abilities.
    • MORNING GAMES are organized to provide for specialized coaching to the sports enthusiasts by NIS trained coaches.
    • TRIPS & EDUCATIONAL EXCURSIONS are an integral part of regular curriculum for experiential and research based learning. Such excursions are organized on a regular basis to provide hands on learning and practical knowledge which gets enhanced through group work activities.

The facilities are offered to all the students of the school for their holistic personality development without incurring any extra cost.

Nurturing powerful ‘self-learners’

We, at Blue Bells, strongly feel that our students must grow up with the capacity to contribute to the social and economic growth of our country. As is rightly said, “Education is what remains with you when you have forgotten all that was learnt at school.” Thus, project based learning is an integral part of our curriculum inculcating in the students the inquisitiveness for research. Students learn through hands-on activities thereby strengthening their critical and creative thinking skills. The focus of the institution is on value-based learning along with building the capacity in the children to use high-end technology. The school has in place an International policy under which the students have exchange programmes with schools in different parts of the world. This helps them to understand the culture of the regions and absorb their unique learning strategies. The students are involved in the entire learning process and research and they are motivated to be self-learners where their facilitators provide them support to explore the content further. The excellent result of the school in the Board Examinations year after year reiterates our faith in our pedagogy as we believe in evolving an educational system which caters to the innovative and creative minds of the Gen-X.

Towards a positive and personalized interactive social learning culture

Modern day education is aided with a variety of technology, computers, projectors, internet, and more. Internet provides abysmal knowledge. One can learn everything one wishes to and can use the search engines to generate information with a touch of a button. Every topic has been developed into a subject. Skill-development and vocational education has added a new feather and there is something to learn for everyone. Presentations, Data Management, research work and so on have become easy and the resources can be generated for anything and everything. Too much use of technology is hampering the thinking process of Gen Now as everything is easily available to them, thus, entire learning has become a process of spoon feeding which in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon. We are being fed with facts and knowledge where there is no time left for self-analysis and self study. We have all become tech slaves than being tech-savvy and this is an addiction which will have a long term influence on the learning processes. We need to learn the judicious use of technology to enhance our learning capabilities and knowledge base.

The need of the hour is to have a knowledge based society with a perfect blend of technology where learning becomes an integral part of progressive development. Each and every member has to constructively contribute in developing skills and resources where everyone feels the ecstasy and joy of maturing and growing in totality.

Arpita Acharya is Vice Principal at Blue Bells Public School, Sector 10, Gurugram. She has contributed over 23 dedicated years to the teaching fraternity. She was also honoured with THE BEST MATHS TEACHER AWARD in the year 2006 for her incomparable contribution to the field of education. She has also been the proud recipient of AWARD OF EXCELLENCE for the two consecutive years in recognition of her outstanding contribution in the field of education at the Shishak Samman 2013 and 2014.

She was the ISA Coordinator and under her leadership the school got the prestigious British Council International Award (ISA) 2017-2020. As an ISA Coordinator, she participated in Video-Contest organized by British Council and her presentation showcasing systematic learning progression in students was adjudged as one among the best three videos of the competition. She also facilitated setting up of ATL, First Fully Functional Atal Tinkering Lab in Gurugram, under the aegis of NITI Aayog.