Is it Discipline vs. creativity and skills?

23 Aug

There is always more than one way to do a thing right. Why should schools then subject students to a set pattern, as if that alone is correct?

Do you know the only time kids at school get to exercise their creativity?” I asked my friend, a senior educator, over a glass of nimbu pani. “When they break the rules”, I answered, waiting for his reaction. A startled silence, as he recognised the truth at the core of this flippant remark — he had to agree.

It is quite possible that the way we teach our young ones at primary school stunts their future ability to learn. If all learning is about one right way of doing things, then there is no room to explore the various other ways. Of course, the other ways may not be the most efficient, may not even lead to the stated goal, and may cause spills along the way — but valuable lessons would have been learnt — not taught. In the quest for efficient completion of the ‘course’, we lose out on learning. We forget the little lessons of experimentation, the lessons on taking chances, lessons on probable success, lessons on picking oneself up again after certain and public failure. What is worse is that the world of possibilities is closed up just as we begin our thinking lives.

Think of the teacher in the classroom, brightly painted if the owners of the school can afford it. Little children sitting in rows or groups, all in uniform. Each child must go on to the next class with some basics in place. Each child must know some numbers, some words, sentences, stories and rhymes. Most importantly, each child must know how to conform — both to the text and to the behavioural norms of the class. In the staff room the teacher is a ‘good’ teacher if the class is managed well, is quiet and disciplined. That is what the teacher works towards.

Discipline here is what the teacher doles out — via sweets or scolding. It is not what the children learn as a boundary condition for their creative venturing. Not unless you are lucky enough to be in a school that understands this need to venture. There is a right way, which is smart and as long as you do it faster than others, you are a bright student. No matter if there were three other ways of doing it — the journey is not important, nor is the process of discovery. The children who seek to discover are just wasting time, their ability to create order out of chaos is not valued here. They can create, innovate — but they are the trouble makers. Forget encouragement, a teacher is more likely to undermine their achievement, steadily over the years beating the ability to create solutions out of the poor child. Unless of course, the child is ‘naughty’. Naughty children find their own solutions — new ways to bring mobile phones into school, new routes to jump the school fence, new ways to have fun. Since their creativity is stifled in studying (or even sports) and they must follow the prescribed technique, they find avenues to express themselves by ‘violating discipline’.

When we went to school, children were classified informally as those from business families and others from service families. Those from business families often seemed to have a more casual approach to their academic lives, not caring much about the last percentile point that we seemed to care so much about. They did different things after school too — went to their father’s shops and factories. They had functions and parties to attend in the evenings. We swotted over our books, ate our quiet dal-roti and went to bed at ten. They even did not care much about attendance, landing up at school less often than we did, sometimes even coming in late. Teachers knew them as the also-rans, the ones who did not deserve their attention and teaching skills. The rich could look after themselves. What we did not realise then, and often do not plan for in our education systems, is that these children were working on more skills than we swots would ever comprehend. The vocational aspect of our lives; entrepreneurial and innovative skills; social, networking and negotiating skills; and of course the ability to deliver in the face of chaos and unreliable information. All employability skills.

Those of us who had no access to working environments were solely dependent on schools. Schools never taught us these skills that would make us employable. There were no resources to buy us the time and the access to these skills.



This was published in the Daily Pioneer on Thursday, August 23, 2012 with the headline Schools must not curb Creativity linked here


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