There is a distinct difference between teaching subjects and educating children. What is it that differentiates one from another?
As an educator, I get constant opportunities to work and talk with different stakeholders that are involved in the education system- management, teachers, parents, and students. Ironically, the common element that binds them together is their dissatisfaction with one another. Parents blame management, management blames teachers, teachers blame students and parents and the sickness goes on. The negative emotions like dissatisfaction, hatred, sadness, and remorse afflict the entire system. These issues might on the surface look small but are the reasons behind heinous acts like principal being shot dead, students committing suicide or teachers harassing students.
I choose not to dwell upon these crimes because that’s depressing; however, these issues corroborate the fact that all is not well with the current education system and there is an immediate need to call for action. It’s high time to revise the education system from arid academics to real learning with positive values and life skills.
There are many changes that can be initiated in this direction. Here are some to begin with:
Social-emotional learning (SEL): As Aristotle puts it, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” It’s very important for us to understand that the learning process is not only cognitive but also social-emotional. Creating safe and caring classrooms and designing engaging lessons, both of which promote positive emotions in students, should be the prime agenda of both teachers and parents. With some preparation, social-emotional learning can be directly integrated with the existing content. Example:
Kind rooms instead of classroom: Recently, I was called for charting out a reading program at school but the school staff complained that whenever students gather in the room, they hit each other, pushed and shoved their way through and treated the books badly. We replaced the board of that class from ‘Reading room’ to ‘Kind room’ and oriented the students that “this is kind room and here we must be kind to each other as well as the books”; also, we initiated few agreements with students on how to behave in the kind room. Agreements, not rules!
Astonishingly, this simple trick worked and the room became a special place for children. To develop a culture of kindness and empathy, why not begin calling our classrooms too as kind rooms? Kindness is contagious and once initiated it becomes a common norm.
Mindfulness: In modern times, wherever you see, students are always on the go- doing one thing after the other. The whole cycle is all about doing- go to school, go to college, get a job and you will be happy. Students seem to be on an endless pursuit of something. There is a reason why we are called as human beings, not human doings. In the tightly packed day at school, there should be a few moments when children simply sit back, breath and enjoy the state of being. Students must be facilitated to start and end the day with two minutes of mindfulness practice. This will help them approach life with a sense of calm and focus rather than distracted “busyness”.
Ultimately, we must answer the question “What are we educating our kids for?” Clearly not for academic excellence at the cost of inability to connect with each other, to be empathetic, to understand their own needs and the needs of others!
Swami Vivekananda committed his life to education that focused on ‘man making’ and ‘character building’. Let’s take a similar pledge and strive to shape “education by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased, the intellect is expanded and by which one can stand on one’s own feet.”