Sounds and Images… Thinking about Teaching

To the diversity of ELT khuraks of this month, let me add a different kind of material, a few inspiring web videos, with some reflections and questions on the issue of education in our time.

As a teacher, I believe that we must not just go to class with a lesson plan but we must have a broader understanding of the goals of education, a sense of how our education relates to the challenges of the larger society as well as our students’ futures, and the willingness to engage our students in thinking about larger issues than the textbooks provide–whenever and wherever possible or appropriate.

And as an English teacher, I believe that there is more to teaching this “global language” than language itself; for instance, we can teach English as a means for intercultural communication and understanding, as a means to access and contribute to global platforms of knowledge, and so on.

We need to think how we can adapt our teaching and make it more relevant to the changing needs and realities of our students’ and society’s present and future. If your bandwidth allows, let’s start by watching a video in which a British educational philosopher discusses the changing paradigms of education.

In the video, the scholar, Ken Robinson, says that the current education system(s) in the world–which Nepal has adopted and often lags behind in adapting to the society’s ground realities–was conceived of and developed in Europe in the age of Enlightenment, or the age when positivist science including rather simplistic developmental psychology, industrial progress, and a class division were the order of the day. For example, the very word “class” that we use for describing a group of students tells something about the structure of our education: students move, from year to year, in a linear manner, towards a “higher” grade, until they are ready, like coke bottles in a conveyor belt at a bottling company, to exit on the other side of the educational factory. We can see that this structure was modeled upon efficiency of the industry, and we should ask how it can be updated to fit the information society and the knowledge market where we should be training our students as producers of knowledge, capable of networking with intellectual and professional communities  on a global scale, and so on–and not just train them  with basic literacy and professional skills that the industrial model did. The structure matters, underlying epistemological worldviews matter.

The industrial/enlightenment model of education–which is physically structured like the conveyor belt and is philosophically based on the nineteenth-century European enlightenment values/beliefs–is highly efficient in some ways. But this model seems to also have outserved many of its original purposes. We need to think about what it still does well and what it does not. For instance, what if one student who has the potentials of Einstein in science or that of Picasso in art fails in math or English?–actually what about thousands of SLC students across the country who continue to fail in English, and therefore in “education,” as we watch or talk about “enlightenment bases” of modern education? What can we do at the level of the lesson plan, the exam we are giving tomorrow, the curriculum that we have the power to change as members of a university department’s curricular committee, or at the level of discussions among NELTA members in on and offline venues?

Again, if your connection is not bad, here is another video on the theme that shows how even in the “advanced” societies the persistence of the conventional model of education has clashed with the reality of who the students sitting in the classroom are, what their life is like, and what their and the society’s changing realities and needs may be–and I am not thinking about changing education by adding technology or anything here, but instead rethinking education in terms of our local socio-cultural as well as material conditions.

Finally, here is another video–I’ll just link and not embed this one, but see the next one–in which another educational thinker, Mike Wesch talks about re-conceiving education from the perspective of what new technologies allow us to do. In our case, not many of Wesch’s ideas will apply very easily or directly; but maybe some of the developments in the fields of communication and information should make us think about how we can utilize those changes towards more locally adapted modes of teaching.

If you watched the three videos embedded or linked above, you might be thinking that we can’t do all those big things, that there’s not much benefit to just thinking and talking about those abstract things because you have to prepare students for the final exams within a system that you can’t change anything about… well, but watch the small things that these big thinkers do in their classrooms.

So, here’s Mike Wesch, the scholar with the big ideas in the video linked above, talking about some really small changes that he makes in his class, changes that we too can always make in our classrooms, not matter how well-resourced our classrooms are, no matter how capable we are making impacts/changes in the larger system of education. Certainly, this is not a community that lacks such simple ideas about improving teaching styles–I’ve learned thousands of things from the NELTA community since I joined it in the mid ’90s–but the changes in classroom teaching that Wesch is talking about here, and which I want to highlight in this entry, are changes that are connected to the larger questions of the goals of education, the need to make education relevant to students’ lives and societies, the changing paradigms of education  as they matter to our local conditions and realities.

I will be delighted to read your response about anything. Thanks for reading.

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One Response to Sounds and Images… Thinking about Teaching

  1. Shyam Sharma says:

    Reblogged this on …Language, Literacy, Life… and commented:

    I wrote this entry for NeltaChoutari blog in September 2011. Sharing here…

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