Principal Speaks...

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Dr.Maria Montessori believes that Education cannot be effective until it helps children open up themselves to life. I too completely agree with this belief that ‘Education’ differs from ‘Literacy’ in its capacity to build ‘life skills’ in students. ‘Literacy’ can take one to different places and help secure their future, but ‘education’ helps one stay rooted in whatever one does, wherever one goes. If that education is rounded and all encompassing, it can bring wondrous results to everything one does- this is the power of ‘holistic’ education. The term holistic is derived from ‘holos’ meaning ‘Whole’. It does not need an amplification, for it clearly indicates ‘Wholesome’ education, one that targets every aspect of a child development. It is defined as an approach focused on cultivating students’ physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and ethical skills along with academic capacity thereby empowering them to take control of every aspect of life. The approach is relatively new and has taken centre-stage in education since the 1980s. In India, ‘Holistic’ learning has become popular in the 2000s especially with growing popularity of new-age teaching and learning tools. The changing Indian scenario with drift in the traditional mindset of parents is a key contributor to the growth of holistic learning. Today’s parents are quite aware that the world is no more contained by professional degrees like medicine and engineering alone. They can appreciate the need for multiple skill sets for better employability and more importantly, a fulfilling life.

Social and emotional skills help students build self-awareness and inter-personal skills that help transform them into positive individuals and problem-solvers. The global pandemic and its impact on education made schools evolve new ways to incorporate these skills in students. At Gnan Srishti School Of Excellence, the Academic programme has been planned to this effect to ensure students have an opportunity to explore holistic learning. Co-scholastics have been blended seamlessly in the scholastic content even on the virtual portal. The Critical thinking programme with numerous collaborative strategies in the virtual portal is one such class that allowed students to answer questions on day-to-day topics using analytical reasoning and lateral thinking. Touted as one of the most important 21st century skills, critical thinking allows students to engage with learning in a different dimension. We focused on topics like, Pizza, Global language, Vehicles of the future, Happiness, along with many others, each of which spanned over 4-5 sessions. The purpose of every session was to explore answers to one question related to the topic of discussion through various activities like debates, group-discussion, song-scripting, academic writing to name a few. The interactions between students facilitated by the teachers seemed to augur better group dynamics and group learning; The social constructivist model well supported even in the online learning portal. While these sessions were planned in-house across grades 5-10, we had to consider many factors like, grouping, engagement activities, topics all of it online. We successfully structured the programme to suit the online learning model, adapting the pedagogical approach to the virtual space. Students actively engaged in a group meaning making experience, unconsciously developing skills like communication, collaboration, and creativity in the course of the critical thinking process.

‘Experience precedes understanding’- Jean Piaget. What can be better explanative of the journey of learning! Every small experience adds value to the leadership role that I assume. Like I see the need to learn while growing, I wish to give my students a new learning at every step in their schooling journey, for each of these would enrich their knowledge and build additional skills and hone existent ones thereby creating beautiful personalities. A school is no more thought as a place for seeking subject knowledge. It has been identified as a place for social learning for students to build self-regulation and self-monitoring which in turn assist to increase motivation (Kanfer, 1991). The school environment should provide the ground for ample self-development for students to regulate themselves. This can be achieved only by strengthening the curriculum with multiple pedagogical approaches to both subject areas and extra-curricular areas. As an educator who has practiced the social constructivist approach extensively in the classroom, I always feel that it brings about a feeling of self-worth because of self-regulation as explained by the Social Cognitive Learning Theory (Bandura, 1991).

Change is the only constant in the future, especially in the field of education, I would believe. There is abundant content available at the click of a mouse. What students need is to identify ways of seeking the content, keeping alive the curiosity to seek this content. A teacher’s role now lies in fostering that curiosity and creating avenues to build the thirst to learn. Some of the things we believed as vital learning during our schooling times are already being replaced by effective substitutes, for instance the calculator instead of learning the multiplication tables. Are we going to educate our students with redundant tools that they may never have to use in their future, just because we have learnt it that way? That I reckon is wasting years of their important learning years, instead we can equip them with knowledge that will add value to whatever they take up in the future, say giving them a vocation to adopt. The National Education Policy 2020 talks of vocational education from Grade 6, a welcome idea to make the curriculum holistic.

UNESCO’s recently released State of the Education Report for India 2020: Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) is titled ‘Vocational Education First’ indicating what should be the focus if we were to create employable individuals in the future. India’s 64% of the population is in the working age of 15-59. Skilled manpower has been a big challenge which in turn affects the economy of the country. Holistic education starting from the school level will moot change in that direction.

Sports and other Extra-curriculars have been important but rarely been the focus of schools. Academic performance and the success criteria being measured solely by it has made even the capable students sideline sports and arts for academic excellence. Research in brain studies has proven that students who participate in extra-curriculars outshine the non-participants even in academic performance, since these activities provide a scope for ‘brain work-out’, reducing stress and anxiety. I feel the need to have as many ways as possible to engage students beyond academics, hence music, dance, yoga, swimming, skating, games have all been integrated in the school programme. Going forward, I propose to offer some of these classes after school hours for longer and meaningful engagement. Theatre is also an important aspect of the performing arts. Learning through theatre and drama are being explored extensively. The Drama-based pedagogy (Dawson and Lee, 2014) of learning is a beautiful social constructivist strategy that I have extensively used in the teaching of science. I have enough evidence of the learning style supporting ‘social’ interactions through dialogic meaning-making process. All of these tools are simple yet powerful in creating an effective learning space for our students.

The NEP 2020 rightly puts its heart where it has to be- ‘The Teachers’. The UNESCO’s report 2021 says- ‘No Teacher no class’ aptly stressing the power of the teacher which has been amplified during this pandemic. Teacher competency building alone can translate into student competence building, for the future lies in our hands- the educators and the leaders. If we decide to make changes today, the future is likely to be promising. There is the need for us to unlearn, learn and re-learn. On the contrary, if we display inertia to change or unlearn and learn, we lose the purpose to teach and hence the future is likely to be foggy for us. In the words of The Mahatma ‘Live like you are going to die tomorrow; Learn as if you were to live forever’.

- Ms. Priya Ramakrishnan