Education#viii Chapter 5 – Teaching Methods and Material

Rural Development Through Educational System – A Report

Chapter 5
Teaching Methods and Material

Teaching Methods and Material
Teaching Aids
Idea Prizes
Library
Piaget Theory


Teaching Methods and Material

All instructors and lecturers had been given suggestions about the teaching methods, however these were not implemented in the manner and spirit in which they were given. Briefly they were as follows. 1. The lectures should begin with explaining what is being learnt in that lesson and briefly, why it is important. 2. Important points of the lecture are to be displayed on a chart in the classroom during that lecture. 3. After covering each point, discuss any questions and doubts of students. 4. Summarising and quick revision at the end. 5. Showing and demonstrating where possible rather than only talking about it.

While I have personally illustrated the above techniques to the instructors and lecturers of the above three schools, I am not certain they were absorbed. Some of the topics needed models and none of them were creative or committed enough to put their own effort and make them. Perhaps we should make such models and give them or show them. This was not done.

Some concepts in Electricity, for example the way current flows, or the concept of phases in electricity were illustrated to the teachers/students through some sort of “games”, again I do not know of their being passed on or used for actual teaching. However the teachers understood these concepts by this method.

General points often stressed were, that if they themselves do not know the answers to any questions posed by the students, they should not regard this as a weakness and try to hide their ignorance. Every one of us has a larger share of ignorance than knowledge and what is important is that we keep learning. Humility in this regard is expected. The teachers will have less tension if the students accept that the teachers also have to study and learn but they are some steps ahead of the students.

However many teachers tend to bluff answers or otherwise try to hide their ignorance from the students.

We advised our teachers to avoid giving dictated notes, the teachers should have charts in the class giving the important points. The students should copy these and then elaborate them into their own notes. This principle also remained only in theory; the teachers and the students both liked to have notes dictated and written down. I suspect this satisfied the ego of the teachers and increases their self esteem and the students got a sense of security which suited their system of learning by mugging. We had little success in this. I believe this will be possible by revising the text and practical handbooks so that class notes become superfluous and giving instead a series of exercises and questions, which will make no demands on the creativity of the teacher but give him a chance to use them in the class room for revision and tests.

A question bank was produced by Sudam Pawar, who was the lecturer in the Ashram for fairly long time. But this was not followed up. Also, many of the lecturers have the tendency to ask questions that test the memory rather than understanding. For example the book does mention the duration a mother carries a baby in her womb for different animal species; but this is to give them an idea of the range from the rat to the elephant; not that they should remember and reproduce the number of months the tigress needs to give birth to a young one.

The idea of a question bank is a good one, both for the teacher and the student and should be followed up.

The problem of dictation is even more serious in the practicals, the practicals were often more pen-pushing than doing by hand. The instructors, I suspect satisfy their ego when they dictate notes to students on the subject of the practical. Actually they went to the trouble of going through books to get material for making these notes. My strict instructions were to do the practical first and then ask students to write their own notes. The students do not have the ability generally to write their own notes. If the notes are not given, their notebooks are blank and they will not retain anything for the exam. This was their argument and it has some truth. My suggestion was that they must have charts that give the points step by step but in brief words or phrases. The students should be reminded by these words or phrases of what they did and should be able to elaborate these phrases into their own sentences. However the instructors never did this. They would often dictate notes and then show the tools or other equipment to be handled in the practicals. After many rebukes this was reversed and they would show the articles first and then ask them to draw their pictures or give notes.

The solution again I think is to produce the practical hand book with printed points and phrases for oral instruction, followed by the practicals and then space for students own notes. But such a practical hand book has not been made yet.

Teaching Aids

The teaching aids considered were charts, models, games, and audio and video tapes.

Charts have already been discussed under the teaching methods.

Models were made for electric motor commentator and field coils etc. But they were not used often. Models of articles for engineering drawing were however frequently used. A box with mirrors to show the plan, and side views by having mirrors to show these views was used in drawing classes.

Models were used for a few other things for example brick laying systems or bonds. But I do not know of any instance of lecturers making effort to make models as teaching aids.

The few models described above were only tried at Vigyan Ashram; I do not know about any model being ever used in the three schools.

I had myself invented some “games” to illustrate electrical concepts. For example I have used three students running around in a circle with equal gaps between them to simulate generation of three phase electricity. I had used students moving from one bench to the next to illustrate how electrons move in one direction and the positive charge “holes” move in the opposite direction.

Similarly, I found the boys were not able to trace a circuit in their minds. So for the common circuits to be studied in the practicals, I had some cement and brick circuits made in the open and the students could walk along the path of the electrons to trace the circuits.

While these seemed useful when actually doing them, none of them were

attractive enough for the instructors to use regularly.

Audio tapes for the theory lessons and video lessons for practicals were also tried but never took roots. We had a limited number of video lessons prepared for us by the DECU unit of SAC, Ahmedabad. Our own productions never went to editing. While the technical content was reasonable, lack of editing made them unusable.

The audio tapes were used at Vigyan Ahsram quite often, but not much in the RDES schools. But the causes for this were never investigated.

The idea of making the audio tapes of the lectures was to help the lecturers. The lecturers were from different disciplines and majority of the topics were new to them. If they have to understand them and also memorise the sequence, it would increase the load on their memory. It should then be adequate if they understand all the points and do not have to either remember them or read in the class from the books.

An added advantage would be that while the tape is playing the lecture, the teacher could observe the students. The practice was that charts on the board would list the points to be covered. The tape would then be played point by point. After each point was covered, by the tape, the lecturer would ask if every one had followed. If not, he would repeat the that portion of the tape. The whole lesson was thus covered in about twenty minutes, even after repeating each portion twice. The remaining 40 minutes would then be given for class discussions and elucidation. This was followed for the first few years at Vigyan Ashram. Usually, the person taking the class was also the one whose voice was on the tape.

A proper evaluation of the use of the tapes was never done. The tapes were also defective; I had suggested that the tape should refer to the tables and drawings as if they were on the board and the recorded lecture should explain the figures and tables as in a real class. In practice, none of the lecturers did this. Nor did any of the lecturers use charts, tables and figures in the class regularly, as they were supposed to.

 

I do feel however, that the audio and video have a much greater role to play in rural technology instruction.

Idea Prizes

To encourage problem solving and particularly encourage “invention”, we started giving “idea prizes” for good ideas that were put to use in practice, written down and submitted in writing. Till the end of 1992, about 14 such prizes were given varying from Rs 5 to Rs 1000 and also double increments given as an idea prize.

The Sunday stories of science and Invention were also intended to encourage invention, and the idea prizes were often given away or announced at the Sunday morning meetings.Often people had to be urged to put in their thoughts as ideas for they didn’t realise its potential.

It is difficult to estimate the impact of these. However, we did not give much attention to the same incentive for the other schools. The idea prizes of Vigyan Ashram were open to the three schools also, but oral encouragement was not given.

 

Any new vocational program should have prizes for good ideas, put into operation and recorded.

Library

The syllabus has given the reference material for the rural technology course. Vigyan Ashram has a fairly good library for all the themes in the subjects, if not in Marathi, at least in English.

It was intended that when this course is started in the three schools, the schools would acquire the relevant books in their own library.

As part of the infrastructure, the schools had agreed to bear the cost of the same. In the duration of the project, the question of reference books did come up a couple of times and it was agreed that the concerned staff will give a list of the books they want to their headmasters and the books will be purchased by the school. However, the matter has not arisen again.

The reference habit has not really developed among our students and staff. As it is, the Marathi books are not used frequently, yet they often get stolen, torn and generally abused. English books are not used at all. Because of the abuse of books, the library has to be in a closed system and access has to be only through a library staff member. This also discourages library use, particularly browsing. The solution to this is to have library periods, as in some schools. Unfortunately we have not tried this because of our other preoccupations. Developing the skill for getting information from books of reference and using it in practice is an important skill and we have done very little to inculcate it in our course. This needs to be corrected in the future.

Apart from the normal reference books, Vigyan Ashram has a Microfiche library. It has nearly 1000 volumes in microfiche form and therefore takes up a very compact space, about the size of a small school bag. We also have a microfiche reader; and these are open to every one. But except when specifically asked to, even the staff of the Ashram does not normally use it.

In the present program of the Ashram, we have a new project, “Design Library”, which has as its objective, to prepare reference books/ booklets on how to make specific articles in the school workshop. The instructions are detailed step by step procedures, with easy to understand illustrations along with detailed engineering drawings and dimensions; it will also have the background history, why and where the article will be useful, its costing, including where to by what, and possible improvements the school could try. Of course the book is not addressed only to the school but any one else wanting to make and use such an article. The series include such common items as bench and pipe vices, and will also cover the Mechbull, the mini tractor built by Vigyan Ashram through ex-RT students now on our staff.

This library series is now only in English, but this could be translated later into other languages. The series is particularly meant to transfer the experience of Vigyan Ashram and other RT schools to any other school for use in the 10th standard projects or for giving community service, or for new entrepreneurs coming up from the system.

 

Thus this design library series is intended to serve the technology delivery function of the rural technology schools.

Piaget Theory

The Piaget Theory was considered as the basis of our teaching system. To start with, I believed that intelligence is basically the ability for abstract thinking. As working with real 3-D things helps us to visualise better, I had assumed that working with hands helps stimulate intelligence, i.e. abstraction.

This was my simplistic theory, as I had never specifically read about either theory of intelligence or education. The only author I had read was Edward de Bono. Particularly his “Mechanism of the Mind” impressed me.

After coming to Pabal, I came across Piaget and was soon attracted by his theory. I therefore read more about it from English language authors. I tried many of his clinical method tests. I found them matching my experience and thinking. I hence adopted the Piaget theory as my guide in the teaching and learning process.

Piaget was a Swiss biologist, who drifted into the psychology of intelligence development, particularly among children and adolescents. Even if there may be some who question some aspects of his theory, it is now widely accepted that intelligence is not inherited, but acquired from interaction with the environment.

This interaction consists in the child/human engaging in physical interaction with the outside world and from its reactions, it builds a mental model of the “reality”, in the environment; if the anticipation is correct, the mental model is reinforced; if it turns out wrong the model is suitably modified to accommodate the new experience, and the mind thus assimilates some more of the outside reality. The making of these models involves some creative ability or the ability to try out alternate arrangements of the experiences already assimilated, to explain the new experience. This creative ability is the intelligence. The more we practice using the old experience to explain the new, the more we are able to develop alternative models. Thus intelligence can be developed through practice.

These experiences and their models are real “structures” in the mind; they represent some real physical change in the brain, just as a recorded tape is different from the blank one. Thus these mental structures, which we can consider as subroutines in computer jargon, are used again to make more routines for faster thinking. Thus these mental structures will be more in numberand also of diverse nature, and therefore more useful the greater the variety of experience the child aquires. Thus our objective is so give as wide an exposure to the child as possible.

Form these experiences, it makes its models, by a process of trial and error, akin to the scientific method of observation, hypothesis and experiment. So this is the method by which every child collects new experiences and stores them in its mind. We need to help in creating the environment where it can gather these experiences, and question its own hypothesis, so that it creates more alternate hypothesis and begins to make this a habit. This should be the way of a teacher.

In practice, we try to teach a child things, for which the prerequisite structures may have not formed in his mind. No matter how simple the new idea is to us, he will find it incomprehensible like one cannot understand what sweet tastes like if one has never had the experience.

However we often pressurise the child to learn a concept for which the child is not yet ready in terms of its mental structures. This pressure from us produces tension in the child, until to get relief from the pressure, the child adopts a new strategy, it preserves the given information not by understanding, which it cannot, but stores a “snapshot” of that information, like a tape recorder, for play back when the same question is asked. The teacher then is happy, because the child has answered correctly and the child is happy because it likes to be rewarded by the satisfaction of the teacher or parent. If this goes on routinely, the child abandons the normal method of learning through experience and proper assimilation and instead adopts this rote learning method. The child then no longer creates new mental structures from his classroom experiences, through he may continue to use his natural method for his out-of-class experiences.

Thus our forced learning seems to derail the natural and scientific method of thinking in the child. If we can find out which concepts or structures the child has assimilated we could perhaps provide environment and experiences that can help to acquire the missing concepts. Every child is naturally curious when some of its basic concepts are challenged by a new experience. This is what happens in magic and also humour. We expect something to happen, and what happens is a surprise, totally unexpected. Thus all of us enjoys magic. That shows the natural method of learning is never destroyed, it is just not used. Also the real motivation for learning for a child comes only when its existing concepts are challenged by a new experience we present. This then should be our method of teaching.

For doing this we need to know which concepts he has assimilated and which he has not. The following are example of some concepts which are aquired by the child through its experiences and cannot be taught.

1. Conservation of volume, mass etc.

2. Simple logical such as if B is > C and A > B then A > C and so on. Such are the laws of simple arithmetic.

3. The concepts of permutation and combination.

4. The concept of speed, acceleration; generally the rate concept.

5. The concept of probability.

All these are learnt by the child through experience in the outside world and only after they have been acquired can we take them further. One can see how basic some of these are, for all every day activities.

It is my experience that whereas all the concepts a child is expected to acquire by the age of about 9-10, at the end of the concrete operation stage in the Piagetian terminology, are usually available for these rural drop outs. However some of the later concepts from the formal thinking stage are not available to them. The last three concepts listed above are examples. They are not formed at all or not properly assimilated.

One can see that many of these concepts are very fundamental to our life and without their internalisation we cannot hope to have real development. Teaching them in the class, no matter in how simple a language, does not help to internalise them. We need to find those practical assignments which will challenge their mental models and thus motivate them to learn on their own. This needs a patient study of these drop outs by some educationists and discovery of the present status of their learning. I have tried to interest and locate people who might be interested to work on this topic but failed.

This is also the theoretical basis of our multi skill approach for vocationalisation, it is also why we do not consider our system as one more that teaches “trades”. We cannot therefore stress new enterprise generation to the exclusion of real learning. And this should be the aim of what others call vocationalisation of education. This is what is necessary for giving the capability to act in any situation.

 

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