Monday, May 12, 2008

On bags and baggages

It is generally an undisputed fact that textbooks are indispensable to education, that one can’t learn successfully without them. For example, all through school, for every class I attended, there had to be a textbook opened at my desk. (Some classes could take place, without them—singing and painting—and those subjects felt different, somehow.) To learn, you had to use a textbook, that was the simple rule. In fact, I was once punished for forgetting a textbook at home. And that of course made sense: we could not study, or pass an exam without the textbook—an entire year’s worth of knowledge was in there!

While the importance of textbooks can hardly be disputed, some problems do come up as a result of this dependence. One problem is that both teachers and students in India often tend to believe that textbooks are “enough” and learning from other sources is unnecessary. The second problem is that the combined weight of all the books makes the schoolbag so heavy that forcing little children to carry such bags becomes a form of child abuse and child labor, and certainly an unpleasant way of implementing a human right.

But here is something interesting: the education department in Chandigarh, India set out to solve the “heavy schoolbags” problem, and in the process may also have addressed the first problem!

The department is doing away with bags/textbooks till the 2nd grade after the summer holidays, and plans to keep the higher classes also free of textbooks soon. It seems the education department has already initiated a training program where 50 teachers have been trained on how to teach without textbooks. For all I know, this may lead to a new kind of teaching and learning methodology, where teachers would start experimenting and challenge the creative streak in them.

The move to work without textbooks might just introduce a level of experimentation in teaching and learning, and hopefully make education less of a burden than it tends to be.

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