Give kids freedom to explore, experiment, engage
Students tend to become rote learners who are focused on trying to tackle unimaginative examinations. In the process, they lose the ability to acquire knowledge in joyful and creative ways.
I have, on more than one occasion, mentioned the unique experiment—extending over several years—conducted by George Land, a systems scientist and consultant to NASA. Land had devised a useful and easy-to-understand test to identify creative scientists and engineers for the space agency. He realised that the test was easy enough to gauge the creativity of children and he administered it to 1,600 preschool children. He found that 98 per cent of them were in the genius class. Over regular intervals of five years, he tested the same group of students with the same methodology for creativity. He found that each five-year period reduced the number of creative individuals significantly, so much so that by the time these children had completed their college studies, the number of truly creative adults in that group had diminished to 2 per cent. His essentially un-challenged conclusion was that the years of formal education had killed the creativity of those children.
I have often lamented at the manner in which our methods of schooling and testing in India are also not conducive to creative thinking in our students. Many of my colleagues in the realm of education and research have long felt that we do not adopt the right pedagogy and destroy the ability to think in original ways, both at the school and university levels. One of the biggest contributors to the diminishing of inventive ways of thinking is the way we conduct examinations from childhood. I have noticed that students tend to become rote learners who are focused on trying to tackle unimaginative examinations. In the process, they lose the ability to acquire knowledge in joyful and creative ways.
Can such a situation be remedied? It is my firm conviction that no matter what the age group, we can easily rectify the problem so long as we adhere to some simple pedagogical prescriptions and aphorisms. I have experimented on this over the years and have been encouraged by the results. The simple pedagogy that my colleagues and I have adopted is to excite the curiosity of students by exposing them to problems that exist around us in the world.
The pupils were organised in groups of eight or 10 and we asked those with different likings and backgrounds to work together in a collaborative fashion. As an illustration, I once put together a group of nine students drawn from schools and colleges to build water rockets. Once their imaginations were exercised, then over a period of three months they could not just understand and simulate mathematically the mechanics of the process, but were also able to go beyond the design of single-stage rockets. Some of them became adept at filmmaking and some others became rather good at design. They had begun talking of setting up a startup as well. Two of them have become successful research mathematicians.
We need to adopt a change in pedagogy that allows students a certain degree of freedom to explore, experiment and create. Let us not overburden them by trying to teach them everything. Knowledge is limitless and creating heavy syllabi with mechanical learning does not help the learning and creativity processes. Additionally, we must treat the world around us as a university. The National Education Policy says this repeatedly and I hope university and school policymakers are listening.