Wouldn’t it be ideal to live in a world where students didn’t have to cram for History, Physics and Math exams? Well, since that’s not going to happen anytime soon, what if schools in India adopted project-based learning to make education more fun, like Finland? Contrary to the rumors being spread on the Internet, schools in Finland are not doing away with usual school subjects, but are adopting ‘problem-based or ‘project-based learning.
“Finnish schools will continue to teach all subjects, and will continue to do so in the future. But students will spend more time studying interdisciplinary issues and questions. Hopefully, students will have more say about what they are going to study and how,” says Finnish author, educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg.
Should India adopt such a reform, would it work or not? And what would it take to make it work? Most principals think that this would require a ‘systematic change’. Shim Mathew, Director Principal, Vibgyor High School, in Mumbai—which already has an integrated curriculum—believes that it would have to start at pre-school level. “It’s a process that would have to evolve; society and teachers have to get used to the idea, but if everyone is at it, it would be a change for the better,” he says.
Of course, Finland and India cannot be compared. “Our problems are different,” says Subhabrata Chowdhury, a Geography teacher from Kolkata. “We have not yet been able to make the entire population literate. Moreover, in this system, schools have to be given a lot of autonomy in terms of framing curriculum and selecting methodologies. It can work in certain private and autonomous institutions, but not in the state-run ones. At least not unless proper groundwork is done,” he says. “We have to be prepared before introducing any revolutionary changes in the system. We have to make sure if we are well equipped with teachers and facilities required for these changes. Otherwise things don’t work and ideas fail,” says BK Sharma, Principal of a government school, Delhi.
While several students would gladly give up mugging up conventional subjects for more project-based learning of topics of their choice, 18-year-old Shiv Puri from Modern School in New Delhi is not sure if it would work in the whole country. “It may work in the good schools in urban areas, but what about the rural areas? Many teachers can’t teach from a book, how would project-based teaching then work?” he asks. “It’s an excellent idea,” adds 15-year-old Shashank Nerurkar from Gujarat, but “teachers will have to pre-plan.”
An interesting concept if it is implemented effectively and systematically in a planned manner, project-based learning could have immense benefits for students and teachers. “The human brain is designed to make connections and ‘Finland’s project-based learning’ integrates all topics to make them meaningful for the child to learn,” says Kavita Vaidya, Principal of Somaiya School. “Teaching through various integrated themes helps the child’s brain to create synaptic connections, which transmits learning to the long term memory,” adds Lina Ashar, Founder of Kangaroo Kids and Billabong High International School.
Students would also have greater opportunities. “To explore options, be closer to real-world challenges, prepare for college and careers and avoid professional burnouts. Not only that, it helps one to know their inclinations and intentions, and what interests them most,” says Kusum Kanwar, Principal of Billabong High International School. In addition, it will get their creative juices flowing. “They will become more curious if they are interested in something and will focus on what interests them,” adds Mathew.
“They will learn to think and correlate independently, and will develop cross-disciplinary interests. Spoon feeding will stop. There will be better skill and value development,” says Chowdury.
But for it to be effective, teaching methods and assessment would also have to improve. “In the current education system, we don’t test our students on concepts, or on application, but on content, memory and recall value,” says Mathew, adding, “a student will never forget what he sees, touches and hears. Audio-visual learning, will, of course, make the learning process better. There’s a lot more responsibility that teachers will have to assume; they will have to be better prepared, do more research and learn in the process,” says Mathew. “The teacher will need to constantly think, modify and reinvent himself, as well as interact with people of other disciplines,” adds Chowdury.
Students suggest having group discussions, which need not always take place in class. “Let us come up with weird opinions and theories because that’s how we will develop as individuals,” suggests Puri. Teachers on the other hand propose debates and discussions, research papers, journals, interviews, creative writing and awareness campaigns. “Do-it-yourself projects and technology—Skype, webinar, blogs... would also help,” Lina Ashar.
(Inputs from Fareeha Iftikhar)