Print Edition - 2015-01-18  |  Free the Words

Students are not the problem

  • Teachers need to step out of their daily classroom routine and defy the ‘factory’ model of education
- Umes Shrestha
Students are not the problem

Jan 17, 2015-I teach teenage students in a couple of undergraduate colleges. And during breaks, my teacher colleagues and I gather in the faculty room, sip milk tea, and vent our frustrations. We complain that our students are ‘ekdam khattam’; they have terrible concentration and just don’t like to study; and that they have a little sense of discipline and manners. ‘The problem is ten times worse in the students of Plus Twos,’ we decry. ‘Class ma ta chhirnai dikka laagcha,’ one teacher confesses.

These complaint sessions with my colleagues have led me to question my own perception of this issue: are today’s teenage students the real problem? In this reflective article, I would like to argue that they are simply different and we need to rethink our outdated teaching principles. Our students are actually very active and critical thinkers, contrary to our quick assumption of how ‘bad’ they are.

Teach for the future

Things change. With time, the meaning of education has also changed. But what about teaching methods? Have they changed? When I was in school, my maths teacher would not hesitate to slap, punch, and kick students when we could not blurt out algebra formulas. Our science teacher believed in giving ‘notes’ and making us cram every definition word for word. Most teachers were mean, scary, and forceful, and they made sure that everybody answered in the same pattern during exams.

That was a long time ago and a lot of water has flown under the Bagmati Bridge since then. However, we are still teaching as if we are preachers at the centre of a grand stage. We expect students to be obedient and listen to our lectures. Some of us still believe in brandishing sticks and thrashing our students. We share with them our glorious feats, “I used to study for eight hours a day when I was your age” but completely misread their faces—they are not going to do that; they don’t want to do that.

We insist on discipline management, but the very word ‘management’ reeks of control and authority. Students don’t want to be controlled. The classrooms still resemble a horse stable with desks and chairs fixed to keep the students arranged, assembled and tamed. Schools and colleges look like factories that manufacture ‘products’ ready to join the workforce. And what about the curriculum? The pedagogy? The methodology? We tell students to think outside the box but rarely do we step outside the textbook and question patterns of examination. Our teaching is largely directed by standardised examinations and we still measure our students with the percentage they get on SLC exams.

And here’s the kicker—our students know all of this.

Smart thinkers

Our students are not ‘normal’ teenagers in the way we want them to be; they are ‘screenagers’ who grew up with television, technology, and the internet. We ridicule them by calling them the Facebook generation,

cellphone generation, Xbox generation, internet generation, Generation Y, etc. On the contrary, we are the ones who need an upgrade.

The human brain is highly malleable and adaptive. Various studies claim that because the younger generations have

been highly exposed to technology and digital media since their childhoods, their brains are wired differently. Their brains have evolved to adapt with this new environment of constant interference and information overload.

Of course, there’s a flip side to this digital evolution. Youngsters these days do want ‘instant gratification’. Maybe because of reality TV, they think success and fame can be easily achieved. There are some

who display obsessive compulsive straits and are hooked to technology and social media. Cell phones, for some of my students, are more important than books. A Facebook presence, for some, is more real than their offline lives. But that’s the environment they grew up in.

Steven Johnson, the author of Everything Bad is Good for You, argues that today’s movies, television programmes, and videogames are challenging youngsters to think like grown-ups, to analyse complex social networks. There’s too much information out there, and it can be accessed freely. As a result, Johnson suggests, our students have become sophisticated thinkers who can understand opportunities and risks on their own. And hence, teachers are not the traditional ‘pool of knowledge’ anymore. We are just facilitators. We can’t treat our students like they are blank slates lying, waiting for us to fill their minds with our ‘outdated’ knowledge and ‘bookish’ skills.

Change is a must

Our teaching is linear and one-dimensional, a very left-brain approach, whereas youngsters are more multidimensional and inclined towards the right brain. We need to realise this and help our students see the bigger picture. But sadly, our education system doesn’t have a tangible big picture.

And as teachers, we are helpless and without vision.

Therefore, in many ways, students are not the problems, we are. Let’s understand: they are different. Let’s accept: they will be disruptive. Let’s expect: they will not comply, they will not confirm. They simply have

a different style and motivation for learning. We need to stop making quick judgments. We need to stop labeling them as ‘jhur’ students.

We are still driven by the ethos of our past education and the teaching culture we valued so much. We believe in ‘Guru devo bhawa’—teacher is god. And with this ‘godlike’ authority and sometimes with abuse of authority, we set out to make students obedient, whereas, we should be giving them autonomy and collaborative learning opportunities so they can understand and form their own constructs.

We also need to step out of our daily classroom routine, defy the irrelevant ‘factory’ model of education, and make efforts towards transforming it. I know this is a lot to ask because we might argue that teachers don’t have any authority over education policy, university policies, curricula, and so on. But let’s not wait for someone else to bring about any change in the field we are responsible for. Let’s be critical about everything—our teaching, our education, and our vision of education.

We still imitate our own school teachers and their methods. We are consciously or unconsciously becoming the teachers we used to hate. We hated them because they used to dominate us, abuse us, and lecture us. Let’s not put students through the suffering we went through. No doubt, many of us were once khattam, manner-less, and hopeless students, but let’s not give those labels to our students anymore. Because, what goes around, comes around. Imagine, our students sipping tea in a nearby shop, complaining and badmouthing us with the same adjectives—khattam teacher, jhur teacher, lecture matra diney teacher.

- Shrestha teaches Business Communication and English

Published: 18-01-2015 10:50

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