In the rat race of scoring high marks, we have forgotten what education really is about, which is learning. The dominant culture in our country has become about the pursuit of marks. The first thing after getting test papers back in class, a student is asked by their friends, “how much did you get”. This is further perpetuated by parents and society as a whole.

It’s unfortunately all that matters. A child who scores poorly in two mathematics tests starts believing that he or she is not good at it and Maths is not his subject. He fails 15 times in a video game, but doesn’t lose hope, and goes on to win on his sixteenth try.There is something very important that educators need to learn from such situations. As a society, we need to seriously reflect on whether the time our children spend in learning environments is geared only to their next 99 per cent score or whether we want them to actually learn.

Getting a perfect score generally means the child has a very good memory retention capacity, a skill that is required today. In the 21st century, where we all have access to limitless information at our fingertips, the world economy is not going to reward for the amount of knowledge that you have; but for how you can critically think, and apply that knowledge in problem-solving. It is imperative then, in an age of reducing attention spans and where kids are easily bored despite having a plethora of options, the educator is able to set the right mood for learning. What is the right mood for learning though?

In my workshops for educators, I am typically bombarded with answers like “the child should be happy, positive, or should not be sleepy or hungry”. Far more important than any of these is that they should be curious and engaged. If a child is not in the right state of mind while being taught, one can be rest assured that “teaching” will not result in much “learning”. The way curiosity is built by a skilled educator is by cultivating a purpose to the lesson. Why am I learning this?

If the purpose is just that I need to achieve a good test score or so that my teacher/parent doesn’t scold me, my brain is never going to be curious or engaged, and will not result in the building up of 21st century skills. If an educator is not able to make the child’s brain feel challenged, then her role in that class is pretty much useless.

If the child is physically present in the class, but remains unmindful, what has the teacher achieved apart from giving a lecture that got ‘heard’, but not ‘listened to’? “Today I will teach you English” is far less effective in getting the child’s brain ticking than “Today I will teach you how to write a great film script”. Educational institutions focus much on their strategies, which are important, but eventually, only intent.

A school can have the best strategy, but if its culture is poor, then it becomes futile. Culture is the manifestation of ethos, values, and plans for the everyday operation of the school. It is critical that a positive school culture is built where children’s brains are challenged, encouraged to think for themselves, where there is no fear in asking a silly question or giving a wrong answer and differing viewpoints are celebrated. Schools need to focus on building conducive learning environments, places where learners can engage in creating new ideas and thoughts.

(Chairman, Podar World School)