In one tutorial centre, we observed that young children were gossiping in low voices among themselves sitting on the mat as their teacher prepared to teach them about the germination of seeds and growth of plants, equipped with pictures of life cycle of plants. Outside the classroom, there was a garden harbouring many flower and vegetable plants. Curious children pointed to this garden and tried to draw the attention of teacher. But the teacher drew their attention back to his lecture so that children would perform well in the examination.
A student of class VIII raised his hand to ask if there were any places in the world where there was no plant. The teacher stopped mid-sentence with, “No questions now, please; it is time for learning”. This way of teaching forces children to miss how to sow seeds followed by the joy of their germination in the garden. It could be a scene in almost any school. Children, full of questions about things that interest them, are learning not to ask them at school. It is not the fault of teachers. They have so many targets to meet.
Against a background of tests and targets, unscripted queries go mainly unanswered and learning opportunities are lost. Children are born curious. The number of questions a toddler asks can seem infinite – it is one of the critical methods humans adopt to learn. According to researchers, children ask an average of 107 questions an hour. One child is generally asking three questions a minute at his peak. Unfortunately during learning, teachers do not encourage questions being asked in the classroom and thereby a child’s creativity and conversational skills do not increase. But promoting curiosity is a foundation for early learning that we should be emphasising when we look at academic achievement.
When teachers tell young children not to ask questions during their lecture, high-performing students are found to be less curious, because they see curiosity as a risk to their results whereas curious students who ask lots of questions get better results by understanding a topic more deeply.
But unfortunately, questioning drops like a stone once children start school. The youngest children hardly ask two or three questions in a twohour period. Even worse, as they get older the children give up asking altogether. As soon as they are at primary school, they have to shut up and learn. It is true that children have inherent curiosity to ask questions at any time on any topic that interests them. Ultimately it is our education system that kills curiosity. Many people in educational communities give emphasis on the behavior of the children while learning and their performance in the examination. Often educational bureaucracies have shunted curiosity to the side.
Many of us as guardians, educators, students or politicians forget that education does more than just impart literacy, it empowers students to take risks and face the world with confidence. One silver lining is that NEP-20 is expected to inspire a shift from rote learning to in-depth understanding. The curriculum content will be reduced to core essentials and create more space for critical thinking, discussion and analysis. Teaching and learning will be more interactive, exploratory, collaborative, and experiential. Age group of 3-6 years under the school curriculum has been recognised globally as the crucial stage for the development of mental faculties of a child.
Education is not just learning how to be a problem solver, but a blazer of trails, a setter of bars, and a raiser of stakes. Researchers gauged levels of curiosity when the children were babies, toddlers and preschoolers, using parent visits and questionnaires. Reading, maths and behaviour were then checked in kindergarten (the first year of school), where they found that the most curious children performed best. In a finding critical to tackling the stubborn achievement gap between poorer and richer children, disadvantaged children had the strongest connection between curiosity and performance.
Keeping in view, I (D.P. Mukherjee) opened a “Rural Science Centre” in my village named Moutorh, Purulia district, West Bengal in my personal capacity to convince children that learning is a fun. When I started to teach a group of students, I realised that It would become increasingly difficult to hold their attention through a full day of learning. So the best possible option is to present the required curriculum to my students in an interesting and relatable way because there was one thing in common among all the children – they did not like reading textbooks. Students were found to be most receptive when I could make analogies that they could relate to their enjoyment. This applies to all subjects.
Now, every alternate day, one experiment is being carried out to make them understand that science is fun. Gradually, students gain an interest in science and have started consulting their text book on certain scientific topics and other events in their daily life. Even the quiet students who did not like to read have started to discuss the experiments with their guardians when they go back to the homes.
While teaching math at the elementary level, I made up examples that helped students to understand better. Instead of asking them to divide 20 imaginary apples, I asked them to put their 20 friends in teams and they visualized the problem and understood what operation to use. Most students enjoy hearing stories to which they can relate, and tend to remember the lessons associated with an experience. In biology, mutualism is an equal relationship while parasitism is like the friend who keeps eating your food but never brings any to share. This is why it is very important for us to make the process of learning as easy to absorb as possible. Nothing motivates learners as much as fun does because it comes from genuine interest from within instead of pressure from others. Students are much more likely to invest extra time in the learning process if they enjoy it.
Let our children create their own structure or timetable for the day, combining their ideas and home learning. Now it is high time to encourage our children to research something that is of interest to them and show their learning with a creative project. This could be making something with play-dough, junk modelling, papier-mache or a presentation. Also positive constructive praise that targets effort, behaviour and specific aspects of a child’s work is much more powerful than just saying “well done for completing your monotonous home task”. Movement breaks – such as dancing to music, performing animal walks or playing Simon Says – provide children with sensory feedback and offers them a chance to “reset”. We must remember that learning should be fun.
The writers are, respectively, former Senior Scientist, Central Pollution Control Board and a Class VIII student of Chelima BP High School, Purulia.