Learning that Endures

How many of us remember the atomic number of Oxygen? Who can name all the halogen gasses? When did the first Panipat battle occur? What is the formula for calculating the volume of a cone? What is the difference between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’?

We all sat in Science, Social Studies, Math and Language classes all through school. Yet today as adults, we can’t recall much of what we learned in school. What then did we learn in school?

In today’s world, knowledge is free. Or almost free. Basic web searches can give us facts about virtually anything we want to know. Any of the questions above can be answered by ‘googling’ on one’s smartphone in a matter of seconds.

If the only thing teachers teach is factual knowledge, then all that effort will have been in vain. Students will barely remember any of it- at most till their next exam. While factual knowledge is necessary to pass exams, it can’t be the only reason for kids to attend school, especially since all that knowledge will be forgotten in short order.

Forgotten in all the exam fever and tension about completing the syllabus is learning that endures. This is the learning that endures beyond school. What remains of Science class after all the periodic tables and chemical equations are forgotten? What remains of History class after all the dates and dynasties are forgotten? What remains of geography class after all the rivers and mountain peaks are forgotten? What remains of Math class after all the quadratic roots and volume formulae are forgotten?

If the answer is that nothing remains, it’ll have been a wasted educational career for both student and teacher. If a Science education does not create a scientific temper in students, if a humanities education doesn’t impart a strong critical reasoning faculty, if a decade of Math education doesn’t provide a strong foundation for applied skills, what then is the usefulness of such an ‘education’?

College bound students definitely need all the factual learning. It is the springboard to college and career. Any student capable of college is also somewhat capable of self-taught ambient learning (learning that endures). But not every student goes to college; there are several students for whom factual learning is merely incidental, and who would benefit from some ‘real’ learning.

So what is the difference between academic schooling and learning that endures? “When we do attempt to measure learning, the results are not pretty. US researchers found that a third of American undergraduates demonstrated no significant improvement in learning over their four-year degree programs.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/universities-should-ban-powerpoint-it-makes-students-stupid-and-professors-boring-2015-6?IR=T) This clearly implies that whatever is being taught in the classroom is not necessarily ‘learning’; and I agree.

Then what is learning? What did they measure for this study? “They tested students in the beginning, middle and end of their degrees using the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an instrument that tests skills any degree should improve –  analytic reasoning, critical thinking, problem solving and writing.” (http://www.businessinsider.com/universities-should-ban-powerpoint-it-makes-students-stupid-and-professors-boring-2015-6?IR=T)

Our education system needs to focus on learning that endures in addition to short term exam skills in order to create a useful and relevant education for the next generation.

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