How have teaching and learning changed over the ages? Are we using the right mix of teaching methodologies to make our students learn what we want them to learn? What is the ‘mixed model’ of teaching-learning? Some of these questions are answered below.

The Latin word Educate means “to draw out”. This definition philosophically differs with the contemporary approach followed in traditional classrooms, where the teacher is the sole source of information who imparts the requisite knowledge to the students, who are stipulated to sit and understand the information in a passive manner.

If you consider the ancient ‘GURUKULA’ system of teaching, the pupil or student used to spend twelve to fourteen years from the age of about five or so with a teacher or GURU. The teacher or the ‘GURU’ used to be in charge of a group of such youngsters, may be ten to fifteen in number. They would typically live in the ‘GURUKULA’ spending all their time doing one of the following things – (a) sit in a class room atmosphere with the teacher disseminating his knowledge of the sciences and the arts for the benefit of students (b) playing and spending time with other pupil or students including their seniors – some of who could be more than ten years senior (c) doing chores for the teacher’s family, working in the fields or doing their own chores. Finally, the teacher or GURU sends the pupil or student out of GURUKULA when convinced of achievements of the pupil or student and becoming an asset to the society. Most importantly, either GURU or pupil does not fix a timeframe for these achievements and duration of these achievements depends on the learnability and devotion of the pupil or student.

The advantages of such a system were manifold:
(a) Learning together – given that paper and writing were invented many centuries after the education system was born, it is very likely that pupil or students learnt sitting together, by repeating what the teacher said. In the absence of writing, the knowledge had to be ‘remembered’ well by pupil or students and the only way of doing this was to be very precise and accurate about the spoken word. This was achieved by learning and repeating together as a group – so that everyone was on the ‘same page’ so to say;
(b) Learning by doing – The ‘living together’ environment encouraged immediate application of knowledge, resolving doubts and understanding of concepts by getting one’s hands dirty. It also encouraged the system of discussion and debate in a informal way that is conducive for learning instead of a formal set-up of theoretical debate; and
(c) Learning from seniors – The fact that the mix of pupils or students had very senior and very junior students together helped faster maturity of the mind. A senior who was almost as knowledgeable as the teacher, but was still a ‘pupil or student’ in the hierarchy was someone the junior pupil or student could relate to and discuss doubts freely.

What has changed over time?
Over a period of time, due to social, political and cultural changes, the education system in India is mostly one of learning by rote. The evaluation systems are designed to test one’s memory rather than the ability to apply knowledge to real situations. This kind of system has helped scale-up education across the country, which a GURUKULA system could probably not have achieved. So, the question is ‘how do we come up with a model of education that is as effective as the old system, but scalable for today’s population’?

Given the innumerable distractions for pupils or students in everyday life, it is no wonder that the attention span of students is decreasing over generations. In the current system, a teacher teaching the class in the old lecture method loses his pupil or students’ interest in about 10 to 15 minutes. The ability to absorb information effectively after this decreases exponentially. While there are exceptional teachers who can keep the class engaged for more than hour, these are more an exception than a rule. So, the question is ‘what new methodologies can we use to keep the pupil or student interested beyond the routine attention span’?

In the earlier days, accessing information was the most difficult and laborious part of the learning process. The role of the teacher therefore was to be a repository of information to pass on that information in a methodical way to the pupil or students. But technology has now changed the whole paradigm. A host of current information repositories have made that role of the teacher redundant. The role of the teacher now is to make the pupil or student think and ask the right questions rather than to provide the answers. So, the question is ‘how do we transform our teaching-learning process to make it interactive and thought provoking with emphasis on application of knowledge rather than memorization of information’?

These questions can be answered through the paradigm of mixed model of learning. In this model, the teacher is expected to spend no more than 15 minutes in laying the theoretical foundations of the concept at hand. This should then be followed by a set of activities (such as team-based activities, group discussions, projects, videos, quizzes, field visits and alike) to keep the pupils or students fully engaged and absorbed. Instant learning, instant gratification, active learning and continuous evaluation will replace long lectures, memory testing, passive learning and discrete evaluations.

This transformation takes time. It needs a major change in the mindset of teachers and diligent planning of classroom activities. It needs a rethink of the evaluation system and a certain level of maturity of all the entities involved. Such a transformation needs cooperation from all stakeholders to succeed in the endeavor.

“I never teach my pupil or students; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn” – Albert Einstein