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Break free

There has been a long-standing debate on how the load of heavy school bags has been crushing children down. There have been songs and demonstrations relating to the plight of poor kids, how they are losing their childhood under undue pressure. In a bid to lessen the burden on schoolchildren, some city schools are doing away with unnecessary textbooks and ushering in a new age of imparting academic knowledge through a wide variety of tasks and activities.

In order to address this particular problem certain schools have removed textbooks altogether in junior sections. “The primary motive behind getting rid of textbooks is to reduce the load of heavy bags on children,” says Bratati Bhattacharya, principal, G.D. Birla Centre for Education. But if textbooks are done away with, how are children learning their lessons? These schools provide students with “study material” or sheets of paper with colourful illustrations that depict the lessons to be taught, and this makes it a “more captivating learning experience for the young minds”, says Anushree Ghosh, principal, Delhi Public School (DPS), Ruby Park.

Conventional textbooks, too, are colourfully designed with illustrations. So, why the need for new study material? “If a book has 10 chapters and the school teaches only five, then the five extra chapters are absolutely unnecessary,”explains Bhattacharya. The programme, first introduced in 2006 by G.D. Birla, is already bearing fruit. “Children don’t take anything back home. All lessons are done in class with active participation from teachers and students and no homework is assigned either. Consequently, children feel more relaxed and have fun while learning as they participate in a lot of co-curricular activities,” reasons Bhattacharya.

This procedure of a textbook-free curriculum is followed till the children reach middle school. There are no exams where one has to sit with a question paper and write long answers, but all tests are taken on worksheets that contain exercises on the lessons that have been taught. The performances of students are determined by a system of grades.

In DPS, Ruby Park, emphasis is laid on the development of concepts rather than rote learning. However, a lot of parents complain that once these students reach middle school, they face problems as they grapple with the issue of adapting to a whole new system with books, question papers, exams and increased academic pressure. “The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has always tried to limit the number of books by including two or three subjects in a single book so that students find it easier to deal with pressure,” says Ghosh. However, she has no clear solution to the problem students face once they reach middle school. “This process of transition is a difficult and lengthy one, and students will have to adapt to the change gradually,” acknowledges Ghosh.

However, not all schools have cast away textbooks, as they feel books are inseparable from education and there can be no holistic approach to education without them. Devi Kar, principal, Modern High School for Girls, feels innovation is necessary in educating the younger generation. “The emphasis shouldn’t be only on book-oriented knowledge, but on the development of ideas and concepts. The unnecessary dependence on books should be addressed by introducing newer methods of grasping knowledge and information. But books form the backbone of our education system and provide a framework for students to fall back on when they face difficulty in understanding or learning a new concept.”

Kar’s opinion is seconded by Herbert George, principal, M.P. Birla Foundation School. “No amount of innovation can replace textbooks because if it is done, students will lose a point of reference,” he says. M.P. Birla has also introduced worksheets not only in the primary section but also in the middle school. Students not only work on worksheets and refer to books but also go for regular audio-visual programmes. Through these audio-visual exercises they learn new methods to deal with academic problems. They also receive hands-on training to crack a certain mathematical problem or a difficult science lesson.

“The practical, audio-visual classes help students to break free from the monotony of classrooms and improve their retention power,” says George.

The Indian Council for Secondary Education (ICSE) hasn’t made it mandatory for all schools to usher in these novel changes. Ranjan Mitter, principal of the Future Foundation School and a member of the council, makes it clear that, “students should be prepared to take the board exams by the time they reach Class IX”. “How a school chooses to prepare its students for these exams is for the administration to decide,” he adds.

Incidentally, Future Foundation has also done away with textbooks from the curriculum in the primary section, and holds various interactive learning sessions where the analytical and learning skills of the students are honed. These processes are aimed at increasing the clarity of understanding of students, and strengthening their capacity to think reasonably and logically.

“Once the students know how to acquire data and what form of knowledge and information to look for, it becomes quite simple for them to collect facts and information from various sources like books, CDs and the Internet,” explains Mitter.

With the winds of change engulfing the system of primary education in the city, one can only hope that the younger generation doesn’t lose touch with the wonders of books and give up on the habit of reading. As Mitter optimistically adds, “Through this exercise we are only trying to bring out the latent talents that lie buried within so many children, so that when they grow up, they are able to channel their potential to realise their dreams.”

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