Agile and Curious Mindset can be developed through Progressive Education

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Kalpana Giri, Founder Director of University School, Kathmandu, has spent almost three decades in the education field. Although she has come from the traditional teaching and learning community, after BS 2063, she realized that the real education involves learning and playing with others. Subsequently, she was inspired by progressive education modality. She is also the Director of Sewa Sadan English Boarding School.

University School features multi-disciplinary curriculum approaches where two or more subjects are taught and learned collaboratively having a tremendous number of hands-on activities. College Readers has caught up with her for an interview on progressive education and its implementation in Nepalese schools. Excerpts:

It’s been almost two and half decades since you were involved in the educational sphere. In general, how would you love to define by progressive education?

At first, I would like to talk about my journey to the educational sector. I came from a very traditional background where we had a concept that being horribly strict and beating children would improve their academic performance. Even in 2051, I applied the same concept in my students by upgrading their curriculum one step ahead of their grade. The only reason for following this traditional concept was to make them feel easy about the upcoming syllabus. But in 2063, getting to know about learning by playing, mathematical approach and various activities made me realize that children can acquire knowledge not only by reading and writing but also by playing and having fun. In 2013 AD, I joined the Kathmandu University and acquired much more about progressive education and learnt how it is connected with ICT (Information, Communication and Technology). I observed that learning doesn’t only depend on the boundary of the classroom; it can also be gained if we pursue our interests.  

After reaching out to different philosophers and educators, I finally understood the theory behind learning which should be connected with life. If we could involve both learning and fun in the learning process of children, it might definitely help in retaining the knowledge in them in the long run. In the past, education was teacher-centered where the teacher’s only objective was to complete the course on time without being concerned about the student’s understanding. But now teacher’s work as facilitators and guides boost the student’s capability and interest and create a productive environment by enhancing and uplifting their potential. This is how I define what progressive education actually is.

What are the beneficial factors you find in progressive education that outweigh traditional approaches to teaching and learning?

It’ll be unfair to declare that our school is a top-tier progressive education institution. We have just approached and we are on the way to progressive learning. We can’t say that we left traditional education because we are still using the national curriculum and traditional evaluation system. If we’re still approaching the traditional format, we can’t say that we are gaining a progressive education. So, we could say that our school education system is a conglomeration of both progressive learning and traditional approach.

 What are the unique features of progressive education?

It has been about only 3 years since the government introduced the Integrated Curriculum for grades 1, 2 and 3. We have been practicing such curriculums since BS 2063. For instance, we make our students describe and make pictures about Me and My Family which implies the process of learning by doing. This process helps children to develop leadership skills and make their own experimental stuff too. To make the children understand about shapes, even numbers, peers, probability and so on, we can use cards as a perfect example. Cards are, however, considered a gambling but we can use it as a study material too. For me, progressive learning is when children learn something with fun and happiness and mutual cooperation with teachers.

 Traditional education only leans on imparting theoretical knowledge whereas progressive education also incorporates culture and attitude. How are these terms applicable to this institution?

We call it a collaboration of head, hand and heart. The head surely discusses knowledge. We don’t label parrot learning as one of the processes of effective learning here. Firstly, effective learning is something when a child can implement his/her knowledge in life. Secondly, in the past, we were taught about writing letters and essays but when it comes to writing an application in an office, we need somebody else to do it for us. So, the soft skill is something we need to develop in today’s students. Our students even create their own interview regarding our Social Studies textbooks.

Talking about culture, we conduct a lot of cultural programs, namely Saraswati Pooja, Krishna Janmashtami etc. where our children play a mythical drama. There is a broad meaning of both the cultures we perform at home and at school. We have different students with diverse cultures who follow different religions. Likewise, we conduct festivals acknowledging every religion so that no one is left behind their cultural celebration and preferences. For us, school culture is like developing mutual respect towards both teachers and students. We, teachers, feel like a mirror to our children and try to reflect the best culture and attitude to them. The attitude of a student cannot be controlled by strict rules. We tend to encourage our children at every point by providing them a platform.

How far do you agree that there still is the trend of traditional education in most schools in Nepal?

Yes, indeed. We are still using the same national curriculum till today. These days, I have observed that teachers make a checklist on students’ academics, behaviors and so on. This kind of review helps the children to be aware of their own behavior and respect to the seniors. Similarly, every teacher in the classroom makes a portfolio of each student about their performance which works as an evidence to parents about their children.

 In earlier days, we used to achieve education without the actual support of our parents. But now we talk a lot about parenting education and their contribution to progressive education. Why is parents’ involvement necessary for progressive mindsets of students?

Teachers are considered the second parents, and in the same way, parents are considered the first teachers. Parents play a vital role in shaping their children’s future. For instance, we have a child whose parent is a carpenter. He is literally well-known about furniture, area, meters, and a lot more about mathematical materials practically. So, we let our students do a group project work with him and make a presentation. This means that we respect every job and we believe that we can learn so much from everyone. We conduct seminars for parents and try to make their involvement as much as we can.

 What message would you like to convey to the parents and the students at last?

I would say the parents should understand that the ultimate goal of both parents and teachers is to ensure a better and bright future for our children. We both should equally work on children’s lack of capability and their problems. And for students, I would like to say that they should always be enthusiastic every time they learn something new. And they should set a goal and objective with an alternative and work with progressive mindset.

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