Stress on Human Values and Resilience Define Progressive Education

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With continuous dedication to the academic field for two and half decades, Sunita Poudel has been administrating Pragya Kunj School, Baneshwor as Principal. Starting her career as a school teacher and gradually growing as a leader, she has held the experience of working as principal in a couple of institutions since last ten years. She has shared her perspectives on progressive education with College Readers. Excerpts:

Since you have been advocating for progressive education for quite some time, could you explain what the general public should understand by progressive education?

That’s a very challenging question because progressive education itself consists of a vast definition and has a lot of things we might not have understood. At Pragya Kunja School, we place a strong emphasis on human core values and the students are the center of our focus. For us, learner-centric education is highly followed where the learners have a choice to choose their field of interest and the facilitators continue to work according to their demands of interest. It has different dimensions in which we should mainly focus on Active Learning.

Active learning actually takes place when a teacher enters the classroom with full plans and procedures to follow. Such plans should include the ways to attract students and make them engaged and develop their prior knowledge. In fact, we have three different categories of children in each class. Some are fast learners, some are the average ones and a few are those struggling with learning. The concept is that all of the three groups of students are taught according to their competency, in the meantime making them engage in other life skills. This is the effort we are trying to put in. So, active learning is one of the dimensions of progressive education.

Secondly, active learning encompasses the core values where the learners are free and self-resilient as individuals, who can take their own responsibility and respect themselves, their peer and elders. So, these aptitudes for respect, resilience and independent reading and writing could result into core happiness of our children. These days, we find a lot of children facing anxiety and depression. Sometimes, this could be the output of the wrong methods of teaching and learning at school and the pressure at home. Being a part of progressive education, in this case, we try to provide a stress-free environment at school. Our students should get hands-on activities to work on and think that they are the center of attention in the classroom. So, these are the different dimensions of progressive education at Pragya Kunja School.

What are the distinct features of progressive education compared to the general one?

General education probably refers to education with traditional features, right?  Though many schools call themselves progressive, they still continue with teacher-centric activities. The teaching style is still teacher-centric though the classroom activities, to a great extent, have become student- centered. As I’ve observed, student-centric learning is the most preferable learning style. There are certain things that underpin student-centered learning. Firstly, we need to work on core values in the classroom for professional development and academic goal setting. Then, there comes a pragmatic approach which generally means learning by doing which most likely strengthens progressive education. In order to follow this approach, there should be effective plans and materials in the classroom. In addition, the children should be enthusiastic and inquisitive. To fulfill this, a strong support of parents is also needed. Hands-on activities and the availability of resources like local materials could be helpful for progressive education.  Teachers’ preparedness also plays a vital role here. Having a 40-minute teacher-centric and 5 minute student-centric class in a total of 45-minute class is seriously unproductive. The progressive attributes, training and mindset are the important factors for a teacher to effectively facilitate his/her children. Similarly, parents should also be aware of their children’s learning procedures. We can educate them by conducting many awareness camps or interaction sessions. All these factors are considered wisely.

Education used to be thought of as a primary means of acquiring and transferring knowledge. But education today is also expected to include knowledge of techniques, attitude, invention, and application. To what extent have you implemented these attributes at your institution?

We are making a great deal of effort but I would still not say we’ve reached the height. Technology, you know, has been changing rapidly. In the same way, education pedagogy is also changing. There seems to be a huge difference in traditional education and the one we are trying to implement now. Most of our teachers are from Nepalese schools with traditional education backgrounds. We have done a very little amount of practical work and we were mostly occupied with theoretical education. So, because of their educational experience, the ones, who took SEE in 2051/2052, have the old concept of education. The education trend since then to the existing time has seen a lot of differences in many fields. I won’t say everything has changed optimally, but some private educational sectors have practiced hands-on activities to a great extent.

Looking at the educational scenario of Nepal, there have been complications to continue progressive education mainly because of the traditional mindsets of teachers and parents. We are trying to give the best through classroom activities. When we talk about activities, our subconscious mind summarily understands outdoor activities. We tend to think about ECAs. Such activities definitely support mainstream activities but to develop the best type of learning, inside activities with core teaching and learning values and activities that take place outside the class are equally essential. So, in order to achieve a progressive education, the classroom activities should be predominantly followed. This is the reason why we mostly focus on a range of small activities in the classrooms too. In Pragya Kunja School, we only keep 20 students in each classroom so that the learners can rapidly build relationships with their mates and develop trust in everyone. Each year, we take 60 students in every class and we have three sections for every 20 students which helps in the increment in the amount of chances to interact.

We follow the national curriculum. We have not taken affiliation from international institutions. We try to introduce some changes in the national curriculums and prioritize hands-on activities which definitely bolster learning. We focus on the learners’ opinion and ideas and assess them through continuous, formative assessment. In the pre-school, we follow 50 percent national curriculum while the remaining 50 percent weightage goes to co-curriculum activities designed by us by incorporating different languages, dance, music and theater which encourage team building, conflict resolution and safeguarding of values. Programs like speech and debate to discuss what the students have learned from the teachers, elders and parents are also conducted. Those programs eventually help in the personal development of the children. 50 percent weightage on co-curriculum activities confirm the holistic development of children.

An SEE mark sheet is considered most important progress testimony of 10 years’ education for students. We don’t believe in making our students study in a closed camp. However, we encourages them to study hard besides getting engaged in sporting events as well. To help our students with their skill enhancement, the students of grades 8, 9 and 10 are encouraged to participate in Debate Network Nepal which teaches them debating skills. Likewise, we include a simulation of six-day training and a 3-day session of Modern United Nations.

All these efforts help students to integrate supplementary skills with education. Our students have even paved a path to get an enrollment in Royal School of London Music School. We start music sessions and activities from grade five. We even conduct specialized sporting sessions from grade 5 to 10. Our students, who passed SEE, are now in the national-level teams of basketball, swimming and cricket. The students of grades 9 and 10 are involved in UNDP. We are also members of Robotics Association and participate in making robots, drones and so on. Other programs, such as student acceleratory program help our students to be the center of attention, pitch their ideas and set up their opinions as in a model of business. Of late, some institutions have given internship privileges to six of our SEE graduates. When we see our students, parents and teachers adapt to the changing paradigm of learning, we feel empowered by progressive education model.

What do you think of the role of parents in providing quality education with regard to the progressive education?

It’s crucial that parents support the teachers and their children. If there is a lack of support from the parents to their children at home, the school won’t be able to help the children grow academically, personally and socially. We know culture is mostly learned at home by children. We can help in managing quality time but the mindset is probably developed from home. So, the mindset of parents matters a lot and their involvement has a huge role too. The parents should be quite attentive and should monitor the performance of both the school and their children. If they are okay with the performance, they should appreciate it; otherwise giving positive criticism and feedback would definitely help us improve further. So, the absence of critical parents hampers our way of working on the concept of progressive education. Luckily, some parents are aware of this and are searching for quality education which includes academic as well as other skills. Such parents help us continue with our ongoing efforts.

At last, what message would you like to convey to parents and students?

Human value is the foremost attribute of wise humans and this includes love, happiness and mental and physical wellness. Secondly, we should focus on academic and personal development with equal emphasis. I would like to say to everyone that we should prioritize our children’s needs and develop the core human values in them. These days, most problems are related to stress. So, let’s try to create a happy environment where we flourish as responsible, resilient and respectful human beings. In addition, let us see the potential growth of our children and support them to ensure their all-round development. As humans, let us act humanly then work on developing academic skills for a happy life.

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