Activity centered learning and projects

“Once upon a time, teaching used to be called a profession suitable for ladies. Now if you are a teacher you will go crazy.” A teacher at a reputed CBSE school in Kochi remarks, handing me her grids for School Based Assessment. Her students are busy preparing for their youth festival (counted as co-scholastic activities), and mid way through my interview two students came by with a salad tray (counted as work experience activity). The school premises bear record of continuous activities molded and directed by CCE expectations. Co-curricular activities at this school include vocal music, dance, instrumental music, karate, yoga, art and craft, needle work, and aerobics. Subject based clubs include Eco-friendly club, Aryabhatta club, X-particles club, League of Compassion club, Literary and Debating club, Journalism club, Al-Noor club, Home Management club, Fine Arts club, and the IT club. 

According to CBSE’s documents on Continuous and Comprehensive Education (CCE), each student has to be evaluated for the following six domains:

 I: Scholastic (Languages, Math, Science, Social Sciences). A student will be evaluated over a period of two terms, with two formative tests (projects etc) and one summative test (written exam) during each term.

2: Work Experience, Art Education, and Physical Education

3: Life Skills: Thinking skills (Creativity, Critical Thinking etc) Social Skills (interaction with classmates etc) and Emotional Skills (how well does the child handle stress, how positive is the child to criticism etc)

4: Attitudes towards teachers, school mates, school programs, and environment (respectful towards teachers at all times, be punctual and listen to teachers at all times etc)

5: Literary/Scientific/Aesthetic/Performance Arts etc (Any 2) 

6: Sports/NCC/Guides and Scouts/Swimming/Yoga/First Aid/Gardening etc (Any 2)

 All these areas have to be evaluated continuously by more than one teacher, and the data has to be recorded systematically and communicated with the child. No negative assessment should be done even by implication (CCE manual, p. 50).

A few days later, waiting at an Internet café in my village I saw a 9th grade CBSE project being constructed. On the British rule of India, the project was cut-copied-pasted from Wikipedia by the lady who runs the Internet café. The “project” ran into 24 pages, and the lady trimmed it down by removing pictures she did not like and the last paragraphs of all the sections. The young student sitting next to the Internet Cafe owner nodded to all the suggestions and the project was ready before I finished reading the two-page document I needed to scan.

 What happens inside the world of CCE, across urban and rural schools, is fascinating. Equally so is the similar but different world of continuous and comprehensive evaluation in government schools. I find similarities in policy emphasis on activities and student appropriations of these activities, and differences in the types of activities (largely decided by social class). Can the activities in CBSE schools be called middle class and those in government schools working class? I have to read Lareau’s (2003) Unequal Childhoods again to see how my data compares with her theory of American middle class education and “concerted cultivation”.

 Software anyone? 

I had never been approached by software vendors, till now. The teenage boy pressed a five-page typed paper into my hands—it was a list of software he had on offer.

“How much is Final Cut Pro?” I was curious.

“It will be Rs. 100.” He replied.

FCP is professional film editing software that costs close to $300.

“Do you want Photoshop? That will be Rs. 350” the boy persisted.

This is the capital of pirated software in Delhi, or so says my IT savvy Delhi friend who studied at MIT. What’s more, he went on to recount similar stories of pirating and hacking from his MIT roommates. I was reminded of a CASI-organized talk at Penn by Lawrence Liang, who critiqued Intellectual Property Rights and copyright laws. Till lawmakers heed him, software anyone?

I went to Delhi to meet Dr. Krishna Kumar, former Director of NCERT and pioneer of the National Curriculum Framework 2005. Though CBSE follows the NCERT curriculum and textbooks, Dr. Krishna Kumar finds very little that is worthwhile in current CBSE practices. Moreover CBSE seems to be blind to the demographic make-up of its affiliated schools when it aims for social justice in policy papers.

By a stroke of luck my MIT friend now works for an international educational testing company, and insider stories from India’s educational testing industry (which includes the NCERT) is qualitatively not very different from the Internet Café story I describe earlier. 

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About leyamathew

Penn GSE, CASI Summer in Kerala 2012