Friday, July 17, 2009

Chance Answer

While comparing notes on elementary schools with another mom, I might have stumbled on a possible answer to a question that has bothered me for a while now. I had always thought the the approach that American schools take to early education was wonderfully liberating and creative as compared to what I had experienced in India as a child. In large part it the reason I decided to raise J in America even if it meant I had to do so alone. That said, it is deeply frustrating for me when reality does not even come close to what my expectations. Maybe I held too romantic a notion about the whole thing and so disappointment was inevitable.

The method and style of instruction in the American elementary school requires a very low student to teacher ratio to be successful. The focus is on individuality and the ability to use learning in creative and untutored ways. All the things that I think are very important to a well-rounded education and were completely missing in my own. No amount of rote learning and mastery of process (as required in the Indian system) can replace the value of these skills.

My question had been why am I so disillusioned with a system that is doing just what I had wanted. It maybe because of class size. There are twenty five kids in J's class and have been about that many since her kindergarten days. One teacher is simply not going to be able to provide the one-on-one time to that many children. In as such, the method of instruction is no longer suitable. When the student to teacher ratio gets sufficiently high, there is a need to change it substantially. At the far end of the scale with forty plus kids to a teacher as I had growing up, the only viable way is to get kids to cram and regurgitate so they don't fail in their tests. Anything beyond that is merely nice to have.

As public schools get their budgets slashed and grow over-crowded the old way of teaching in America is probably just not working out. It does not help either to live in a neighborhood with a sizable transient population causing the class size to vary quite a bit over the school year. J's had teachers who love their job and have excellent ideas to make learning fun for children but their style simply does not scale well. They could have worked miracles with ten to twelve kids in their care but such is simply not the case.So we have these pockets of disruptive or jaded kids in the classroom while the rest get a lot less than they deserve from their school.

1 comment:

Carnimire said...

And the education system in India is changing too. Gone are the classrooms that I grew up in - my kids have clustered seating, and the methodology is less about rote learning (though they do have dictation tests every week) and more about do-learn-review-do better.

My Grade One kid has fewer skills than I did at his age (according to my mother I was doing carry over addition at that age), but his knowledge and understanding is much higher.