Let the students growIt is high time we helped students build knowledge themselves rather than impart it to them
Globally there is growing interest in fostering better learning approaches in academia. This stems from the criticism of traditional methods of learning where the teachers deliver information and students memorise it. It was believed that those who could memorise a huge amount of information were good students. In memory-based learning, students get information and remember it for examinations, only to gradually forget it after the exams are over. In understanding-based learning, students get information, understand basic concepts and use them in real life situations for problem-solving.
Do the teaching practices in Nepal stimulate students to think critically and solve real-life problems? In Nepal, we can see that we are following ‘lectures’ as the principal teaching method. Teachers obtain course curriculum of their subjects and their responsibility is to complete that course in the given period. Many subjects are merely theoretical; very few educational institutions offer practical courses. Moreover, it is commonly believed that the major goal of teachers in Nepal is to complete their courses in the specific time period and impart facts to the students. A 45-minute lecture is a common method of teaching to achieve that goal.
Students, on their part, read the subject matter ahead of the examination, memorise it and write the answers from their memory. After examination, they tend to forget almost everything they had memorised. As I mentioned earlier, this is ‘memory-based learning’. Here, students strive to obtain better marks in exams. We see such kind of teaching and learning practices in most of the schools and colleges in Nepal. The real issue is whether the students understand the basic concepts of the subject matter by relating it to real-life situations. It is high time our education system in Nepal shifted from memory-based learning to understanding-based learning.
The success of learning depends upon the students’ ability to understand rather than memorise. When learning stimulates students to solve real-life problems, we can say the knowledge gained has been applied and used. Teachers have an essential role in shaping the learning process in young minds. The human mind has unlimited power and the students’ minds should not be treated as a ‘reservoir’ for memorisation. For example, when students learn, memorise and store as much information as possible but are not able to use it to solve real-life problems, we can say that such type of learning has not stimulated them or developed their critical thinking and analytical skills.
The real way to learn should not be like this. In understanding-based learning, the students learn information, but memorising is not the primary objective—understanding the information by relating it to real-life situations becomes the primary objective of learning. To promote such kind of learning, teachers need to reframe their teaching methods such that they generate questions in class. Here, each student is self-motivated to solve the problem using critical thinking and analytical skills.
Rather than delivering monotonous lectures, teachers can present common questions related to the course. Then, they can try to figure out the answers together with students. This method can give the ownership of the class to each individual present there, so that they take ownership of the subject’s questions. The teacher can then present basic facts of the course to help students answer common questions. The role of the teacher is now transformed from an ‘answer provider’ to a ‘facilitator/stimulator’. A good teacher is not an answer machine; a good teacher is one who helps students find the answers to the problems. The students are then likely to begin to seek academic materials to understand the facts. A number of thoughts will arise in their mind as they begin to think about the answers to the questions. Finally, they come up with a number of ideas. For this, a good teacher can form groups, use audiovisual tools, assign mini-projects and teach effective reading and analytical methods. This can promote real learning. We need to help students build knowledge themselves rather than only impart it to them.
Kafle is an assistant professor at the Agriculture and Forestry University, Chitwan