The Aawaaz Blog

Citizenship Behaviour in Schools

The role of a student in a school set up is usually characterised as being a receiver of information. Schools focus on learning material and reproducing the same in exams, whilst ignoring their practical application. This school atmosphere and the textbooks it prescribes is often seen as ‘politically neutral’, as they make an active effort to refrain from commenting upon the ongoing political issues. This stems from the idea that students have nothing to do with the democratic process while narratives like “just be focussed on your studies to score well” are popularised.

However more recently, the role of educational institutions in developing citizenhood amongst students has been questioned due to the increasingly polarized socio-political atmosphere.

These questions become even more important in today’s context with the existence of multiple narratives of what it means to be a good citizen, with most of them being avoiding questioning the government and some of them even promoting the curbing of dissent. Moreover, important lessons like secularism, the importance of democracy in the school curriculum are considered ‘negligible’ and even discarded as per the convenience of underlying political agendas.  
To that end, one can even argue that students’ understanding of their nation’s history and their anticipation of future outcomes remain inadequate, even inaccurate, without having a critical lens for the political activities that led to the event in the first place. This implies that the understanding of the national emergency in 1975 is not complete without highlighting the protest movements it entailed.

The notion that students in educational institutes don’t have anything to do with the democratic process- is flawed, as graduation from high school implies students getting voting rights and having a say in the democratic process. They even have digital resources which can be used to further their activism. For instance, movements like black lives matter and Metoo largely stemmed from social media discourses and were successful in creating some impact as well. Students can also be made to take part in these discourses online if they have access to that environment in schools as well. In order to facilitate students becoming active citizens, the school curriculum needs to do better.

To do so, schools can gradually move more towards culturally responsive curriculums. These facilitate critical thinking skills and have students engage with the law, media, civil societies, etc. In these curriculums, active efforts are made to give assignments which make students sensitive to the grass-root level realities of urban India. Volunteer work which entails ‘giving back to the society’ is made compulsory, in order to not just tell students they have the space to shape the society, but rather make them feel and learn the same via experiences.

Students are made to question the roles and responsibilities of governmental institutions in times of crisis (for instance, the current migrant crisis) highlighting what the government has done, and what it hasn’t done. Both sides of popular narratives and discourses can be accounted for in the classroom while teaching about current events and evaluation of leaders as effective/ ineffective can be left on to the students to come up with.

What this curriculum essentially does is then foster cognitive dexterity, i.e. ability to understand and reflect on more than one aspect of a concept. It enables students to understand the interconnected nature of social identities that exist. The same can even facilitate a better understanding of concepts like privilege across a gradient instead of absolute terms. This understanding then can help them use the same for just causes, bringing about institutional change.

Today, in a world with a pandemic, where most classes are going online, students have been seen to complain about online classes being impersonal. At the same time, the internet is becoming an important tool.  The problem of impersonality can be addressed with the promotion of digital citizenship, which essentially means using digital media (internet) to engage with the larger socio-political process. Working together, students and teachers can collaborate and come up with personalised projects and blogs which encourage dialogue.
 Taking to social media to hold institutions and people accountable has been seen to force them into being answerable. The same can be taken to online classrooms, to help students further engage with law and civil societies, form online communities,  be critical of what they are consuming via the media, and pay attention to how elected representatives are conducting the business of governance.

Under today’s circumstances, classrooms can not be treated as the static arena for the imparting of information. We must transform our classrooms, chat rooms and social media feeds into theatres of engaged democracy using tools of research, analysis and critical comparison.

The Aawaaz Blog

What makes a Bully?

The most accessible stereotype of a bully would outline someone who indulges in physically aggressive behaviour, which can be traced back to potential self-esteem issues of the child. Bullying in school is more of a systemic problem. A lot has been written about the ways in which we can deal with it, but little is known about how a child becomes a bully. Moreover, it’s important to realise that the nature of aggressive behaviour has also changed over time. Hence, it’s not sufficient only to look out for actions that indicate physical violence, but also for implicit behaviour including manipulation and emotional violence. 

One of the reasons why people bully is self-esteem issues, which drives students to exert control elsewhere in an attempt to compensate for their feelings of low self-worth. The idea of what makes a child become a bully, however, is more nuanced than that. It has been argued that children are blank slates and that their behaviour and actions are a reflection of their observations. Thus, children who may be growing up in an environment which legitimises aggressive behaviour such as domestic violence are more likely to physically or mentally harm others for their selfish needs. Moreover, the internalization of the fact that their victims do not always have the power to check their aggression further legitimizes bullying. 

More recently, attention has shifted from the blunt and open aggressor to another more Machiavellian kind of bully, who manipulates people emotionally or mentally, to get their way. Children who fall into this category tend to have better social skills and interpersonal skills, which enables them to ‘turn off and turn on’ their bullying behaviour to suit their needs. These students attempt to create positive narratives about themselves even if it comes at the cost of pushing their peers down. This behaviour stems from students’ needs to be at the centre of attention and the lack of empathy for other people.The same tendency may also stem from students having a high need for achievement and power; which manifests in them being motivated to be better than their peers, irrespective of the cost. This has also been reflected in the representations of bullies in popular culture. Blair Waldorf from ‘Gossip Girls’, and Regina George in ‘Mean Girls’ climb their way to social power by putting others down, usually through blackmails and threats. They are seldom openly aggressive, and their subtle manipulation tactics differ from conventional understandings of bullying, despite having similar negative impacts on the victim. 

Our education system often encourages this problematic behaviour by putting a premium on competition. It asks students to be the best at any cost, it acknowledges achievement without focusing on the means and fails to emphasise the importance of empathy and cooperation. 

Dealing with bullying in schools requires interventions which seek to trace students’ motivations for engaging in bullying. Asking questions like “What are you getting from that? Why are you doing this?” would help educators understand internal conflicts that promote aggression. Secondarily, school systems should promote harmonious behaviour by encouraging cooperative learning, group work, and conflict resolution. Research suggests that schools which pay attention to connectedness and ensure that children feel a sense of belonging to their learning environment report fewer instances of bullying. 

Therefore, bullying has both internal (need for achievement and power, weakening of physiological systems, lack of empathy) and external causes (observing aggressive role models or growing up in a hostile environment) and the behavior is often implicitly legitimized by school systems. It must be noted that aggression often progresses from bullying to homophobic name-calling, and even sexual violence. Given that aggressive impulses always find new manifestations and sources of channelization, it is extremely important for educational institutions to understand the causes of such behaviour and promote interventions for the same.

The Aawaaz Blog

Experiential Learning – The Way Forward

What is experiential learning? 

Experiential learning stems from developmental theories of Piaget, which argue that children are active learners, and construct knowledge on their own. Based on this, the experiential learning theory, in its essence, argues that children learn best when they experience and reflect on the things they’ve done, as they’re better able to conceptualise the knowledge in question. The knowledge acquired then also leads to relatively long-lasting behavioural changes. 

Why is it needed in classrooms today?

Schools and classrooms today are largely responsible to help students be better equipped for their future workspaces, or give them the knowledge that helps them uncover their potential.  In order to do so effectively, classrooms need to change the way they function.  

This transformation can be brought by treating children as active learners who construct knowledge, instead of passive ones who just consume knowledge and information. Traditional teaching methodologies have proven to be inadequate in bringing about this change. Instead, experiential learning activities which are based on concrete experiences, provide a better basis for learning and reflection, thereby helping in bringing about the desired transformation. 

Experience and reflection help students learn the required skills by actually performing them, and then thinking about their performance, to themselves understand what can be done better to be more proficient at the activity at hand; thereby increasing the procedural know-how of the skills in question.  

How to implement this? 

To ground it further, these outcomes can be executed in classrooms by implementing simple methods like pros and cons grids where after reading up on topics, children themselves are encouraged to make decisions regarding what part of it serves as an advantage and what part of it is a disadvantage. Students can be made to design test questions on their own, and there can be increased focus on peer study groups. 

This would encourage understanding based inculcation of information, instead of understanding based on repetition.

The simple idea is to focus on collaboration within groups, allowing students to learn by social, observational learning. Incorporating communication, decision making, and conflict resolution skills within the classroom. This will help them be well equipped to perform the same skills at their future workspaces. 


Conclusion – Benefits of ELT

Experiential learning activities today are being adopted by a large number of educational setups because of the benefits they entail. Moreover, it helps students grasp concepts, even the ones which are abstract in nature. What children learn has consequences beyond the classroom, which further encourages them to develop creative thinking, helping them understand the multiple solutions to problems. By incorporating concrete experiences with abstract concepts, and then reflecting on the outcome, students engage more regions of their brain and make stronger connections with the material. 

Most importantly, by being active agents in their own learning, the learning process becomes more gratifying for students, making them more involved, and participative. It’s not just classrooms that are executing these activities today. B-schools, in their MBA programs too, are giving importance to experiential learning and making learning more holistic for their students.

Experiential learning in all classrooms across the globe has been showing better academic results within students, indicating that it is a more effective way of learning new concepts and gaining new knowledge.