Making learning relevant with unstructured scenarios

This teacher believes that the curriculum is not as important as how the teacher delivers the material.

Haaris insists that he does not have just a single philosophy of teaching. His biggest motivation is the enthusiasm of his students and he says that this keeps the job from getting boring. “There is a reason why I have lasted as long as I have in this profession,” he says. “There is a lot of content evolution that you have to undergo and without it you cannot cater to your duties. Every single year, in almost every school I have been part of, I was required to do something different and to customize my approach to a child’s learning. To me, this is what makes it fun.”

He does, however, believe in a few basic principles that teachers should follow, the most important one pertaining to the purpose of education. Haaris believes that when he teaches physics and mathematics, he is not merely trying to teach subjects.

The purpose of education is to ensure that learners’ brain development happens in diverse ways – every subject gives one a different way of thinking and processing information. It is important that students learn how to think instead of remembering facts. The subject content is merely the means through which these skills are imparted.

“You have to give the students the opportunity to discover their passions,” he says. “If I have 20 students in a class and one student might be a physicist someday in the future, then that’s great. The other 19 may not but that is okay too. I am confident that learning physics or mathematics will help them deal with life, no matter what they end up doing.”

It is important to treat content as part of the learning process. “I have students who do really well because they understand the content well but they are not thinking the way physics demands them to think,” says Haaris. “This is what we need to focus on.”

Getting students used to unstructured problems

When asked about incorporating 21st century skills into the curriculum, Haaris believes that most schools have a tendency to go only by standardized tests.

“I understand that a standardized test provides a consistent benchmark in evaluating student performance but it also creates this problem wherein all that the student does is try to hack the exam,” he says. ”They are not really tackling the subject the way they should and this doesn’t work in the long run."

"They need to learn how to work on completely unseen and unfamiliar problems. They need to apply what they have learned in those unseen conditions."

"This is why I believe that unstructured problems are necessary but most schools in India and even across the world focus on structured problems. As you know, the real world is not very structured.”

Why Active Learning matters

When talking about Active Learning and how it drives the Cambridge framework, Haaris believes that the key principle of active learning is to get students to start thinking about things. “It is not what you teach but how you teach that matters, whether it is English, Economics or Physics,” he says. “The content is not the key. Instead, it is all about how you deliver it.”

If Haaris were to put himself in the place of a student, he believes that a static textbook-based syllabus would not satisfy his curiosity at all. Instead, he would rely on Google and engage in active learning with all kinds of material pertaining to the subject or idea.

“You involve students through learning,” he says. “It is just like a team. The team is not just led by the teachers. My idea of a class would be one in which I don’t have to talk at all. I just go in and students started discussing things. I can maybe direct them.”

According to Haaris, the COVID-19 health crisis has inadvertently forced schools to be innovative. “We may not be able to conduct contact classes for several months and so we have time to improve ourselves and to explore online material,” he says.

“Teachers now have to adapt and use active learning strategies.”

Skills that matter

When it comes to resources like Callido, Haaris believes that they teach real-world skills. Unfortunately, parents and students don’t always understand the importance of 21st century skills. “I have students in grade 11 and 12 ask me if what they are learning or doing is going to ace their college applications and get better grades,” he says.

Haaris’s message to his fellow teachers is simple – don’t give up. “I know that teachers have to constantly fight every single day,” he says. “You have to convince students that there is a reason why you are making it more challenging for them and giving them tasks that don’t necessarily get them better marks. We have reluctant students because school administrators and parents, and the world, at large, place importance only on exam results. That way, I have been very lucky with my school. The idea is to change education from simply brainwashing students to trying to enlighten them. Keep at it!”

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