Saturday, 21 August 2010

Student-driven activities: an educative strategy

The latest news bit from AustraLasia is about a Filipino couple (the husband being a past pupil of Salesian institution) who are short listed for the famous Ramon Magsaysay Award.

In 1999, husband and wife left their lucrative jobs in Manila to manage a struggling high school in the poor and faraway province of Bohol better known for its white-sand beaches and endemic tiny primate called tarsier. Both respected physicists in the National Institute of Physics, Christopher and Maria Victoria introduced to poor students a “revolutionary way of teaching science subjects” they called the “dynamic learning program.” The “cost-effective strategy” uses locally available teaching aids, as it was the advocacy of the late Salesian pioneer in the Philippines Fr. George Schwarz, and limits teacher participation by devoting 7o% of class time to student-driven activities “built around clear learning targets, aided by well-designed learning plans and performance-tracking tools.”

Radical improvement in the performance on national scholastic aptitude and university admission tests of these poor students more than pay off the couple’s sacrifice. Through their “Learning Physics as One Nation” program, the Bernidos are also addressing the problem of severe shortage of qualified physics teachers in the country. Their school in the remote town of Jagna in Bohol holds regular workshops that have attracted not only hundreds of schools all over the country but even international scientists and Nobel laureates.

Apart from taking pride in this Salesian contribution to the world of education and its impact there are two things that struck me.

First is the 'ripple effect' that I believe is what we Salesian educators (anyone with a vision for the welfare of humanity) is to specialise. While it is good that we can reach out to a handful of people in the neighbourhood, it is a crime to be satisfied with that alone, when one has the potential for effecting a mega change. I can very well go to the nearest village and help a poor family build a home for themselves; but when I have 84 hands to support me, why not mobilise these to move a whole village or their respective places to do something similar in each village? That's my vision... being an Octopus, that too the head and not just one of its tentacles.

Secondly the whole idea of learning through class participation wherein 70% of class time is devoted to student driven activities. I realise this is the best way of teaching, especially when subjects are tough or students are struggling to grasp the content of the subject for lack of some basic preliminary learning.

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