My daughter is going to school next year. So, I went for the guided school tour a few days back. Even though the schools in Australia open by the end of January to early February, the enrolment process starts by mid-May. The school tour is the first step of this process. It’s an opportunity for the parents and the kids to see the school facilities themselves and meet the staff. So far I attended two school tours (both were public schools) and came out pretty impressed each time.
When I first visited the school, the one thing that caught my eye was the massiveness of the school campus.
It had a basketball court, an oval (called ground back in India) with goal posts and cricket pitch, different playgrounds for Prep and Senior students. It boasted a full-fledged Performing Arts theatre with the sitting capacity for 200+ people. There was a gym of the size of half Basketball court. There was a full-fledged kitchen like the one you see in the MasterChef TV show.
There were a couple of big music rooms with an array of musical instruments. In India, even professional music schools that I had seen had a couple of keyboards, a guitar, a couple of flutes, a few harmoniums and a tabla set. But here at the primary school were at least 30 keyboards, plenty of violins, flutes, at least 6-8 drum kits, 10+ electric and other types of guitars. There was a full-fledged kitchen like the one you see in the MasterChef with all the kitchen accessories.
I mean Wow! What’s not to be impressed and I haven’t yet talked about the classrooms, library, cycling track, swimming classes and canoes. And this is all that met my eye, I don’t what else was there that I didn’t see.
Walking Down Memory Lane: My (Not So Happy) School Days
My mind immediately went back 35 years in the past.
Back then, there was no such thing as school tour or school inspection. On a certain day in June (mostly 13th June, a very unlucky number indeed for a child) parents would just drop their kids in the school without any warning.
Imagine the shock for the kid! Suddenly, you were locked up inside an unknown facility, with unknown people and you see that your parents are leaving you. It was kinda like the US-Mexico border situation right now. Now imagine happening that every day to a kid…shudder! 🙁
My primary school was merely a collection of 4 rooms. The comparatively big room was divided by a wooden partition – on one side was kindergarten and the other side was grade I. So most of the time, what teachers taught sounded like radio FM 91.5 mixed with FM 104.3. No complains because that helped us to have deep concentration. 😉
Each teacher used to run the class of around 30-40 kids. There was no play-based learning or toys. Heck, even a smiling teacher was yet to be invented. Most of the time our curiosity was met with Paddington-like hard stare (that’s one heck of a funny movie by the way, a must watch).
What teacher said was the final word. Rote learning was the way of life and got highly rewarded.
Now before you shrug this post off as biased, let me make it clear: I am not saying that all schools in India are like my school. There might be good schools especially now with international standards and modern teaching techniques. What I described above is what I saw and what I experienced. If your experience was different and better, good for you.
I remember I did an experiment back then. In those days, the mosquito repellent mats were very popular. I dipped one such mat in the Hydrochloric acid (a floor cleaning liquid) and found that it changed colour to red. It was a eureka moment for me that an ordinary mat worked just like a litmus paper. My teacher, however, was less than thrilled and I received ample scolding for doing that.
But here in Australia, things are quite different and in a good way.
When we went for the school tour, the classes were in full swing. The classroom didn’t look like a traditional classroom at all. It was more like a playroom.
Each class had a number of small round tables with chairs. Kids huddled around tables in small groups. A few were dissecting the CPU of a computer with screwdrivers and pliers. Few others were playing shopkeepers busy writing “Today’s special deals” on the blackboard. Some were busy creating hamburgers in their tiny “kitchen” while some others were playing young doctors. It looked like fun. Fun. This word and that feeling were totally missing from my childhood schools. Of course, we can’t compare schools in India with Schools in Australia. Heck, the principal of the primary school said things have changed a lot from her childhood in Australia too. I seriously envy these kid!
Here is what I learned from the school tour and what liked about the schools in Australia.
1. Each Kid Is Different
Schools don’t impose “one-size-fits-all” rule for the kids. They know that each kid has different areas of strengths and weaknesses. So kids are not forced to just focus on particular subjects such as language or mathematics. Though teachers help kids have enough proficiency in these subjects, kids are really free to work on their core skills.
Essentially what that means is that if some kid shows sparks of talent in the football, the school will help him achieve the best in that. Sachin Tendulkar wouldn’t be what he is had he focused on English instead of Cricket. Poor English skills didn’t stop him from winning all those accolades either.
2. Early Exposure To Many Different Things
I found out that I love computers and writing only after wasting 10 years in school and 5 more in college. Why? Because I was never exposed to these things. I found them on my own.
On the contrary, schools here provide exposure to the different set of skills early on – be it music or painting or craft or sports. That way kids, and more importantly parents, know what their kid is good at. These kids will then be guided further to become the best in those areas. For example, if a child is good at general knowledge or oratory skills, the school will help her compete in the inter-school and inter-state competitions, possibly even in relevant TV shows.
I was surprised to see that the primary school had a professional studio set up which the kids used to host YouTube shows. Kids write the script for the show, direct and act in the videos, edit them and publish them. What a great way to develop communication skills, body language and build the self-confidence! In future, some of these kids quite possibly might become a YouTube star. I loved this pragmatic approach by the school to make them ready for the real world.
3. Practical Experience
When I was doing my Masters in computer applications, I knew everything about microcontrollers, logic gates, transistors and so on. But all my knowledge came from books. When it came to actually design of a circuit to turn on an LED based on the user input, my mind went numb. That’s the problem with India’s education system. We can write an elegant essay on how an internal combustion engine works but when it comes to changing to a flat tyre, we need a car mechanic.
In Australia, they believe that kids learn from what they do. They are allowed to do everything – whether it’s baking a cake or doing pottery or carving the wood out or fixing a computer. These kids even do computer programming and mind you this is not some simple logic games. They can program sensors in the robot to detect and react to changes such as a change in the colour or temperature. Even I don’t know how to do that and I do programming to earn the livelihood!
4. Play-Based Learning
I like the idea of play-based learning. It is a well-known fact that if anything, no matter how interesting, is enforced as studies, we tend to lose interest in it.
For example, I loved reading. In fact, I was obsessed with it and still am. But I hated reading those study books. I loved painting but I hated paint classes.
Studies make things boring, even those things which are lovely otherwise. So what’s the solution? Keep it as play. If you turn even the dull subjects like mathematics into a puzzle game such as Sudoku, it becomes interesting. If you turn physics into bridge construction game, it becomes addictively fun. That’s exactly the idea behind play-based learning. Once you learn something through play, it stays with you forever because you understood the fundamentals, unlike Rote learning.
That’s exactly what they do in the schools in Australia. Kids are given tools which will spark their interest in these subjects instead of hating it for the lifetime. Tools like Bus Stop game where kids learn that when it is plus sign passengers get on the bus and when it’s minus sign, passengers get off the bus, are a great fun way to teach basic addition and subtraction. Why maths has to be scary and not fun?
5. Build Self-Confidence
As kids participate in different activities, they feel confident that they can do those things. At this age, kids want to try their hand at everything. My daughter always wants to do everything by herself – may it be warming up milk in the Microwave or mixing the dough or baking a cake or replacing the battery in her toy cat. Even with furniture assembly, she wants to fix screws. I like to see that she feels proud of what she does and it builds her self-confidence.
Similarly, schools encourage kids to do many things on their own. They even run their own assembly meetings with agenda, resolutions, minutes etc. quite confidently at such a young age. This is unlike Indian schools, where both teachers and parents know that the so-called “projects” are completed by parents and not by kids.
6. Create Master Of One, Not Jack Of All Trades
I sometimes wonder what the Indian parents are trying to do with their kids. They have so many expectations of their kid.
A kid has to be a topper in studies. She has to be great at sports. She must excel at dance, singing, painting and music. She should participate in contests, preferably TV shows (they are great to boast). She should learn Karate because – well you know, the world is not safe for women. I heard that some unfortunate kids start preparing for IIT entrance examination right from the primary school because of parental pressure. Poor kids!
I mean are you kidding? Have you thought about your childhood? Did you yourself do all those things back then? If not then how can you expect it from your kids? Let them enjoy their childhood. They are humans, not supercomputers.
Thankfully, in Australia kids can do any of those things only if they are interested. If you can do one thing and only one thing the best, that’s all that matters. That’s exactly why they are exposed to different areas early on so that they can find their interest and build upon it. Why should there be a social stigma if someone is not skilled in many things?
7. Questions! Questions!!
Australian schools emphasise inquiry-based learning. That means students are encouraged to question things and learn from the answers. No questions are frowned upon. All kids have the natural curiosity which is nourished instead of suppressing it.
This is in stark contrast to the conventional teaching in India. I have seen that some teachers even expect the students to just write the answers that the teacher taught. This is counter-intuitive in a subject like mathematics where there can be many solutions to one problem. In a way, these teachers clip the wings even before we can fly. They create a lifelong fear among kids about questioning something and destroy the self-confidence. It is a big damage to the curious minds in my opinion.
What do you think about the education system in Australia? Is it better or worse than India? Did you visit any schools? What was your experience? Let me know in the comments or you are more than welcome to shoot a mail to me on harsh at aussian.com
Thanks so much for reading!