Throughout school, I remember being told repeatedly of the importance of reading newspapers and magazines. General knowledge , an awareness of the latest major world and national events and the ability to cultivate a curious mind that kept pace with all things novel and new were qualities whose importance was drilled deep into our heads. I was blessed to have a set of remarkable human beings who taught me at school. It is hard for me to even begin to contemplate where or what I would have been without my teachers. My dear, dear teachers, several of whom are in touch with me even today, remain everlasting symbols of everything that is pristine in my world.
Ten years after high school, times have changed. Quietly and noisly, the ground beneath our feet has shifted in gargatuan proportions. Today is a very different time from how things were a decade ago. I shudder to imagine what my impressions of the world would have been if I was in my formative years today. It is chilling to imagine a child reading the newspaper everyday these days – reading about bloodshed and conflict, an economic depression borne out of greed, of corruption and of man-made ecological catastrophes of biblical magnitudes. The fact the 1990’s was a decade that ushered in steady economic expansion and saw relatively little conflict was indeed a silent blessing for those of us who grew up during that period. This contrasts almost repugnantly with the last decade, which surely ranks as one of worst decades in human history, equaling the dark ages of the world wars. One would be hard pressed to find a single day devoid of some news of gloom and doom these days. What effects this might have on children is almost completely ignored, and it is heart-wrenching that not many people are taking about it.
When I first read Mindstorms:Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, it introduced me to the beautiful learning theory of constructionism and I was struck by how much I could relate my own childhood experiences with what I was reading. Espoused first by MIT’s Seymour Papert, widely known as the greatest living mathematics educator, this theory seeks to explain a child’s learning process. It explains that children learn by constructing tangible objects, that they learn most effectively when they make or build things, and that their learning is directly related to what they experience. It says that experiential learning is superior to instructional-ism. It is highly relevant to learning of science, mathematics and art. But what is even more important that it how it can be extended to explain other kinds of learning that happens in a child, and what that means for adults.
If experiential episodes create a ‘situation’ that enables assimilation of learning material, then it also means that children relate and learn by what they they experience in other areas too. Constantly bombarded with stories of gloom and doom, it is logical to assume that this creates an environment that is detrimental. Children grow by relating things to what is happening around them. I am hard pressed to find to many good things for children to relate to these days. Are we surrounding children with a good number of things that they can relate to? I think not. I find it disturbing.
A guiding compass
The importance of context in learning cannot be wished away and one cannot be oblivious to the context that exists for far to many children in the world today. I have found that every noble intention, every good deed, and everything that sparkles with marvel and beauty, ultimately serves a single purpose. Of creating a better place for children. To each his own. I am, as a function of my faith and my upbringing, obliged to do everything I can to creating such an environment. The probability of eliciting the best and brightest out of children during their formative years is high. It can be great societal leveler in more ways than one. Every major decision should be tempered with this thought.
A thought, a guiding compass.