Unfair Education system in India

Why students perform badly in CBSE exams

Poor performance in CBSE Exams

Common speak suggests that socio-economic backgrounds play a huge role in determining the academic performance of an individual in CBSE exams or for that matter in any exam. Yes, familial and parental support matters, but only to an extent. School systems that help students from impoverished backgrounds in improving their academic performance in Class 12 CBSE exams have ended their cycle of disadvantage and propelled those students to distinctly better careers and better lives. But how? Primarily through an increase in classroom contact time: beating the odds by enabling disadvantaged students to spend more time in mathematics and science classes brings them on par with advantaged students. Different countries have differing ways in guaranteeing that students attend class, one of which includes making science classes mandatory and another, more valuable, concerns the inclusion of mentoring programmes to improve performance of students in class 12 results.

Nonetheless, the biggest factor, by which disadvantaged students break their seemingly destined cycle of deprivation, is self-confidence. Just consider that 10% of the most disadvantaged students have better math skills than 10% of the most privileged students in the US and several EU countries.

More subjects and a wider curriculum leads to low scores in CBSE Exams

Recently, many school system have responded to the growing digitisation of the modern world by including ever more subjects in their curriculum. No longer does the curriculum focus on teaching subjects in great depth, but rather skims through multiple, often-unlinked topics at breath-taking pace. Unfortunately, students within such systems are either required to understand it all rapidly or memorise it; coupled with standardised testing, this does not improve education standards or learning outcomes.

In an ever-changing world where information can be accessed easily, where skills are either digitised or outsourced, and where jobs are changing with an alarming pace, the focus is on lifelong learning and continued professional development. Both require strong core skills and subject knowledge that has its roots in basic school curriculum. Since the modern world prizes us for what we do with our knowledge rather than what it is truly, more subjects really do not need inclusion in school curricula to encourage students to lift their performance in CBSE exams.

Take financial education as an example; reinforced by the fallout of the recent financial crisis, many education systems have turned to educating students on finances. Ironically, this has no impact on the students’ financial literacy; conversely, school systems that do not teach finance, but instead promote deeper mathematical skills, tend to perform best on the PISA financial literacy test. Financial literacy is, as defined by PISA, “[the] knowledge and understanding of financial concepts and risks, and the skills, motivation and confidence to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make effective decisions across a range of financial contexts, to improve the financial well-being of individuals and society, and to enable participation in economic life”. Top performing education systems do not emphasise a “mile-wide, inch-deep” approach but are inclined towards teaching more rigorously a smaller number of subjects.

You need inherited intelligence to succeed

Many pedagogues and pedagogic psychologists equated academic performance with a priori – inherited intelligence – and not hard work. Ingrained in the psyche of most around the world, the need for good luck rather than hard work negatively affects academic performance in the CBSE exams. Feeling it ‘unfair’ on the student, teachers may not push students, whom they perceive as less able, and goad the student into performing to the average class level as an alternative. After all, who does not prefer that averages improve? This negatively influences the ability to achieve high standards in academic performance in the CBSE Exams. Not pushing less capable students becomes pronounced even more when they belong to the lower socio-economic backgrounds; consequently, the teacher, student, and parents do not have high expectations from their children and don’t expect them to outshine others in the CBSE exams. The best performing education systems believe that all students can achieve high standards and act on that belief by nurturing motivation.

The bottom line is that money alone is not an enabler of a country’s academic success unless it is used in recruiting highly qualified teachers; the significance of having a capable teachers, teaching well a narrow range of subject matter, fostering self-confidence in disadvantaged students, and providing all students with encouragement to persevere, cannot be understated. For this reason, do not expect much changes in the performance of your child in the CBSE exams.

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The Importance of Mathematics in education

The importance of mathematics in a students life has never been so high.The importance of mathematics in primary, secondary, and tertiary education, Central to the STEM fields,  cannot be understated. Supporting technological innovation, mathematics and the mathematical modelling of the multitude of physical phenomena ensures that it becomes an important issue when governments set out policies for its instruction. Today, a significant proportion of professionals plays a role, however small, in innovation; and require beyond the basic mathematical reasoning skills. To prosper economically, societies aiming to become innovative need to prepare their younger generations accordingly so that this significant number of citizens has the skills to thrive in such societies, therefore the importance of mathematics cannot be undermined.

Importance of Mathematics

Both education systems and current practices, to address this,  need to be reviewed by policy makers to realise the vision of becoming an innovative society. A key way to do so is by improving the technical skills in mathematics of students; the technical skills revolve around knowing the theorems and the procedures to resolve various kinds of problems not just associated with the theorems. If the 2012 PISA results indicate one thing, it is that many students believe importance of mathematics is negligible and not a significant number made a concerted effort in improving their skills. Can the traditional method be improved? Perhaps the problem lies in the approach which expands the key skills required for innovation such as reasoning, understanding, poise, asking questions rather than simply answering them, and even communication skills? According to a new OECD report, this does indeed seem possible; titled Critical Maths for Innovative Societies, this 200-odd page report, with experimental and semi-theoretical evidence, indicates that teachers methodically can implement the importance of mathematics and metacognitive strategies.

Essentially, metacognitive means the “thinking about” or ‘regulation’ of an individual’s thought; it encourages the exploration of explicit learning and problem-solving strategies when applied to importance of mathematics. Thus, the student is required to undergo methodical questions regarding their learning. These set of questions, initially developed by the Hungarian mathematician George Polya, and furthered by Mevarech and Kramarski, the metacognitive pedagogical method poses to students that relate to their learning and whenever they are exposed to new material. These questions are related to:

  1. Comprehension – “What is the problem about?”
  2. Connection – “How does this problem relate to those you have solved previously? Provide reasoning”
  3. Strategic – “Explaining your reasoning, what appropriate kinds of strategies can resolve the problem, and why?”
  4. Reflection – “Is the solution sensible? Is there another method to resolve the problem?”

 After a while, these four problems become routine and produce positive results in the learning outcomes and key skills central to an innovative economy. Consider the example of Singapore: within one generation, that country has gone from being considered a developing economy to a major developed economy. How? Because they have explicitly included this metacognitive pedagogy in their mathematics curriculum, teachers are obligated to use them after being taught in teacher training, and the importance of mathematics has been realised by all. Singapore’s top ranking in mathematics in international performance tests, such as PISA, is a testament to its successful implementation.

In comparison to traditional pedagogies, the effectiveness of metacognitive pedagogies is pronounced; it leads to improved learning outcomes in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, a greater supportive learning environment, and improved responses to students’ emotions when they are faced with a problem. Subsequently, they enhance the aforementioned skills required for innovation: students articulate their thinking more clearly, actively implement the language of mathematics, show greater inquisitiveness to how their learning connects with their interests, give intricate responses to problems, and provide skills that aid in the conflict resolution.

Most importantly, studies have shown that metacognitive pedagogies have permanent effects and lead to enhanced learning retention. This pedagogy leads not only to better reasoning skills but also enhanced control of emotions, predominantly anxiety, when faced with mathematical problems; therefore stressing the importance of mathematics.

Online vs Offline Teaching

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Education and teaching are two words, which are highly co-related to each other in implication and essence. Their role is to make an individual not only literate, but add reasoning, knowledge ability, and independence. Teaching revolves around ensuring the effectiveness of educational tools and that all students receive quality education. Alongside imitation, teaching is a key mechanism through which humans pass attained information, skills, and technology between generations. Prevalent in humans since ancient times, teaching plays a key role in shaping the human psychological adaptation. As the best education systems have shown, without the guidance of trained and dedicated teachers, and implementation of proper teaching methods, education is incomplete. The biggest trait of great teachers is – they are great learners.  Teachers, in colonial times,  were considered dreadful creatures; controlling classrooms by using intimidation and punishment. Today, teachers have become friendlier and stress on the importance of engaging children to make the teaching process more effective.

Teaching, as with any other field,  has gone through evolutions: from usual teaching methods like: “chalk and talk”, to more modern tools like: use of smart boards, multimedia projectors, and 3D displays.

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Traditional Teaching Methods VS Multimedia Tools

Though, individuals can learn new concepts by hit-trial and error method, however the role of the tutor is of primary importance and cannot be compared with others. Conventional teaching methods like – chalk and board have been prevalent from thousands of years and even today it used effectively. This method is most effective in providing structure required by highly teacher-centered methods. Such tools provide an instructor, ample opportunity to expose the students to readily available materials. The biggest drawback of the conventional teaching method is the monotonous “one-way approach” of the teachers, putting back children in more passive role, without active participation. This method is biased towards only those who can utilize their communication skills effectively.

With advancement of science and technology, innovations have been made in the field of teaching; with acceptance of ‘classroom-friendly’ tools. The modern methodology is more student friendly, making teacher’s role even highly significant in making learning stress-free. Modern teaching methodology involves use of better tools, more participation of the students, and makes classrooms livelier. “Hands-on activity” is another method used often, involving – talking, listening, and movement to understand new concepts efficiently. It has been scientifically proven that children respond better to livelier scientific tools which improve better understanding of concepts and better cognitive functions, hence improving the overall domain.

Z to A Teaching approach

Lately, the (Z to A) teaching approach has become ubiquitous in classrooms around the world. This approach attempts to explain the application part of a problem before stressing on actual definition; making for better understanding by generating more interest and helping creating long lasting memory. For instance, in management, team work can be explained by providing successful examples of team work in various organizations; thus generating more interest of the students to understand the actual definition and domain of team work.


Across the globe, Information Technology is altering the work ethics of students, faculty, and staff; with tablets, smartphones, and other forms of hand-held devices making information more accessible. It can be easily interpreted that classroom experience has been altered by use of technology, making concepts more understandable. Innovations in the field of teaching have made a drastic change in the overall learning experience, shifting from the archetypical platform of teaching and learning. In the new model of learning, the role of student is more important than teachers. The notion of paperless and pen less classroom is emerging as an alternative to the conventional teaching methods. The change is inevitable and with introduction of multimedia technology, teaching has become a more interactive process, facilitating teachers in helping make concepts more learner friendly.

Why are teachers losing the Midas touch?

Traditionally, teachers in the Indian subcontinent have always commanded the respect they deserved. Consider this: according to the Mahabharata, ‘Eklavya’ – known for his precision with archery – gave up the thumb of his right hand in honor of his guru (teacher). Ideally one would imagine that with history as rich and popular as this, India must be one of the strongholds for teachers, but the irony is that the state of education has worsened over the years with fall in number of trained teachers.

Teaching was considered a novel and attractive profession for the brightest but the decline in the number of teachers has been appalling. Though, India has managed to increase the number of children in school by starting new initiatives like – right to education, however, the decline in the number of trained teachers has been considerably alarming. Consider these numbers: according to a study conducted by a NGO in 2012, 53% of class 5 students were unable to read class 2 level text, here’s more – 43% of class 5 students couldn’t solve simple two-digit mathematics problems AND to absolutely rub in government’s face – 2012 was celebrated as the “year of mathematics”. Who should be held accountable for such an inexplicable situation? Government? Schools? Children? Parents? Or the lack of trained teachers!

The fact is, our woeful state schools are in stark contrast to our dream of becoming a nation of IT parks and call centers. The decline in the number of teachers is paradoxical to government’s rush to set up new schools to encourage more children to study. Shockingly, little attention is paid to what children are learning in those classrooms and how effective the teaching methods are. Moreover teachers are quitting their jobs in the initial years and atypically the important positions, for instance, head of department, are held by teachers who are old and at the end of their careers.

The exacerbated teacher workloads, negative job publicity, and lack of reforms are only a few of the many reasons to name from. In a profession as novel and important as teaching, more than 30% of teachers are working on temporary basis, without any job security; hampering the overall methodology of improving the state of education. Every school, or for that matter every parent wants their child to utilize their skills and outperform their peers; resulting in more pressure on teachers to deliver results. Another reason why teachers are rapidly moving away from the profession, as many are not able to handle such pressures. As with any profession, teachers have been demanding pay packages at par other professionals, however, many of them are still underpaid. Pupil taught by teachers go on to earn huge pay packets at national and international firms, though, their teachers are still struggling with ‘4-figure’ salaries. For most Indian teachers, the battles are that basic!

Take China for example – another growing economy like ours – where the teaching model is very unique. Teachers command a tremendous amount of respect because in China, the student teacher relationship is limited to confines of the classrooms. Outside classrooms, teachers and students are not allowed to communicate, which ultimately allows teachers to lead a stress free life. But over here, the student teacher relationship sometimes becomes too personal, which does not allow a teacher the time to rejuvenate, which ultimately hampers their teaching skills. We need quality teachers for quality education

According to a 2013 report, there are almost 5.8 million teachers in India but only 75% of them are trained. Now compare this figure to year 2008 when 90% of them were trained. Drastic and immediate changes are needed to improve the plight of education in India. Each government stresses on the importance of having an effective education model, however, what we hear are only speeches, but no concrete laws to ensure the change.

Implementing policies like – regularly testing teaching skills and improving basic salary structure can go a long way in improving the state of education in India. But the bigger question is – how soon can the administration act to ensure that this crunch in our education system be stemmed now?

Using Humour in Classrooms

b1As someone who tries to be funny all the time, I know it can be quite annoying – my friends constantly tell me to stop making jokes. But the truth is – I cannot help it. If there’s a laugh to be had, I feel I’m letting myself down by not pouncing; it’s like being thrown an underarm ball, and watching it sail over your head. Not all jokes work, but – good or bad – they are usually remembered. And that is what we all are trying to do, right? For instance – teachers impart information in a way that sticks; using the right mix of humour to make classrooms more interactive. The key to make students love the classroom is by making them laugh. The concepts of chemistry or the formulas of mathematics are all available in fancy books, but by dressing them up with right amount of humour or exemplifying them with some jokes, teachers can help students to remember them. (The ‘fancy’ term, though, for this is – stealth teaching).

Some explore humour-writing in their classroom using different fun techniques; like talking about the skill of “covering the punch line”, or to demonstrate the significance of cadence in writing. Result? Students laugh, and wriggle at the awkward behaviour of their teachers, but these tricks do help in making the point about how these fun techniques work. Of course, doing this on a daily basis will be something which is unreal as well as difficult but the key is to keep innovating and looking for newer ideas.

So is it easy for teachers to raise the humour bar? The answer to this is tricky to say the least. There are teachers who come across as a hoot outside the classrooms but the moment they enter their “teaching havens”, their demeanour diminishes and all lark disappear. Possibly it bogs down to discipline. Agreeably, some level of control is needed to keep that firm line between a teacher and a student, as there’s a fine line between being viewed as a joker, or simply a joke. But to think that a certain amount of humour challenges someone’s authority would be equally wrong. Yes a teacher has to remain proficient, but as long as unassailable admiration has been established initially; dropping the guard every now and then is a good thing and will be appreciated by all. One way of doing this is by engaging in ‘bantering’; occasionally a student will say something comical and it’s ok for a teacher to reply. A volley of back and forth between a teacher and their class is enormously valued, however, the trick is just not to worry if your student ends up saying something funny and you don’t have a witty reply to it, then simply congratulate them.

In minds of many kids, teachers are ethereal characters but showing you are actually human can help win them over and think of you more as humanly. Opening up in front of your class about a funny situation shows that you are more than just a teaching machine and have a life outside school. The fact is, injecting a bit of humour into the driest of subjects can go a long way in improving the overall classroom atmosphere. Like many comedians who spend their life on circuit, trying to find their niche, teachers too are constantly looking for that appreciation from their students. For instance, during my school days we had a teacher who continuously came up with clichéd one-liners and only about one in ten actually worked, but we loved him because of his authenticity.

Various party skills like juggling, singing, or an uncanny celebrity impression also work. Also, leading by example like writing down a funny joke and sharing it with your class can be helpful. Also, encouraging students to share their jokes can help. Don’t get heartbroken if your joke doesn’t work, and always remember – nothing funny ever started with: Here’s a great joke. A lot of jokes are centred on prodding fun at noticing things which are familiar to any instance in life in a way that they strike harmony with listeners.

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Multimedia classrooms vs Traditional Method of Teaching

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It is sad that so few modern students will ever experience a real lecture; the ones we attended, where the lectures stretched up to long durations, to say the least, and the professor used conventional chalk and boards to teach. For those, who wish to learn and understand the concepts in detail, real lectures will always be interesting and drive their passion to learn. But what are called ‘lectures’ these days is a charade. Gigantic, suffocating venues that can seat hundreds; students struggling to spot the teachers, while sitting in the dark; a ghostly voice vibrating in the microphone; a teacher reading out never-ending power point slides, which, paradoxically, have already been posted online; the flimsy listeners flaccid instead of scribbling their notes; distracted by their neighbour erratically browsing through social networks or last night’s game updates; and the whole thing being recorded as if either it was a court room trial or to emphasise that students don’t really need to be there nor their attention is warranted. Ironically, these indefensible atrocities are what many currently call lectures.

Although the gadgets and tools look fascinating to the onlooker, however, these substitutes to lectures are mere gimmicks designed to get praise for teaching ‘innovation’ and wooing the audience. For instance, a bi-cycle with trilateral wheels is an invention, though, the proper question is whether it fits the purpose. If taken seriously, and conducted in a proper way, lectures are the best practical way of imparting knowledge to people who want to learn.  In contrast to what many believe, good lectures are actually possible and attainable – I experienced many of them at my school, however, they are neither easy, nor as cheap as some substitutes. A good lecture requires a holistic team work, starting from those who appoint teaching staff, to those who design lecture theatres, to those who construct courses, and ultimately the creators of the educational ethos. The hardest of all, however, is the fact that good lectures require a great effort in form of concentration during the teaching period from those seeking information (read as students). Furthermore, a good lecture is an effort from both lecturer and audience alike. A good lecture is more like a theatre than a cinema, as it seeks involvement of the audience to make it a success or a failure. It is unique, similar to what a musical performance is – seeing and hearing each other in real-time and working together on something both the performer and viewer value. And when it works, it is an experience that lasts in our memories forever. It is sad that with advent of tools and technology only a few modern students will ever get an opportunity to experience anything of this kind. Many wonder “Why students don’t get as much out of lectures?”, and the truth is that there are a myriad of reasons, from as simple as lapses in concentration to more complex like lack of interest in the subject. Many studies conducted by experts validate the importance of good lectures. Real lecturing can be a good way of passing knowledge and can play an influential role in improving the performance of students. Teachers even face stubborn attendance problems which ultimately distorts their interest in class and many classes often ended the semester half-empty; with efforts like using newer methods or introduction of online tests also failing to bring any considerable effect.

Experts, who usually have something to teach which is worth learning, should feel more confident about the aptness of the method. Contrary to the popular belief, lectures are not an inferior medium, nor should the lecture be seen as subordinate to the provision of written texts. Accordingly, lecturers should resist the temptation of making lectures more ‘entertaining’ by over-using multimedia tools. Since lectures are principally ‘aural’, the visual material should generally be like simple summary diagrams which are appropriate for recording in lecture notes. Mostly, lectures should aim to be enjoyable, but shouldn’t attempt to be entertaining. Lectures should be memorable rather than distracting.

In a nutshell, lectures retain a major educational role as learning through lectures is easier and more effective in comparison to literacy-based and electronic media. And to increase the effectiveness of university teaching, it is important to make learning as easy as possible. Making lectures more enjoyable and effective should be the actual goal, instead of trying to phase them out. This can only be done by understanding how lectures exploit human psychology – particularly the fact that lectures are fundamentally formal, verbal, shared events.

Learning Mathematics – “The Chinese way”

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Lilianjie Lu has left her five-year old daughter, her husband, and her job as a primary school teacher in Shanghai, yet she stands with a smiling face, in front of 21 seven and eight-year-olds in a London classroom, as she attempts to teach them all about fractions – the Chinese way. Although, her English is not as fluent as her knowledge of mathematics, but her enthusiasm and dedication to teach is visible on her face. Even the London classroom, where she is teaching currently, resembles a classroom from Shanghai – carpet taken up, desks in straight rows, and all eyes on Lu and her touchscreen.

Learning Mathematics

Lu, is one of the 30 Shanghai teachers currently working in primary schools across England, flown in by the Department for Education to help young children in Britain by raising the flagging standards. Lu is devoting her three-week stay at Fox primary school in Kensington to halves, thirds, numerators, and denominators to help children learn basics of fractions. The classrooms in Fox are also inhibited by a small group of observers – teachers from nearby schools – who watch and take notes. As per the latest Pisa Global Education League Tables, Shanghai is one of the top-performing jurisdictions; suggesting by the age of 15, children in Shanghai are up to three years ahead of their peers in maths. Almost all Shanghai pupils reach a similarly high standard and there are few gaps in achievement. Although the British government has invested £11m in a two-year programme to boost performance in maths, however, many in the education world are cynical of attempts to copy the Shanghai model.

The Teaching Process

The teaching process starts with Lu asking the children to read out the fractions on the screen; one child gives the answer – “a half” – then the rest of the children repeat. Another child identifies a third, everyone repeats, a quarter, and so on. At the end of this part of the lesson the children give themselves a clap –five precise claps in a set rhythm. Then the children read the fractions out all over again before moving on to the writing process. Even the writing process is not random and follows a strict order – first you draw the line, then you write the denominator, and finally the numerator, above the line. The children write them in their books followed by each children writing on the board and successful attempts are rewarded with five more tidy claps.

The class follows the same repetitive model – going over and over similar territory, stretching the children slightly further as the lesson progresses; making sure that everyone is keeping up. This is the “Shanghai mastery approach”, a methodical curriculum, aimed at developing and embedding a fluency, deep knowledge and understanding of underlying mathematical concepts; in contrast to the English model where teachers move on too quickly before children have properly understood the principle. There’s a lot of chanting and recitation but it’s a way of embedding that understanding.

The lessons given in Shanghai are much shorter – 35 minutes followed by 15 minutes unstructured play. The results, however, are phenomenal, with many teachers accepting that they witnessed better maths teaching in 35 minutes, in comparison to their 1 hour long sessions.

In Shanghai, there’s an expectation that every child will succeed, with every child of the same age being on the same page of the same textbook at the same time. Children have mastered their ‘jiujiu’ (times tables) back to front and inside out by the time they are eight. The classrooms in other countries, in contrast, are filled with colourful, interesting work stuck all over the walls.

While working in Shanghai, Lu teaches just two lessons a day; maths in the first half and the rest of the day is spent debriefing and discussing maths. An English primary teacher, in contrast, is a generalist, teaching all subjects, all of the time. Though, the teacher training models in China and England are similar.

Lu spent five years at university studying primary maths teaching; trainee teachers on programmes like School Direct will spend less than two weeks concentrating on maths. In spite of the success of the Shanghai model, critics question the compatibility with the diversity of children in other schools, which cater for children of many different nationalities and backgrounds, as opposed to the more homogeneous intake in Shanghai.

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Final Exams vs Continuous Assessment

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India, considered as one of the education hubs of the world, has one of the archaic education policy dating back to the colonial times. Over the years, no significant changes have been enacted in the policy to alter the approach in schools or colleges. Although, education is a key tool for development, however, the process has not seen any amendments over the years. Assessment in schools or colleges can be anything from a mere administrative impediment to a tense, future-determining practise for students, especially in India, where the education process lays a greater emphasis on the examination system.

Assessment is an important component of the education system, which ascertains whether the knowledge imparted has been grasped by the individual or not. However, a significant question which arises from the end of course assessment process (final exams) of India is – What is the real motive behind assessment? To compare the performance of various students or to facilitate their passing, or to assess their proficiency in a particular subject.

The irony, however, is that assessment has become too concentric around the academic activities. Rather than assessing the knowledge domain of the individuals, assessment at the end of course (read as final exams) is used to compare the performance of different individuals and ultimately ranking them according to the results. This not only promotes rot learning but also defeats the complete principle of teaching – “understanding of concepts”.

Purpose of Continuous Assessment

Many believe that the assessment model shouldn’t have to be postponed till the end of course/semester, instead tight, closed feedback/assessments can have two major advantages. One, teachers can make corrections to their teaching techniques in case of unsatisfactory results and two, students can rework on the weak areas before progressing; giving students a continuous stream of opportunities to prove their mastery. Further advantages of the continuous assessment model are:

Mastery of Concepts

The continuous model insures that, assessment is embedded in flow of learning. Currently our examination system is based on testing the seat time instead of the mastery of concepts, however, the continuous model ensures that the progress from one course to the other is based on mastery of concepts. Students who are weak in any particular course can correct their performance in due time before moving on to the higher concepts. The awareness of one’s performance and results insures that the student is aware about the results and can improve their weaker concepts.

Help for Teachers

One of the biggest challenges facing teachers today is the diversity of population in classrooms. Students come from different social, economic, and geographical backgrounds making the classrooms as diverse as they ever have been. Every student has their own weaknesses and strengths, some face difficulty in understanding the language, while others may feel uncomfortable in certain specific courses. This is where continuous assessment plays an important role of helping a teacher juggle easily between managing advanced and struggling students. Through continuous assessment, teachers can ensure that the class progresses as a whole without enforcing a sense of competition amongst the students.

Better management of content

The continuous assessment model ensures that the content creators can easily assess the data of efficacy of learning. It also helps the creators in assessing the learning pattern; consecutively comprehensive changes can be made to the teaching methodology which can further bring in positive changes. It assists teachers in effectively improving the skills by better implementation of resources through content management; for instance, teachers may be able to comprehensively ascertain the relationship between logical skill and language composition.

To conclude, the continuous model of assessment is a guidance oriented, formative, cumulative, and comprehensive form of assessment which is systemic and ensures equality in classroom. This model can effectively uncover interdisciplinary relationship between subjects and allow us to refine our understanding of the concept. This is in stark contrast to the final examination system which is more competition oriented.

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The Influence of Aristotle

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Aristotle with his mentor Plato by Raphael

As one of the preeminent philosophers of his era and as a man whose influence on subjects ranges from biology to zoology and everything in between has transcended time, Aristotle rightly sits as an intellectual giant among many pedagogues. Apart from being the first true scientist in existence, his mentor was none other than the famous Plato, another scholarly colossus, and held Alexander the Great as his pupils. Aristotle’s unparalleled contribution to learning across various fields is too wide to constrict into this short article and thus, for brevity, we focus on his pedagogy.

The cornerstone of his pedagogic ideas centred on balanced, holistic development: the body, mind, and soul all are nourished by play, physical training, music, debate, as well as the study of both philosophy and science. Learning, in his day, was dictated by experiencing life events and learning of these fundamental bodies of knowledge occurred at different phases of an individual’s life. The great educational philosophers of the post-Enlightenment and Modern eras – Fröbel, Pestalozzi, Montessori, Steiner – all emphasised play during the early aspect of an child’s life, in addition to segregating the study of science and philosophy according to the individual’s age.

Another key idea focused on educators and pedagogues, whom Aristotle insisted to go beyond merely ‘correct’ onto that which is ‘good’ or ‘right’ in their teaching. They must instil their thoughts and practices with a coherent life philosophy, in which ethics and politics play a deep role, in order to guide their students methodically. Additionally, ethics and morals play a key role in guiding educators towards creating a virtuous and happy character.

The third key idea focuses on education by reasoning and by habit; essentially, this is learning by doing – or experiential learning – and then repeating it until excellence is achieved. “Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones” (Nicomachean Ethics, Book II, p.91). Teaching the “cause of things” is given the same importance as experiencing them and then relating to the theories surrounding them.

Lastly, Aristotle was the first to distinguish between the various disciplines labelled as being theoretical, practical, or technical. A mix between the three is the best for a holistic education but recently education has continued to emphasise the thinking – or the theoretical – for too long.

Aristotle viewed learning and teaching not as expressions of feelings or interpersonal relationships but as a regimented investigation into some aspect of reality, some body of knowledge or discipline; without an object to investigate or study, schools are unable to develop an individual’s rationality. His ideas have become infused in education today but certain aspects seem to be left out, as educators today believe that catering to the mind is all that is required for a “decent education”; nonetheless, alternative forms of schooling inspired by the Germanic “social pedagogy” approach – influenced largely by Aristotle’s ideas – are fast becoming popular.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Scared of Mathematics?

Worried excessively when presented with a mathematics problem? Feeling perplexed when seeing a jumble of words, numbers, and symbols stuck together? Does your mind wander off elsewhere?

If you replied positively to any or all of the above, then you are not alone in facing the commonly known phenomenon of “mathematical anxiety”, which, it must be emphasised, is independent of skill. Defined by Mark Ashcraft (2002) as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance”, this specific anxiety was diagnosed over 40 years ago and is connected directly with avoiding mathematics, which leads to poor performance as well as spawns negative attitudes towards the subject. Moreover, very apprehensive students will avoid situations in which they have to perform calculations.

Physical Pain

The ramifications of this become evident in students losing competency, a reduced exposure to mathematical problems, and – of course – academic achievement; ultimately, confidence and motivation both lower. You may ask, “Well, what if I am just bad at maths?” If individuals were simply bad at maths, then their brain scans would not show the triggering of a specific cerebral area that is associated normally with registering bodily harm (Harms, 2012). That is right; your brain feels the same level of pain by undertaking a maths problem as it would if you were physically hurt.

As part of their student assessment every three years, PISA studies report that almost a third of students feel apprehensive when faced with a mathematics problem and over half of them worry about the difficulties they will face in mathematics classes. Confirming Ashcraft’s aforementioned statement, PISA found that greater anxiety strongly connects with lower mathematics scores; moreover, this apprehension increases when students’ classmates perform better than they do (OECD, 2015). However, exceptions exist, particularly in the case of East Asian students in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taipei; likely pushed by authoritative “tiger mums”, these students are not only among the highest performers in the PISA mathematics assessment but also report a higher level of anxiety.

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Cultural aspect

This anomaly can be attributed to a cultural factor, parents in Asian countries place a greater emphasis on effort rather than merely their child’s intellectual capabilities – this is beneficial as it helps to develop a growth mindset, which encourages intellectual development, learning from mistakes, and improved learning. Asian parents generally set high expectations and standards of achievements for their children, which results in them spending more time developing their skills and knowledge not just in mathematics but also in other school subjects (Stevenson & Lee, 1990).

The Gender Gap

Traditionally, mathematics is considered as a “masculine” aptitude and this gender typecast may cause girls to feel mathematical anxiety more acutely from a young age. There is a huge academic push for more women in the STEM fields but until educators do not address the confidence problem, this may remain a distant dream. PISA documents this gender gap in the graph below, with almost 70% of girls reporting that they worry about the difficulty of mathematics classes, as well as worrying about poor achievement. Among the oft-mentioned reasons are gender references – or gender labelling – on the mathematical questions; in fact, research studies suggest that although both sexes perform better on male-related mathematics questions, women that perform worse overall do well in female-labelled questions with the converse holding true: those who perform better overall tend to do best on male-labelled questions. One particular study pointed to the gender performance gap in tests that increases with age (Walsh et al., 1994). The threat of gender stereotyping can affect test performance and it affects men positively but women negatively.

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Reducing the anxiety

Mathematics is a subject taught typically with no grey areas present – the answers are either right or wrong but the methodology for arriving at the answers can vary; the accuracy of the answers can be improved and one method may be more concise. The PISA report suggests that teaching itself is perhaps the optimal way to reduce and, ideally, relieve this apprehension. Educators can achieve this in a number of ways, chief of which include informing the students of their performance, giving feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting ways in which the students can improve – teachers who do so consistently tend to have positive results in reducing their students’ unease (OECD, 2015). Addressing the students’ anxiety is central to unlocking their mathematical abilities and knowing the best ways to approach a mathematical problem significantly relieves their stress.

Of course, there are teaching methods that make mathematics more relevant and engaging, with active students being the best learners. One of the best ways to help students learn mathematics is leaving the solution method open-ended beyond a few simple example problems; it emphasises original thinking rather than mere formulaic manipulation. Expressing, in words, their thought process in resolving a particular problem enables students to develop metacognitive skills that compel them to rationalise their thoughts, thereby improving their problem solving and mathematical reasoning skills.

References

  1. Ashcraft, M.H., 2002. Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences. Directions in Psychological Science, 11, pp.181-85.
  2. Harms, W., 2012. When People Worry about Math, the Brain Feels the Pain. UChicago News, 31 October.
  3. OECD, 2015. Does Math Make You Anxious? PISA in Focus No.48. Paris: OECD Publishing.
  4. Stevenson, H.W. & Lee, S., 1990. Contexts of achievement: A study of American, Chinese, and Japanese children. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 55, pp.1-119.
  5. Walsh, M., Hickey, C. & Duffy, J., 1994. Influence of Item Content and Stereotype Situation on Gender Differences in Mathematical Problem Solving. Sex Roles, 41(3-4), pp.219-40.