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Spirit of enquiry unquestionable need

Meera Srinivasan and Shyam Ranganathan

Asking questions is an important part of learning, especially for science subjects

— Photo: R.RAGU

TO ASK OR NOT TO ASK: Are schools encouraging children to ask questions or is the child being forced to remain a passive spectator in the teaching-learning process?

CHENNAI: Sudha, a Standard XI student in a reputable school, confirms the commonly-held view that asking questions is a good way to learn science. But she has a revealing twist on what happens in our schooling systems: “Those who ask questions on theory and concepts get fewer marks in exams. Those who ask questions on exam patterns, the kinds of questions expected, and solutions to previous years’ question papers score better.”

Asking questions is an important part of learning, especially for science subjects. But there are doubts as to whether the syllabus-driven courses taught in schools are encouraging students to explore the subject. This leads to the question: Do school students get to ask the questions ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ as often as they would like to?

Senior educationist S. S. Rajagopalan feels that the syllabi followed by the Matriculation and Anglo-Indian boards in the State hardly give children any space to raise questions. “Most of the learning in these boards is memory-based even for students in lower classes. Also, children will ask questions only when there is no fear of the teacher,” he says.

According to him, the Activity-Based Learning (ABL) methodology introduced in primary sections of the State government-run schools has, in many ways, made the teaching-learning process more child-friendly. “If the scope of the ABL is widened, it can nurture the children’s spirit of enquiry,” he adds.

Heads of CBSE schools say their curriculum offers great scope for children to ask questions. According to Margarette Davidraj, Principal, Bhaktavatsalam Vidyashram, the CBSE has always been insisting that classes be made as interactive as possible. “A lot of learning is driven by activity, where children will have to ask questions to understand and proceed to the next stage,” she points out.

At the recently-held conference for IIT alumni, “PanIIT 2008,” many speakers talked about the importance of this approach to become a good scientist or engineer. An IIT graduate, who passed out a few years ago, recalled how the professor who conducted coaching for the IIT-JEE almost refused to take him as a student.

The reason for the hesitation was: the student came from a State-board school.

Many others feel that the CBSE curriculum is stronger for aspiring science and engineering graduates because of its more open-ended learning. Sudha says she would like to go through CBSE textbooks to get a better grasp of her subjects. But she also feels that students are encouraged to learn more when teachers handle their questions even if they are “out of syllabus.”

This applies to students too, from an early age.

“Children have several questions to ask. If we, adults, find time and patience to answer all of them or to gracefully tell them we don’t know and that we would find out, learning will become a more natural and enjoyable process,” says Revathy Bharath, parent of a primary student.

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