Within academia and among K-12 educators there’s a general consensus that new types of learning are necessary for success in the contemporary world. A world in which information is instantly available, but critical and creative thinking skills are required for students to excel at the highest level. However, at what age should ‘new era’ learning begin? Should educators worry about learning the alphabet and basics first, and address the big questions later?
In Flow India, we believe that a child needs to connect to real experiences right from the start of schooling. That’s why we advocate and organise visits to museums, and heritage and cultural sites in the Delhi and NCR region — field trips hitherto reserved for senior secondary students — for all K-12 children, linking them to practical programming which helps to unpack the dry knowledge of textbooks. We believe that presenting real experiences to children as early as possible, impacts their learning. They succeed better in managing their curriculums, improve recall and respond more intelligently.
Our work is based on the insights of American psycho-logist and founder of the internationally acclaimed Flow Theory, Mihali Csikzentmihalyi. Flow Theory has examined leading scenarios in the work-place, sports and education. It propagates a mode of learning in which learners are motivated by personal passion and relevant challenge. It is rooted in our species’ instinct for deriving meaning through exploration of the physical, material and natural worlds. Csikzentmihalyi described ‘flow’ as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake”.
Self-motivation, critical thinking and creative exploration don’t always correlate with exam success. But such skills go a long way in helping students bring their own meaning and motivation to the slog of hard work and are certainly appreciated in progressive seats of learning such as Harvard, Oxford or LSE. Collaborative and open-ended thinking is also highly regarded by employers in the new global economy.
So what are the vital building blocks of ‘new era’ capacities at the most basic level?
Critical thinking. Young children need to be continuously challenged to think about important issues and commit themselves to defending different points of view, both orally and in writing. They need to be able to distinguish between what they know, what they can infer, and what they can imagine. Moving out of the classroom and examining objects in a museum, observing the natural world outdoors, or trying out their own ideas, bring about conditions conducive to creativity.
Creativity. If time and space is given to children to make imaginative journeys and reflect on their own processes of creativity, they develop the confidence to innovate and experiment in the adult world. A fine example of this is provided by Larry Page and Sergey Brin — founders of Google — who credit Montessori education for their success. “I think it was part of that training, of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world and doing things a little bit differently,” said Page, in a recent television interview.
Cultural awareness. Open comparative learning which draws on historical or cultural art forms, symbols, rituals, and beliefs gives children a lens through which to develop a broad historical understanding of their own and other cultures. It is our belief that learning can be brought to life through imaginative play, story-telling and drama. Active engagement with different cultures and historical periods fosters appreciation of diversity and encourages a confident, outward-looking habit of cultural imagination which will prove to be of great significance in the complex adult world into which children will enter.
Communication. The Flow method is not ‘transmission teaching’ but is grounded in constant communication between peers, where all learners are encouraged to put across their points of view, to discuss, listen and speak and write with ease and confidence. Creative and respectful communication is required in almost all contexts.
Enquiry. Through stimuli, discussion, drama, story-telling and group work, it is possible to create environments in which students work for themselves through sheer fascination and personal dedication. When we are truly engaged we enter a higher state of consciousness which allows the brain to flow with ease and total concentration.
These are not merely opinions or musings, but headers under which some of the world’s most advanced education systems are now operating. These are ideas India can’t afford to miss out on for the world’s largest child population. Singapore, ranked highly in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tables for several years, is now experimenting with learning in natural, enquiry-led and experiential ways, even at the primary level. In India as well, a growing number of well-informed parents are pressing for this type of learning. They are no longer satisfied with children who simply pore over textbooks, but want to see them excited, engaged and self-directed. They want them to be prepared for the new academic and business environments of the future, rather than of yesteryear.
(Eliza Hilton is director of Flow India, a Delhi-based teacher training and education consultancy firm)