In this blog, we wish to share with you about what we feel should be a core idea to learning – the idea of mastery and how digital tools like tablets can enable our children to adopt this.
Have you come across children who say that they find Math very difficult? Or a particular topic in Chemistry very difficult to understand? We usually brush this off saying that the kid is stupid or just doesn’t work hard and focus while studying. But, there could be something far deeper happening here.
Let us take you on that journey of exploring this.
Our education system usually groups together students by their age and then makes them learn concepts and subjects all at the same pace. The current generation has all grown up like this.
Let’s assume we are in class 1 and the current topic, which students are learning is addition of 1 digit numbers.
A teacher comes in the class, delivers a 30 minute lecture on the topic and gives out the homework. Students go home, do their homework and next morning teacher reviews the homework and moves onto the next topic. The cycle repeats for several weeks until it is time for the exam.
The results are announced. Few students get 95, few get 80, others are at 65 and some others are at 50. Even though our existing education system has identified the gaps in each child’s knowledge, which is great. But then the whole class moves onto the next topic, probably a more advanced one that is going to build on those gaps. And that’s where the problem starts.
It could be addition of 2 numbers today, followed by addition of 3 numbers in your next class.
Do you not find this strange? The student who got 65 marks doesn’t know 35% of the foundational thing and yet has been moved to a class where he/she is supposed to learn advanced topics. Unfortunately, this system continues for years until maybe you are in an algebra class and you hit the ceiling. You suddenly start fearing Math. This is happening not because algebra is difficult or the kid isn’t bright but the 35% of what he missed in his foundational years is showing up now in front of him. This is when the child starts to disengage and begins to get a feeling that Math may not be really his/her cup of tea.
To summarise, even though our existing education system is able to beautifully identify the gaps in our learning, there isn’t a process that lets you bridge those gaps. Even for the kid who got 95%, there is 5% of something that he does not understand how to apply.
Imagine if we build our buildings like this. So, you hire a contractor and tell him that you have two weeks to dig and get the foundation ready. After two weeks, you visit the site and say, “ Well, yeah maybe this is 80% ready. But that’s ok, build the first floor.” And so the contractor starts building the first floor and you show up again after 2 weeks for inspection. You look around and figure out it is 75%. As usual you instruct the contractor to build the second floor, third floor and so on till when you build the fourth floor, the whole building collapses.
Now, if you evaluate the above like we typically evaluate our education system, you will say, “May be the contractor wasn’t good enough or maybe we should have done more inspection”. What you are not realising is that what was really broken was the process itself.
If you look at the way all of us have been learning, we fix the amount of time we are going to spend on learning a topic while expecting an outcome which is variable – different students getting different marks. However, the idea of mastery based learning flips it completely. What we should rather keep variable is when and how long should a student work on a topic and what’s fixed is that they actually master the topic.
Isn’t this the same way you would learn martial arts or to play a musical instrument. If you are learning to play guitar, unless you learn all your chords, it is futile to move to a stage wherein you have to learn chord progression. It just won’t work. If your trainer asks you to practice chord progression without having to master each chord, you would soon start disengaging from guitar. If however, you are asked to practice chords irrespective of the amount of time it takes, the chances are that when you move to chord progression, you will enjoy doing that much more. You will stay connected to learning guitar and would want to move onto the next stage.
As you saw above with the process of learning guitar, so should be our approach to learning Math, Science or any other subject as well. Unless a child masters a topic, covers all his/her foundational gaps, there is very little logic in moving the child to learning something, which builds on those foundational concepts.
Question now is, how do we do this? More importantly, if we stay sensitive to a child’s psychology, we must enable this in a non-judgmental environment. You do not want the child to feel inferior knowing that he/she is moving slower than rest of the class.
It is here that educational tablets can play an important role.
What we cannot take away from our education system is that as a school and as a teacher, you would always have a certain fixed amount of time in which to finish the syllabus. But what we can do is not let a child’s learning become a bondage to such time constraints. As teachers, educators and parents, we can use educational tablets to empower each child to create their unique paths to learning. Let each child choose their own pace, place and style of learning. And with the availability of student wise reports, teachers and parents can guide their children with additional tasks and feedback, which is extremely personalized. This plays positively to a child’s psychology and because a child can choose when to study, it also gives ample time to master a topic.
A learning tablet going directly into the hands of a child creates a very personalized learning space around him/her. The device does not judge you with whatever you are doing on the device.
At iDream Education, one way in which we encourage children to build on their foundational gaps is by opening up the content of all grades to all the children. Our learning platform guides students to explore content from lower grades depending on their learning levels. Moreover, the child can also choose to study from various categories of content basis their interest. And since the device is monitored either by the parent or the teacher in school, they can guide each child to follow a “mastery” based approach to learning.
In rural India and in government schools where a lot of our work happens, historical learning gaps is one of the biggest challenge waiting to be solved. ASER reports every year highlight this gap. But with educational tablets and adaptive apps and learning platforms, we can clearly see signs of transformation.
Like for example, take a look at the story of Vikas.
Vikas was a drug addict living on the streets of Mumbai. He was rescued by an NGO who helped him in his drug rehabilitation. While the NGO wanted to enroll Vikas in a formal school, but in his teenage years, he was way behind in his learning compared to his age. Vikas is now using educational tablets to happily cover his historical learning gaps. Here’s a short video where he talks about his experience:
Best part being that the NGO has adopted mastery based approach to learning. They are in no hurry to put Vikas in school. Rather are allowing him all the time to help build his previous learning gaps and happily enjoy the learning process.
If we can adopt mastery-based approach to learning in our schools and at home, there are many advantages to it. First and foremost being, that our students would actually get to master every topic. Secondly, when they realize that there are some gaps in their learning, they know that they are not being tagged as a “C” grader or a kid who gets 50% marks. Rather what it would mean to them is that they just need to keep working on the problem till they master it. It also teaches them the value of perseverance and builds a growth mindset.
And educational tablet as we have seen above can certainly help our schools and students adopt the mastery-based approach to learning.
How would you want your children to learn? Would you want them to have tools that can help them build their foundational gaps in knowledge? Do you know of any instance where mastery based approach was adopted and what results did you observe? Please share your questions, thoughts and comments below.