Spoon-Feeding Versus Self-Learning

I remember several incidents from my school time that just came back to me as I started writing on this topic. Spoon-feed, as per its definition, is to provide someone with so much help or information that they do not need to think for themselves. This practice was so common in schools that we didn’t even realize that its happening.

In high school, I was the part of the first batch of students, on whom the CCE system was experimented by CBSE. CCE stands for Continuous and Comprehensive Education, and it was meant to revamp the education process bringing about a new method of learning and evaluation. Under this, various clubs were formed, a number of co-curricular activities were started and the examination pattern underwent a major change. What stood out, however, among everything else, was the introduction of a Novel in the syllabus of English Literature.
Clubs. Meh! Exam pattern. Meh! Novel. Oh my god! That was the general view.

For those who may have studied in a metropolitan or another Tier 1 city, may not get what I am talking about, but coming from a relatively smaller city, English was a big deal and people did anything to get their children into private schools just so that their English becomes like that of “city people”. The culture of novels, or books in general, was not prevalent. We had a couple of decent libraries in town but most of them were not frequently visited by people.

Introducing novels into English Literature was a smart move but it came as a big surprise to most of the kids. What was actually devastating was its implementation. There was a choice between two novels in each class but our school, instead of letting us choose, decided a common option for us. Before we could know about two books and decide for ourselves, an option was already taken away.

The second shocking thing happened when the version of the book given, in our case, The Hounds of Baskerville by one and only Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was the edition at the end of which was a set of question answers. And then followed extra classes for the novel, reading each and every chapter in the class, and the best of all, breaking down the novel into parts for different examinations. The correct answers to the given questions were dictated in a classroom full of high school students. At that point, I was angry at my classmates for mugging up the answers from what could have been a fun read, but  later realized that it has been the same for everything including other chapters in English Literature. Mugging up had become a habit.

When we should have been forming our own answers, teachers spoon fed us everything. It sucked! The only good part was that my institution also had some really good teachers who had taught us to self-learn, probably the best thing possible. For English, it required basic things such as knowing how to use a dictionary and actually using it, reading as much as one can and understanding it oneself. It’s better to imagine a story rather than hearing it from someone else’s point of view.

Years later, as I now work at Thinkzone in Odisha, I started tutoring one of my colleagues’ son. He is in class 4. A bright student but faces a lot of challenges in Math and English. He goes to one of the private schools in the area, and is the first generation English Medium learner in the family. When I started to tutor him, I used to give material to read in English, which he had already read in school. I would ask the given questions and he was able to answer all of them. Impressed, I thought my job is easy. But, to my surprise, when I started asking about the story and its characters, he was completely clueless. English to him, was those mugged up answers to questions on the back of every chapter.

Over and above this, his teacher had provided him with workbooks, which had all the answers to every question directly written in one space. Now instead of even turning through the pages of stories, one just had to mug it up.

This has been so common that I feel most of our teachers as well as the education system have been preparing us only for exams all our lives. There is no focus at all on individual learning, lessons to take home and the impact of what we study. If I talk about myself, the only way I have ever actually learned anything, was when I started to pick out books that I wanted to read and spent hours deciphering them. To change the education system, we need to address this issue. Spoon-feeding and preparing for exams is clearly not the right way to go towards a positive change.

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