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Teaching Amidst Unexpected Unknowns: The Unwritten Rules of the Game

Authors:
  • Christ University Delhi-NCR
  • Christ University Delhi-NCR

Abstract and Figures

Globalisation, technology, migration, competition, changing markets and transnational environmental and political challenges have added a new urgency to develop the skills and knowledge needed in the 21st century. Educators, governments, foundations, employers and researchers refer to these abilities as 'higher-order thinking skills' 'deeper learning outcomes' and 'complex thinking and communication skills'. We need to understand how students today are different from those of yesteryears. Although everyone believes that the knowledge and skills that students need today are different from what they needed yesterday, terminology differs from country to country, as does the composition of knowledge, skills and values. This chapter is broadly divided into four sections. The main objectives of the narrative are to understand the growth and evolution of teaching, to develop an understanding of the differences between the teaching of the East and that of the West, to explore teaching as an art and a skill and finally to prepare ourselves for the burgeoning demands of digital-age teaching.
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Chapter 5
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9691-4.ch005
ABSTRACT
Globalisation, technology, migration, competition, changing markets and transnational environmental
and political challenges have added a new urgency to develop the skills and knowledge needed in the
21st century. Educators, governments, foundations, employers and researchers refer to these abilities
as ‘higher-order thinking skills’ ‘deeper learning outcomes’ and ‘complex thinking and communica-
tion skills’. We need to understand how students today are different from those of yesteryears. Although
everyone believes that the knowledge and skills that students need today are different from what they
needed yesterday, terminology differs from country to country, as does the composition of knowledge,
skills and values. This chapter is broadly divided into four sections. The main objectives of the narrative
are to understand the growth and evolution of teaching, to develop an understanding of the differences
between the teaching of the East and that of the West, to explore teaching as an art and a skill and finally
to prepare ourselves for the burgeoning demands of digital-age teaching.
INTRODUCTION
Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school. – Albert Einstein
Einstein had underscored the quintessential spirit of education through the aforementioned set of seem-
ingly simple words, which have a depth of meaning stored in them. We are not what we are born as but
we are what our education makes us. Over the years education and teaching have undergone myriad
metamorphoses. A teacher has to perform a number of roles like resource provider, instructional spe-
Teaching Amidst
Unexpected Unknowns:
The Unwritten Rules of the Game
Sachin Sinha
Sharda University, India
Deepti Sinha
Apeejay Institute of Technology, India
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Teaching Amidst Unexpected Unknowns
cialist, curriculum designer, classroom supporter, learning facilitator, mentor, school leader, data coach,
change catalyst and, last but not the least, a learner. While playing these roles and discharging these
responsibilities, the teacher has to constantly strive to be perceived as a strong pillar on which lies the
entire onus of the moral and ethical development and preservation of society. Preparing students for
work, citizenship and challenges of life is complicated.
In the present neutrally-networked global village, where the world map is small enough to fit into the
screen of the smart phone in our palm, where there are no more geographical demarcations and where
everything is influenced by everything else, keeping teaching isolated from the Brownian movement of
change would be a self-defeating task. In the year 1970, futurologist Alvin Toffler had enunciated the
concept of ‘Future Shock’ in his eponymous best-selling book. In very simple words, the concept was
a pointer to a state of affairs that human society would find itself in at the turn of the century in which
change would engulf human society at such a break-neck speed that it would not be able to make sense
out of it (Toffler, 1970). The future shock is no longer in the future, it’s already very much around us,
and teaching, like any other human phenomenon, has to survive in this very ‘future-shocked’ state. The
teaching of today cannot be like the teaching of yesterday. It has to compulsorily change in consonance
with the changing demographics and psychographics of the learners. The number of variables in the
teacher-taught equation has increased dramatically and there are hardly any constants remaining. The
teaching task has now become an act of managing the unmanageable, of dealing with risk and uncertainty
and following the unwritten rules of the game as there are hardly any written rules left. Let’s try and
examine these unwritten rules of the game of teaching through a journey along the historical timeline of
teaching, followed by a discussion on the distinction between the Indian and Western models of teach-
ing, the analysis of teaching in its capacity as an art and a skill, and lastly, a delineation of the learning
stimuli of the digital age and the expected teaching responses.
THE TIMELINE OF TEACHING
God said: “Let there be light!” and there was light. And a tiny speck of protoplasm stirred, moved, spread
its diminutive, almost invisible tentacles around, and transformed itself into the multitudinous society
of human beings around us.
If one were to take a retrospective view of the evolutionary annals of the existence of the human spe-
cies on the face of this planet, they would find that the ‘written word’ saw the light of the day much after
the ‘spoken word’ and the ‘spoken word’ was born much after the ‘thought word’ was already there. In
other words, a pre-historic preview of humankind would reveal that it all started with the ‘thought’, in
fact, with pre-verbal thoughts, thoughts that preceded words, thoughts that were housed in the human
mind but could not be verbally expressed for want of language.
That does not imply that teaching and learning did not exist then. They did, but in a very rudimentary
form. It was by and large a system of self-teaching and self-learning, propelled by an innate exploratory
trial-and-error mechanism.
With the gradual shifting of the sands of time came the earliest forms of ‘organised’ teaching and
learning. Religion and religious scriptures were the oldest teachers of human society across the latitudes
and longitudes of the globe. Religious evangelists, though with a different intention, contributed greatly
to the establishment and consolidation of teaching systems. A plethora of missionary institutions belong-
ing to different religious orders fanned out across the length and breadth of the world with the mandate
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of propagating the tenets of their respective faiths. They set up schools and colleges that were modelled
on the lines of religious sanctimony. This lent a rarefied aura to the ethos of teaching, by virtue of which
teaching took the shape of moral instruction rather than training of the mind, which should have been
the case ideally.
And then the Government took over. As a greater part of humanity came under the purview of
civic administration and municipal control, the State in its avatar as the ‘Welfare State’ took over the
responsibility of educating the masses, or at least a majority of the masses. This led to a massification
and consequent widespread ‘mediocritisation’ of education. As a result of this, teaching became more
of a routine rigmarole.
Then came the slew of ‘public schools’ that were supposedly for the affluent sections of society,
wherein teaching acquired the dimensions of rounding off the rough edges of the pupils’ personality.
This dates back to the year 1821 when the first public school was set up in Boston in the United States.
Teaching became multi-splendoured and multi-dimensional and the holistic growth of the child became
the desired goal and the curricular agenda.
Somewhere along the way came the much-fangled and much-flaunted concept of ‘vocational’ or
‘job-oriented’ education. In the early years of the twentieth century, a number of efforts were made
to imitate German-style industrial education in the United States, a trend which spanned out to other
parts of the world in the subsequent half a century or so. This move has ushered in the new doctrine of
‘learning for earning sake’ that has replaced the previously prevailing principle of ‘learning for learn-
ing sake’. Teaching-learning processes have become revolutionised like never before and teaching has
become a job-enabling mechanism. This new phenomenon has made teaching much more pragmatic
but also much more superfluous.
Figure 1. The Evolution of teaching
Source: http://www.kirstenwinkler.com/the-evolution-of-teaching/.
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The emergence of professional education has proved to be a watershed in the history of human
education. The development of this ‘new and different’ kind of education has imbued teaching with
an entirely ‘new and different’ complexion and texture. It has created a big divide between education
worth having and education just for the sake of it. Society has now come to be bifurcated into seekers
of the former – who are perceived as ambition-driven, professionally motivated, achievement-oriented
people – and seekers of the latter – who are unfairly seen as the poor cousins of the previous section of
society, people who are assumed to be studying something just because they were not found competent
or eligible enough to study something supposedly superior.
This phenomenon may not be that pronounced in the Western hemisphere but it has prevailed in its
full form and intensity at least in a country like India. This bifurcation of education into ‘professional’
and ‘non-professional’ has created a kind of apartheid in the teaching-learning community. The teachers
and learners of the stream of subjects that fetch jobs have automatically come to be placed on a higher
pedestal and the teachers and learners of subjects that are not considered professionally lucrative enough
have come to be socially stigmatised at least subconsciously if not consciously. This has had widespread
ramifications and the contours of education have changed like never before.
The magnitude of monetary investment made by the Government and private business houses in the
two halves of education has been governed by this biased mindset and has resulted in the two streams
of teaching-learning becoming the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ of educational society. The haves have been
growing from height to height and the have-nots have been declining from depth to depth. This is not only
reflected in the swanky, plush, state-of-the-art infrastructure of privately owned professional institutes
vis-à-vis the pathetically poor and dilapidated buildings of the State-funded degree colleges across the
length and breadth of India (with a few exceptions, of course), but also in the quality of remuneration
that the two different kinds of teachers teaching in their respective institutions become entitled to and
actually receive. This, in turn, has resulted in varying degrees of morale and motivation of teachers cor-
responding to their quantum of compensation and service conditions.
The so-called ‘professionalisation’ of education has engendered a self-multiplying breed of profes-
sional colleges, which have witnessed bacterial growth in India. This has done a great disservice to
the cause of teaching-learning per se. The demand-supply equation has become unbalanced like never
before and quality intake has been the biggest casualty. The very concept of teaching has been reduced
to something as trivial as ‘employability skilling’, which by itself is not an undesirable goal of teaching,
but that is not and cannot be the be-all and end-all of teaching.
By definition and by design, teaching is theoretically aimed at broadening the horizon of the learner’s
mind, but by force of circumstance, the very horizon of teaching itself has been circumscribed and nar-
rowed down.
The brighter side of the story is that teaching has been imbued with a new spirit of action-goal
orientation. Perhaps targeted teaching is the order of the day. It may be far removed from the classical
principles of teaching enshrined by the likes of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius and other pioneering,
path-breaking teachers in the history of human civilisation, but it certainly is fulfilling some purpose in
some way or the other. That itself should be a source of satisfaction.
Therefore, after tracing the historical evolution of teaching over the centuries, it can conveniently be
inferred that teaching has metamorphosed from an elementary art to a complex science. It is also obvi-
ous that the twenty-first century is increasingly being dominated by the digitalisation of teaching and
the replacement of physical classrooms by virtual ones.
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TEACHING: INDIA VS. THE WEST
India has had a long and chequered history of organised education. The earliest phase of this history was
the Early Education Era (Joseph, 2006), which was conspicuously characterised by the ubiquitous presence
of ‘gurukuls’ or teachers’ homes. The pupils were resident scholars and the education imparted to them
had a pronounced spiritual emphasis. The spiritual enlightenment of the enrolled students was the avowed
goal of the teacher. The attainment of ‘moksha’ or salvation was supposed to be the supreme attainment
of life. The next stage in the evolutionary annals of teaching in India was marked by differentiated and
customised education corresponding to the ‘varna’ or social stratum to which the student belonged (Jo-
seph, 2006). The ancient Indian social hierarchical order or ‘varnashram’, the modern, corrupted form
of which is the prevailing caste system, was the guiding principle of teaching-learning processes in this
period. The Brahmins were imparted scriptural education through a whole gamut of religious texts, the
Kshatriyas were trained in the various martial arts and also the mechanics of warfare and the students
who hailed from Vaishya families went through courses in vocational education, trade and commerce
and other streams of mercantilism. Then came the period of the Gupta Empire, which is regarded as
the Golden Era of Indian history (Blackwell, 2004; Raman, 2006; Scharfe, 2002). The most prominent
centre of learning in this era was the world-famous university of Nalanda. Education acquired a modern,
urban flavour during this period and the accent was on the propagation of the principles and practices
of Buddhism. The immediate successor of this period was the Early Common Era (Scharfe, 2002; Sen,
1989; Blackwell, 2004). This epoch was marked by the interchange of scholars among countries like
China, Japan and India. A further impetus was provided to the spread of Buddhist precepts during this
age also. Then came the Middle Era (Sen, 1989; Kumar, 2003), which was characterised by the advent
of Islam and the emergence of Islamic scholars and Islamic school of thoughts. New-age subjects like
logic, mathematics, philosophy, law, mathematics, mysticism, literature and music came to the fore. The
ensuing era was the Colonial Era (Kumar, 1984; Evans, 2002; Ghosh, 1995; Spear, 1938; Frykenberg,
1986; Ellis, 2009; Chaudhary, 2010) in which a new breed of English reformers and educationists dis-
persed the seeds of English-medium education. The stress now shifted to higher education and learning,
liberal arts, bureaucracy and engineering.
The ancient, time-honoured practice of Gurukul or ‘the teacher’s house’ in India was a classical
predecessor of the later-day boarding-school system of education. The Gurukul was a home away from
home for young scholars who were sent to a hermitage, usually in a forest, where they were required
to lead an austere life, shorn of all luxurious amenities of their homes. The regimen laid down for the
students was an extremely rigorous one and involved fending for oneself in all possible ways, quite akin
to the life of a modern-day hosteller.
Apart from the various co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that were part and parcel of the
Gurukul’s scheme of things and formed the circumference of the circle of life of the hermit-scholars,
intense academic instruction lay at the centre of this circle. One remarkable feature of the pedagogy ad-
opted by the Guru at the Gurukul was the oral-aural mechanism of teaching delivery. The two supporting
pillars of the edifice of education were ‘Shruti’ and ‘Smriti’, which were, respectively, the faculties of
listening and remembering. Interestingly enough, the teaching toolkit practically consisted of just these
two components. The cerebral content of the teacher’s cranium was transferred to the student’s skull
just by sheer word of mouth, with hardly any loss in transit. And miraculously, this oral-aural tradition
of scriptural study went on uninterrupted for generations together.
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But this could not have gone on forever. Times changed, and with them changed the ways and means
of teaching and learning. Physical paraphernalia made their way into the domain of education, which
was till now a purely mental phenomenon. It is a strange irony of fate that the ‘dematerialisation’ of
academic processes that we are witnessing now the world over in the digital age was exactly the starting
point of the teaching-learning tradition in India in pre-historic times. Life has indeed come full circle
insofar as teaching-learning practices are concerned in India. The West has actually now ascended to
what India has descended from. However, going back to the way things progressively (or regressively)
happened in India in terms of the developmental turn of events, teaching-learning acquired a pen-to-paper
format, which was a need of the hour, a practical necessity. What followed was the transformation of
the unfathomable treasure troves of boundless knowledge lodged in the limitless space between the two
human ears into documented literature. ‘Books’ were born and so was learning by rote.
This was a big turning point in the annals of education. The very concept of learning underwent
a conceptual cataclysm. What was hitherto an esoteric experience involving auditory assimilation of
knowledge right up to its greatest philosophical depths somehow got converted into a shallow and su-
perficial commitment of the written (and later printed) word to short-term memory. This was again a
big disservice to the cause of education, which no longer remained a mechanism of enriching and em-
bellishing the mind but was reduced to a mechanical process of administering compulsory inoculation
to an unwilling brain.
This state of affairs has, in some form or the other, continued up to the present day and is majorly
responsible for the pitiable condition of education in a country that had practically shown the light of
knowledge to the world. This has also become the numero uno reason for the abysmal performance of
the otherwise brilliant brains of Indians in the worldwide race for social advancement and material pros-
perity. Learning by rote is the biggest liability that the Indian scholastic system has willy-nilly acquired
with the passage of time.
And the story does not end here. The abhorrent system of learning by rote automatically laid a lot
of undue emphasis on the acquisition of better scores and learning became a frantic and unending race
for grabbing the best grades. This quest for supremacy, not in terms of internalised knowledge but in
terms of the its external reflection in the form of higher marks obtained, transcended the confines of
schools and colleges and took society at large by storm very much like a communicable disease, almost
an epidemic. The premium of teaching-learning was primordially placed on examination, rather than
on enlightenment. The marks obtained in examinations became the caste mark of student society both
within and outside the academic campuses, and a new kind of invisible social hierarchy took shape, in
which the top rungs were occupied by the top scorers in academic examinations and low-graders became
social pariahs. The psychological impact of this social discrimination born out of academic distinction
is much greater than what educationists have been able to gauge. It is actually a system of being starred
or scarred for life. The unnecessary importance accorded to school and college grades has the insidious
potential of doing irreparable damage to the psyche of the student, which sort of stays with them as a
lifelong disability.
This is exactly where the Western hemisphere of the world has scored much better than the Eastern
one. On the other side of the cultural equator of the globe, things have been much better and brighter in
a very different way. One very significant way in which education has been different on the two sides
of this dividing meridian has been the variance in the fundamental approach to teaching and learning.
‘Learning by doing’ has been the guiding principle of teaching methodology in the West. A great deal
of demonstrative teaching and practical learning forms part of the curriculum in schools and colleges in
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a large part of Europe and most of the North American continent. Do-it-yourself project exercises and
simulated learning environments are an integral part of the instructional diet consumed by American
students. This is in sharp contrast to the pedantic form of teaching that has always occupied pride of
place in India and other Asian countries. This high degree of formalism in the teaching-learning domain
in Asian countries has stifled the natural fervour that a healthy human being can have for creativity, for
innovativeness, for life in general. This, in turn, has to a very great extent snuffed out the spirit of entre-
preneurial adventurism in Asian students. India and Korea are particular cases in point in this context.
In larger parts of Asia, in general, and in these two countries, in particular, parental and societal support
for entrepreneurship as a vocational choice has ranged from negligible to non-existent. Of course, things
have changed appreciably in the past two decades or so, but the socio-cultural inertia will take its own
time to wear off. Both in India and in Korea, for a greater part of the previous century, there has been
a very strong thrust in insistence on acquisition of a stable and secure job in the Government sector as
a lifelong source of livelihood. And the only foreseeable and possible route to a stable and secure job
in the Government sector as perceived by parents and society together was good grades in school. And
the only foreseeable and possible route to good grades was intense and rigorous academic labour or
slogging. As a result of all this, an iron-clad social stereotype was very powerfully perpetuated and a
vicious cycle of conditioning created in these two countries, more so in India. And it became virtually
impossible for the individual student to escape the vice-like grip of the clutches of this conditioning that
operated on a seemingly simple linear equation that connected professional success and social accept-
ability with academic excellence.
There exists a huge hiatus between the education system of India and that of the West, which is con-
sidered synonymous with the American education system. In India, from the elementary classes itself,
more stress is laid on memorising a large number of entities like mathematical tables, various algorithms
to add or multiply numbers, etc. In the US a greater amount of emphasis is placed on logical and rational
thinking, which in turn lays the foundation for independent and lateral thinking. The American school
system gives utmost priority to the development of individual ability and encourages kids to express
themselves and their opinions from an early age. As a result, most Americans are way better at getting
their point across as compared to people from other countries. In the Indian system, individuals are not
asked to stand up in front of the whole class and recite something. Instead, the whole class reads books
out aloud together in unison. This allows more timid students to participate and overcome their hesi-
tation. American institutions have a system of evaluation where students are assessed throughout the
year. We can say that the present-day system of Comprehensive and Continuous Evaluation adopted by
the Central Board of Secondary Education in India is based on the American way. There, assignments
form an integral part of education, which is still left to be desired in India. Overall it can be said that the
Western education system is more practice-oriented while the Indian system is still struggling with the
age-old practice of text-book teaching and year-end evaluation, though a lot of changes have already been
initiated in school-level education and a lot more are expected with the proposed new education policy.
In the Western world, in general, and in the United States, in particular, the free-spiritedness inherent
in the overall quality of life has percolated to the teaching-learning dynamics also. This has engendered a
joi de vivre in the locus of education, which has led to a heightened sense of involvement of the learner
with the learning material. This has also helped in avoiding the constriction of the minds of students there,
enabling their evolution into well-rounded individuals better prepared to confront the challenges of life.
A fundamental way in which teaching in India has been diametrically different from teaching in the
West also lies in the fun quotient of the content of learning. While the former has always taken a very
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serious and sombre approach to education, the latter has had a light-hearted approach to the same. The
difference also lies in the relative rigidity and nimble flexibility imbued respectively by the teachers in
their teaching style in the two parts of the teaching universe. The Oriental school of thought has always
promulgated the thesis of strict and stern disciplinarian doctoring of a frozen, strait-jacketed thought
process. It has always subscribed to the indoctrination method of tutoring pupils. On the other hand,
the Occidental ideology of educational psychology has always stood by the principle of laissez-faire as
far as the human mind and its mechanics are concerned. It has always believed in the potential of the
human mind to find its own course without the requirement of an unnecessarily high degree of chan-
nelisation. The distinction between the teaching systems of the West and those of India can very well be
likened to the distinction between seeing the student’s mind as a river and seeing the same as a canal,
respectively. While the former viewpoint considers the pupil’s mind as a free-flowing fluid propelled by
its own energy and buoyancy, the latter standpoint sees the learner’s mind as a directioned water body,
the movement of which needs to be orchestrated, led through and hand-held.
TEACHING AS AN ART AND A SKILL
The celebrated scientist-philosopher Galileo had once aptly remarked: “You cannot teach a man anything,
you can only help him find it within himself.”
These words might sound simplistic, but there is an unfathomable depth of underlying meaning. Go-
ing by what Galileo had said, perhaps it can be said that, in the ultimate analysis, teaching is a process of
teacher-induced self-discovery on the part of the taught. Therefore, teaching skills should not be seen as
characteristics or attributes of the teacher or the teacher’s personality, but as characteristics or attributes
of the teaching-learning process per se.
Teaching skills cannot be seen completely in absolute terms. They have to be analysed necessarily in
the relative frame of reference of the teacher-taught relationship. A very blatant mistake that is usually
committed by educational administrators, though inadvertently, is that they presume that a teacher’s set
of teaching skills is a ‘fixed’ or ‘frozen’ entity, which is applicable to a cross-section of student audi-
ences. This is a gross misconception. The essence of teaching actually lies in the teacher’s ability to
re-engineer his teaching style and, in the process, re-invent himself as a teacher every time he faces a
new congregation of learners sitting expectantly in front of him.
The teaching skills of the teacher are in a way a dependent variable in the equation between the
teacher and the taught, with the learning skills of the latter being the independent variable. The beauty
of teaching lies in a deft handling of the teaching process in such a manner that the aforesaid equation
gets completely reversed. The teacher needs to start at the level at which the student’s mind is and elevate
it to a level that is his own and even take it higher than that. Of course, it goes without saying that an
enormous amount of mental and emotional input has to go into this process, before it can materialise.
Seen in a very idealistic light, it may be said that a teacher should start with making the student learn and
should end up learning ‘from’ him – a very lofty ideal to set as a performance benchmark, but perhaps
very true in the truest philosophical sense.
The practice of teaching cannot be seen as separate from the practice of mentoring. The two are
very intricately intertwined, although it will have to be admitted that teaching is more of a macro-level
function while mentoring can very well operate only at a micro-level. Nevertheless, the spirit of men-
toring is deeply embedded in the process of teaching. It would be in the fitness of things to mention
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the famous Pygmalion effect, which talks about a magical change (in positive incremental terms) be-
ing produced in the performance of a particular student who is singled out for special attention by the
teacher. This special attention is usually in the form of an expressed expectation of a higher degree of
exemplary performance from that particular student. This very expectation becomes a strong driving
force for that student and works wonders for him, though an abnormal excess of expectation can also
mar his original performance. The point to be driven home here is that something which can be done in
a singular exceptional case can also be replicated in larger numbers. Again the special attention or the
higher expectation is dependent on the spark that is seen by the teacher in a particular student or at best
in ‘some’ students. The idea is to ignite that spark where it does not exist naturally and start a forest fire.
The idea is to ‘massify’ the mentoring effort.
Mentoring, if taken in the right earnest and with the utmost sincerity, can bring about a total turn-
around of teaching, leading ultimately to inspirational teaching, which is clearly a very desirable goal
for the individual teacher as well as for the educational institution.
Another very important concomitant of teaching skills is the competence of the teacher to break
the entry barrier of the student’s mind. It can perhaps be said that a good teacher is one who tries their
level best to successfully enter the mind of the student and a good student is one who tries their level
best to block this entry. The entry barriers in the minds of intelligent students are always stronger. It
may require more than the usual quota of persuasive power and/or intellectual input on the part of the
teacher to break these barriers.
Teaching skills also necessarily entail keeping the students’ mind arrested for the required length of
time. It is incumbent upon the teacher to induce a hypnotic spell or create a magnetic field in which the
students remain trapped. Obviously, this spell cannot last forever but again the idea is to lengthen its
duration to the maximum possible extent. This magnetic field is made up of a very delicate fabric and is
liable to snap at any point of time but then teaching itself is a delicate ballgame altogether. The teacher
cannot afford to let the spell snap. Sometimes they might themselves have lost interest in something that
they are trying to teach, but they cannot let it show; they cannot afford to let the students lose interest
in the same thing. Teaching has always been and shall always be a difficult task. The key to successful
teaching lies in very subtly and skillfully concealing this fact.
With the passage of time, it has become sort of peremptory to use a lot of technology in teaching.
Of late technology has come to acquire a peculiar pride of place (and also place of pride) in the overall
scheme of things in academics, so much so that teaching sans technology is being increasingly perceived
as an outdated model of both pedagogy and andragogy. Though there is no denying the fact that technol-
ogy is certainly an enabler as far as conducting a class is concerned but at the end of the day it is just a
means to an end and not an end in itself. It just contributes to a better organisation of the teaching effort;
it does not help the teacher teach better.
Several centuries ago, Socrates had enunciated the dialectic method, in which he and his disciples
used to orally thrash out innumerable concepts and precepts; they used to present their arguments and
counter-arguments related to a particular theme just through the vocal expression of their thoughts; they
used to just speak and ‘defend’ their point of view; they used to try to read each other’s mind through the
spoken and heard words. Ancient as it might seem, this classical practice of teacher-taught dialogue can
never go out of fashion. The age-old art of the teacher and the students doing their best to understand each
other through a threadbare ‘discussion’ of things is still very much relevant even in the Wi-Fi-enabled
lecture-hall equipped with the most modern audio-visual teaching tools.
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Again it is part of the skill set of a teacher to make the student comfortable with technology but
not dependent on it. These days it is believed that teachers have to handle four possible things in the
classroom – their materials, their audience, their atmospherics and themselves. This belief is flawed to
a great extent. It is not the tangible components of the class atmospherics and the technology-driven
teaching materials that are important; it is the intangible magnetic field that gets created between the
teacher and the taught that is of paramount importance. While in the classroom the teacher just needs to
acquire control over two entities – the students’ mind and their own, their collective consciousness and
their own deliverable thought process.
Teaching skills also include a strong sense of judgement on the part of the teachers as to where they
need to draw the line in class dynamics. They should be clear in their mind as to how much of free-
wheeling Brownian movement of thoughts can they allow in the classroom and at what juncture it is
vital for them to intervene and assert the authoritative superiority of their deeply ingrained knowledge
over the half-baked ideas of their students. We are not living in times when the students would listen to
the teacher in a state of over-awed concentration as parishioners listening to the pastor in the church but
at the same time a class cannot be allowed to become a television talk show that can go on and on and
that too in different directions.
TEACHING SKILLS IN THE DIGITAL AGE
The authors of this chapter, with a substantial length of classroom teaching experience behind them
have seriously begun to realise in the recent past that the cognitive distance between the teacher and the
taught appears to be increasing at an accelerated pace with the passage of time. This distance is bound to
increase further in the years to come as there will be a greater negative correlation between the chrono-
logical ages of the two parties in question – the teacher is going to become regressively older and older
with each passing year, while the students will become progressively younger with each passing year.
The teacher and the taught actually exist in two different mental time zones in spite of their interaction
in a common real-time environment in the class. They might temporarily acquire a common mental age
in the confines of the classroom but they still reside on two separate planets insofar as their respective
cognitive capacities are concerned.
The learners in the digital age are of made up of a different material altogether and need to be taught
through the deployment of a teaching skill set that is customised to their requirements. The primary
assumption that should be made here is that it is now sort of pointless to expect the learners to adapt
themselves to the expectations of the teachers and things will have to move the other way round now.
The learning needs as well as the learning styles of the learners of the digital age are quite complex
and also slightly difficult to comprehend. The role of empathy as the key mover of the treatment meted
out by the teacher to the students is of paramount significance now. The critical mass of the teaching
function will now rest in how well the teachers have been able to identify the cognitive configuration
and attitudinal make-up of the pupils seated in front of them in the classroom.
There has never been in any age a ‘right’ set of skills that the teacher has to acquire and apply. This
is truer now than ever before. The degree of customisation that the teacher has to incorporate in their
classroom delivery is now at an all-time high. The teacher’s task has become much more challenging
in the digital age and a major pre-requisite to be met by the teacher is stepping out of the comfort zone
of their ‘cache’ – stuff that has been lying stored in the space between their two ears for a long period
85
Teaching Amidst Unexpected Unknowns
– facts, figures, theories, opinions, perceptions, prejudices – most of which have become outdated with
the passage of time. Teachers, more than anyone else, need to clear their ‘cache’ quite often. They need
to know what their students know in order to be on the same page with them.
Contemporary behavioural research conducted with a cross-section of young people has indicated
that they, on account of their out-of-school technology experiences, find their school curriculum less
challenging and also less engaging. This is an opportunity that the teachers need to harness. Multimedia
has brought veritably the whole world into the classroom. The teaching of the varied subjects as well as
the designing of the assignments based on them can be woven around the usage of as many multimedia
tools as possible. This will provide the necessary mental anchoring to the students and make the in-class
experience relevant for them.
Another behavioural insight that has been obtained in the case of students is that they are obsessed
with mobile gaming. Instead of wishfully thinking that they would voluntarily abandon that, an innova-
tive step that can be taken is the incorporation of the tenets and working principles of mobile games
into the project exercises administered to them. Ipsative assessment is one such thing that works here,
where a student’s learning is measured against their previous attainment. This is analogous to games
where players are constantly trying to better their own previous top scores. Teachers in the digital age
need to trust the learners’ innate ability of self-assessment. Learners of today are capable of conducting
self-assessment to a much greater extent than their counterparts in the days gone by.
Today’s learners go by the dictum “Any teacher who can be replaced by a computer, should be.” The
digital age is redefining the teacher’s roles in an unprecedented manner. Peer-based learning networks
have come into existence where students are learning as much from each other as from their mentors
and tutors. Peers provide a huge quantum of social, technical and academic support to each other, which
was previously provided by the teacher.
Education in the digital age has come to be reinvented, recast and redefined in such a drastic way that
the teacher-taught bipolarity itself has disappeared. The poles of contradiction have been reconciled and
both are simultaneously teacher and student.
Teaching in the digital age cannot continue be a self-satisfying process. It is not supposed to be
aimed at the preservation of the past but at the creation of the future. There is a strong tendency among
educational institutions to strictly prohibit the usage of mobile phones within their precincts. On the
face of it, the move sounds plausible enough. Mobile phones are disruptive and distracting, and lead to
lack of focussed attention on the part of students and, in turn, to loss of control of class on the part of
the teacher. But at the same time what can certainly not be ignored is that mobile phones are the learn-
ers’ chosen and natural tool of communication today; it is the centre of gravity of their social existence.
Teachers should certainly bear in mind that the students are being prepared for the future and not for the
past. The same applies to social media as well which is second home to both young and not-so-young
netizens. Social-networking sites like Facebook and microblogging sites like Twitter can be an ideal
rendezvous for a new-age teacher-learner dialogue.
The digital-age learner has a well-identified and well-defined set of learning needs things that
the learners need to know and not things that the teacher knows and has a compulsive need to tell the
students anyhow.
86
Teaching Amidst Unexpected Unknowns
CONCLUSION
We are seeing peer-based learning networks where students are learning as much from each other as
they are from their mentors and tutors. – John Seely-Brown
The above quote points to the well-known fact that one person in a class learns a lesson and gains a
deeper understanding of something, does not take away from the next person’s ability to gain the same
or even a deeper insight. The fact is that one student’s learning can actually enhance the learning of other
students. We cannot ‘manage’ self-organised learning for our students. We can only create conducive
environments within which students will organise their own learning. There is no panacea to understand
what will work and what will not work in teaching. We have to be experimental. The centres of education
should pay more attention towards the professional development of the teachers; moreover, what we need
is that these centres should become learning organisations. In the present-day digitally governed and
highly networked environment the idea is to adapt to the changing times. Rigid and inorganic systems
would lead to stagnation and eventual demise of the system. All said and done, teaching is a ‘soft’ science
– something that has its classical rules and also something that gets perfected with practice. Teaching
skills can never have an exhaustive list and they can also not be handed out as a medical prescription.
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