Friday, January 21, 2011

Use of Multimedia in Indian Classrooms

Here is an ad that has been playing on TV for the last few months: The ad opens with a traditional classroom, with a teacher talking and students sitting looking bored out of their skull. Cut to an interactive whiteboard with multimedia visuals. Pan to students who are suddenly energised and eager to learn.

What does one read from this? That a teacher’s monotonous voice will put the class to sleep while a multimedia demonstration with its colourful illustrations, sound effects and voiceover will keep the students awake? However, both the lecture and the multimedia mode seem to share the same assumption—that education is nothing but the transfer of information. That it is a one-way traffic: it either flows from the teacher to the students or from the smart-board to the students. The student remains a passive body whose only responsibility is to assimilate information and answer questions during tests.

If this is the way ICT is going to be adopted in schools, then there is nothing much in it for students. Except that they now get to see a few concepts in visual form. First we used chalk and talk; now we move to observe and listen. Follow this up with drill and test, and we think we have done our duty. While it is a practical necessity for students to score good grades in exams, most of us would agree that it is not the only purpose of education. We still seem to be stuck in the old behaviourist approach of teaching to achieve predictable learning outcomes. If the aim of education is to equip students to set goals for themselves (not just to pursue given goals), then this approach to education is regressive.

Children are natural learners. They learn through experiences and by tinkering with things. They learn by observing things and asking questions. They learn in ways we can’t even imagine. Technology alone will be able to do precious little, if it is introduced without concern for the way children learn and make meanings. We need an adoption model that integrates technology with effective teaching-learning practices and provide scaffolding and space for students to learn on their own.

As a start, classrooms should promote an environment of inquiry, experimentation and dialogue. We should lay bare the porous borders that compartmentalise different subjects. We should acknowledge the differences in aptitude and provide room for each child to build on his or her strengths.
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