The Third Dimension of School Education

Why is it that in the schools that get ranked as the top schools in the country, a high percentage of children do not perform very well academically?

It’s a question that is quite intriguing and worth looking an answer for.

Over the last 2 decades, schools in India have been focusing on improving curriculum (what to teach) and pedagogy (how to teach). There has been innovation both at an industry level (publishers, authors, EdTech companies) as well individual school level and even at individual teacher level. Every educator has been focusing on developing new approaches to learning that can be effective in the classroom. Experiential learning, activity based learning, flipped classrooms, smart boards with digital content are the approaches that have been talked about and implemented in the last 8–10 years. All these changes have been incrementally positive and curriculum and pedagogy have carried our children only thus far.

On an average around 30–35% children in schools score less than 75%. For example, in a co-ed school that is ranked within the top 5 schools in a NCR city and ranks in the top 50 in the country in the survey by education world magazine, roughly 35% of the children scored less than 75% in their class 12th board examination in the year 2017–2018.

A logical question then is that since high quality curriculum, well paid — well trained teachers and excellent pedagogy have not helped in improving the performance of all the students, what could possibly be the reason for such high number of students not achieving academic success?

To me, the answer lies in, what researchers say is “Academic Tenacity.”

Research on school children is clearly telling us that the character of the child plays a significant role in the child’s ability to perform well academically. Lack of a purpose, short term distractions, inability to focus on long term goals, giving up in tough situations and inability to positively respond to failure are among the many non-cognitive factors that hinder academic excellence in children. So what is the solution?

Psychological factors like grit, perseverance, curiosity, self-control and a growth mindset have been found to be significant determinants of academic success and even success in life in general in various studies on students over the last decade. Path breaking work of various psychologists has been documented very well by a Best Selling author Paul Tough in his book “How Children Succeed.” Published in 2012, the book explains the exceptional work of psychologists Dr. Carol Dweck and Angela Lee Duckworth amongst others.

In his talk at the World Innovation Summit For Education at Doha in 2014, he gave detailed accounts of why too much focus on cognitive growth (IQ) over the last 2 decades has been misguided. He talks about how the character of the child plays a significant role in shaping his/her success in school and in life in general. He goes on to say that character building is as important as cognitive development and in some situations even more important. He also mentioned that the best times to develop character in children in early childhood and adolescence.

So, what can schools and parents do?

I believe that schools should make an attempt to work on this very important aspect of child development. It is this third dimension of school education that can truly make learning and teaching more meaningful, broad based and long term for our children. Implementing this will require investments from the schools in ensuring individual attention and structured feedback to children by increasing teacher: student ratio, capacity development of teachers to help students develop character and developing a passion to implement evidence based approach to learning.

I also believe that parents need to start tracking their child’s development more holistically. The PTM discussions in schools need to change their focus. The discussions need to be around developing the third dimension to make them more meaningful and life-long.