Did You Learn Something Today?

Thanks to schools, most of us have a skewed understanding of what learning actually means. For most of us adults, learning seems to happen in any of the following ways/settings:

  • Attend an in-person training program
  • Join a MOOC/online course
  • Read a good book

(Wait and Think: What activities do you associate learning with in adult life?)

I blame schools for this view because learning was made into a conscious process for you by your school. Ever since you were born, up until the time you stepped into a school, you were used to voluntarily spending several hundred minutes each day learning new things. “Crying gets me milk”, “smiling gets me applause”, “Fruits taste yummy” and “falling makes me hurt” were no lectures teachers gave you in a classroom. You still learned these ideas and made the most of it, did you not?

Then when and how did an effortless process of learning transform into something so effortful and disengaging?

You guessed it right — it happened in school. Right from day 1, when you stepped into a school, a few things changed. The images below illustrate this well. Review them carefully as you read the following:

Children @ home spending time with the father
Children @ school spending time on their desks in the classroom
  1. Back at home, you were in the real world. In real world, all sorts of fascinating things grabbed your attention. An insect crawling on the floor, your mother dressing you up, your spending time with water when taking bath, an array of utensils, etc. This sensory simulation was a treat, and invited you to engage with the world around you. At school, you were supposed to sit still, pay attention to some really boring things called books. You LOST opportunities of finding objects and events worthy of your attention.
  2. Back at home, no one will tell you what to learn. You paid attention to what you thought was exciting. In school, you needed to pay attention to what your teacher thought was important. You LOST agency and goal orientation.
  3. Back at home, you were also largely free to experiment. Not once, not twice, but hundreds of times. In school, with time and resources being a constraint, you were to ‘progress faster’. You LOST your ability to experiment.
  4. Back at home, you were also often attended one-on-one. Such high quality feedback of emotional quality you received from a loved one told you which behaviour is desirable and which one is not. At school, feedback became infrequent and acquired a negative emotional tone. You LOST your feedback loop.

Within a few years of getting into a school, you gave up what humans need most for learning well — motivation, agency, ability to experiment and authentic, emotional feedback. Most of us end up never reclaiming it back. And we end up believing the myth that learning happens in the classroom.

As a parent, ask yourself:

  1. Is my child finding things worthy of attention at school?
  2. Is my child expressing desire to learn any of those things?
  3. Is my child allowed to experiment, make mistakes and learn at his or her own pace?
  4. Is my child getting authentic feedback?

Is not, then the school might be teaching, but your child certainly isn’t learning. So what does one do? Stay tuned for more :). And if you have any questions, share in the comments section.