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American education system may give India a chance to regain thought leadership in the world

Indians, who once boasted of world-class universities like Nalanda and Taxashila, today are the most eager consumers of concepts taught by Western institutions. But with the advent of the internet and its all pervasive reach we can reclaim our leadership role as knowledge producer and exporter.

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First it was brain-drain then it was reverse brain-drain. The first term was coined when Indian intellectuals took flight to Western shores for picking up higher education and working there. Then came the reverse brain-drain when intellectuals who studied, worked and settled in the west took wing for the Indian shores. Both these phenomena had one thing in common, the desire to get higher education from western shores, more specifically USA.

This from the citizens of a country which, once upon a time had world-class universities like Nalanda and Taxashila. India has always been the cradle of and one of the preeminent producers and exporters of knowledge, ideas and values to the rest of Asia. Today, we are the most eager consumers of concepts taught by Western institutions.

In fact so strong is the lure of a western education that our elites feel they must get certified by the West in order to get credibility back home in India. But all this can change as we are at an inflection point from where, if we want, we can reclaim our leadership role as knowledge producer and exporter. This inflection point rests squarely on the internet.

So what is the scenario in the US universities today? Firstly, there is a growing participation by Indians, in the affairs of universities. This has directly affected India by the large number of US educated people returning to India and carrying with them the American values and principles, indoctrinated while there. For the US, educating our students is not only a great source of tuition fees but also a way to spread its intellectual influence.

A second trend is of wealthy Indians investing in US universities for personal brand building. They see their family name on a building or attached to an academic chair as their next step in climbing the social ladder. Only a handful of donors take the efforts to be sufficiently involved in the details of the subject matter and the impact that it creates.

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China is on a different trajectory, the country exercises a strict control on disciplines pertaining to its civilization, values, domestic politics and culture. While they eagerly lap up knowledge in the disciplines of Western science, technology and business knowhow. This approach is a carefully thought out one as the Chinese don’t want their youth to be brainwashed with Western prejudices in areas of the humanities. India has not been able to appreciate this strategic point even now.

The single most important trend that is revolutionizing every aspect of our lives is information technology and even education is not left untouched by the internet. Rapidly proliferating teaching platforms like the Khan Academy are the wave of the future, not a physical classroom. A disruption is long overdue and India should see this as an opportunity for creative entrepreneurship.

The classrooms have shifted to the Cloud threatening the old school systems in many ways:

1  Huge campuses will not be needed. Only laboratories and high-tech infrastructure that cannot become virtual will continue to exist. 

2  Old teaching materials will be redundant. Class notes are available online so are explanatory videos. Video conferencing will take out most of the physical interactions. 

3  Together this sounds the death knell of academic snobbery. Internet as a great leveller has allowed for not only the teachers but also other knowledgeable individuals embedded within communities to share knowledge. 

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While all the above are the impacts of the internet on the teaching and learning side of education. Let us look at the experience on the research side, especially in the humanities.

25 years ago, to make any impact, on the American research on Hinduism it was crucial to get inside the system one way or another. But today, a large amount of quality works are being published by scholars and practitioners from outside the American academia. In fact with the surge of organised guru movements in India, their own writings and publishing houses too have surged. The new works produced by Hindu movements are not only about standard topics like Bhagavad Gita, but also cover a range of issues like society, politics, family, health, etc.

In fact, so strong is the wave of publishing material that many other people groups started by civic society now nurture non-academic research and publishing. These new suppliers are seen as threats to the turf traditionally controlled by the academicians.

The sheer outreach of the internet has ensured that the number of readers who receive knowledge from outside sources far outnumber those who attend a class. The American academicians refused to remove their blinders and accept this trend developing from the past 2 decades. The pride of being the exclusive source of knowledge had been instilled in them during their PhD. This attitude of the senior professors has misguided the new generation of academicians, and made the American academic system insular and vulnerable.

So if it is amply clear that the channels of knowledge consumption even if it pertains to religion is increasingly shifting to television, online sources, personal travels to sacred and holy sites, teachings from their gurus and swamis, and reading materials published by non-academic writers, then elite Indians are far better off in investing on such platforms and not feeding the rapidly deteriorating old system.

Instead of blindly funding American higher education’s pre-internet era system, India should develop the next generation platforms. Besides developing the platforms and delivery systems, Indians should also lead in content development and educational methodology, especially since all the original material lies in our ancient texts which means the competitive advantage lies with us.

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ScooNews Opens The #LockerRoom to Dig Deeper With Assorted Panelists

A panel discussion was held in a webinar hosted by ScooNews to discuss the most recent of the shocking news about #LockerRoom fiasco

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The online #LockerRoom scandal is not unheard or unknown to anyone, but to keep pointing fingers at what has happened already is not going to bring a solution either. ScooNews decided to bring in experts to discuss the standing problem; to find out the root of the issue and if possible, a solution as well.

On 8th May 2020, we held a webinar in association with UnTaboo & Association for Primary Education and Research (APER). The panellists included:

  1. Anju Kish, Panel Chair & Sexuality Educator, Founder UnTaboo Education
  2. Dr Swati Popat Vats, President, Early Childhood Association India, Association for Primary Education and Research (APER)
  3. Dr Zirak Marker, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Advisor – Mpower
  4. Varun Gupta, Student, Jamnabai International School

The discussion started by addressing the worrisome situation in hand. Anju Kish said, “Parents and educators are the ones who need to be cognizant about situations like these. Shrugging away by saying ‘not my child, not my school, not my problem’ is not helping anyone. It is time that instead of pointing fingers, we find real solutions.

Excerpts.

Anju Kish: As a mental health professional, how do you react to news like #LockerRoom?

Dr Zirak Marker: It surely unravels a lot of questions in the mind. For me, the first concern is that all three stakeholders (parents, teachers & children) are victims here. We have to remember that as children, they can get wrongly vindicated, judged and convicted via news, social media, etc. We have to look deep within ourselves to find how to support and empower them to make better decisions. After all, kids cannot be expected to learn it on their own.

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Anju Kish: You belong to the same generation we’re concerned about. What’s your take in this?

Varun Gupta: What I feel is news like these change perceptions overnight, instilling a certain amount of fear in us. Staying out late with friends does not feel safe anymore, for example, and somehow it has a greater impact on girls because of all the restrictions they get imposed with. 

Anju Kish: It is a normal knee jerk reaction of parents to these kinds of incidents. We restrict children for some time, do overbearing parenting and then forget about it. This is not helpful. In fact, providing proper education and guidance is more important. On that note, I would like to ask Dr Swati since a majority of schools and parents think Sex Education is unnecessary, how can the attitude be changed?

Dr Swati Popat Vats: 15 years ago, I started ‘good touch, bad touch’ lessons for toddlers. This made many teachers and parents anxious. What helps is taking an initiative and sticking to it while making parents understand. The reason Sex Education does not work in our country is because of the word ‘sex.’ When we use this term, the word ‘sex’ magnifies and ‘education’ minimizes. Parents, in general, have a problem with this term, they misunderstand and opt against it. Hence, it’s suggested to explain and probably, say it differently so it's not embarrassing for anyone. At least until the time, this term is normalized and people become comfortable with it.

Anju Kish: Since we were talking about parents’ reaction earlier, if we are to put the blame on parenting even in the case of the offenders, does that mean children have no personal responsibility to take?

Varun Gupta: In my opinion, there could be two things that decide how a child is brought up in 2020 – parenting and the internet. For example, when kids have parents to confide in about anything that is bothering them, they develop a better bond and gradually, a clear judgement. But when the internet is relied upon to secure all sorts of information, things might go wrong. The internet does not have ethics as it will only show whatever is highly rated. In such a case, how can we expect them to learn what is truly informative and what’s not bringing them right values? Children need to have better role models more than ever. Yes, even though it's their fault in actions, they did not know what was correct and what was not.

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Dr Swati Popat Vats: It’s not one person’s mistake, we all need to ponder upon what is happening around us. Sex is being used as power, bullying has increased in the K-12 setup, and rape is sadly a common phenomenon these days. Parents, especially, must understand that children are always curious and one of the solutions to teach them the difference between right and wrong is by focusing on their early childhood education, which is not taken very seriously in India. 

Anju Kish: Another thing I would like to say is that the internet is not all bad, one can find great resources and information there. However, to show the child how to reach the correct resource is an adult’s responsibility. In fact, they can use the internet to clear doubts of children if they are uncomfortable themselves. Talking about parents, is there something we need to fix in our parenting methods?

Dr Zirak Marker: I have seen so many parents using ‘snowplow parenting’ technique, where they try to remove all the hurdles from children's paths to keep them safe. Even though this comes from their love for the child, we need to also see how negatively it’s affecting them. Children who are brought up like that have poor judgement and insight, high frustration, and succumb to peer pressure easily. 

Correct nurturing plays a huge role, talking to children about sex, their bodies, consent, boundaries, all of this is important. Indian parents are too awkward in having such discussion hence having a mental health curriculum in schools becomes significant. We have seen changes in kids due to a robust mental health curriculum.

Anju Kish: When we talk of children mounting the wrong path, another issue today is the usage of foul language since early ages. What can be done about this?

Dr Swati Popat Vats: As teachers, it is important to not shame or punish the children. Instead, make them understand with compassion that this kind of language is not acceptable. If needed, involve the parents.

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Anju Kish: Varun, we would like to know from someone of your age group, when we talk of parental involvement, how much involvement is enough without imposing it on the child’s privacy?  

Varun Gupta: Forcing us all of a sudden to reveal details about our personal lives, school, and friends is not helpful. What parents can do is develop a friendly bond with them from a young age so that when we need someone to talk to, we rush to them for their opinion. Again, they don’t have to be fully involved but should remain on the sidelines as a support system whenever needed.

Anju Kish: Talking of sidelines, Dr Marker, do you feel being on the sidelines somehow could also worsen the situation, just like the bystander effect in cases like these, who do you think is responsible?

Dr Zirak Marker: I hear kids saying their mom and dad are the inner voice in their heads. As a parent, all one can do is be solid and present beside the kid, making them morally strong and letting them make their own judgements.

While talking to them, be mindful, thoughtful, age-appropriate and mainly, do not have double standards, i.e ‘do as you say; say as you do.’ Children absorb everything done and said, even the wrong parts. Have compliance and conformity, teach them to make better choices, but let the ultimate choice be theirs. That way you will make sure that when you are not present, they still have you in their conscious to make the right decisions. Parenting needs to be intuitive.

Anju Kish: Lastly, how can we bring a curriculum in schools that teach young students about sexuality, gender, and choices?

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Dr Swati Popat Vats: Just keep it at age-appropriate. It’s as simple as that. Never ignore their questions about the birds and the bees and always make sure we answer them according to their comprehensive power. In fact, teachers can take the help of senior children in the school who understand the technicalities of the subject and are more comfortable communicating with their younger generation.

Dr Zirak Marker: I would suggest that such curriculums should be disseminated by psychologists to be extra sure about the technicality. For example, the curriculum my team has developed talks about what is appropriate behaviour and what is not, sexual harassment, bullying, self-harm, relationship impact, mental health, etc. In short, it covers a wide range of topics that are actually needed for Sex Education.

Anju Kish: Bringing change in the education system to incorporate more serious issues that are persisting is the way forward. I’d like to conclude the session by requesting parents and teachers that it should not only be academics that we should worry about. Moulding children into better human beings is also on us. Be the voice in your children’s head by sourcing information for them and becoming good role models. You cannot monitor or protect them 24/7 but what you can do is have a meaningful conversation with them that they will remember when in doubt. 

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Lina Ashar, Amish Tripathi & Raageshwari Redefine Lives Post-COVID in ScooNews Webinar

Report of the webinar hosted by ScooNews with the best-selling author Amish Tripathi & singer-turned-author Rageshwari to discuss Post-COVID expectations.

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ScooNews hosted a webinar on 5th May 2020 moderated by Lina Ashar, Educationist, Author & Founder of Kangaroo Kids, on "Redefining Our Life Post-COVID-19."

The Live session featured Amish Tripathi, best-selling Author, Diplomat & Philanthropist, along with Raageshwari Loomba Swaroop, Bollywood Singer, Actor & Mindfulness Author for Penguin, ‘Building A Happy Family.’

This enlightening conversation was witnessed by 2000+ attendees, listening to the impressive experts discussing how their respective outlook regarding life has gotten transformed during the Coronavirus panic and what common practices they assume are going to be reconstructed post this lockdown.

With this webinar, ScooNews wants to remind you that a global crisis like this does not only affects lives in the physical form but also emotional and mental disturbances are inevitable. However, emerging stronger out of it is also bound to happen.

Commencing the session, Lina asked Raageshwari about coping up with the despair of facial paralysis that hit her years back when she was at the peak of her music career. No doubt, she was too young to be diagnosed with such a serious illness. The reason behind asking this personal question was simple – to comprehend one’s strength to overcome a dark phase in life and correlating that struggle with that of the present scenario. 

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To everyone’s surprise, Raageshwari stated she was glad to have encountered this obstacle for she believes it is from the darkest places in our lives that come most of our strength & mindfulness.

“My father has always maintained how meditation was a necessity for mind-control and self-awareness. It was meditation and finding the inner world that ultimately helped me during those difficult times. Challenges make the mind grow!”

She went on to say how one’s inner self can highly affect the external environment. Inevitably, to receive good things in life, we need to send good thoughts out into the Universe. “That’s the kind of connection you should thrive to create with oneself,” guided Raageshwari.

Lina next turned to Amish Tripathi and asked him if he thinks, one-day humanity could look back at this time without being re-traumatized by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Life is about how we react to what happens around us because certainly, we are not in control of what is happening every second.” Amish exemplified by referring to the Indian Dharmic ways that teach us how to react to things in a calm manner.

There are always many paths a society could take after such an event, however, it is significant to remember spirituality, traditional ways, community, liberalism & ethics. It is our glorious culture because of which we are able to gather the strength and stand by each other in every difficult situation and that is what we should remind ourselves of even while being stuck in the COVID-19 emergency, said Amish.

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Focusing on the role of a guardian, Lina asked Raageshwari, who’s also a mother, how elders can maintain a stable mental state during a stressful situation so they can look after the child responsibly, without making it any more complex inside their homes or classrooms. “It is important to nurture yourself first in order to nourish a child,” replied Raageshwari. 

She continued, “The level to which you want to expose your child to the seriousness of the crisis solely depends on the comprehension power of that child. Talking specifically about the teenagers, if we see older kids stressed during these times, it is apparently because they are repeatedly made to listen to negative words like pandemic, disease, death, etc. in their houses and/or during the online classes.”

According to the Mindfulness Author, giving attention to negativity leads to more negativity in our environment. To stay positive, one can conduct healthy discussions, read good books, and indulge in creative activities thereby, keeping the younger generation assertive at the moment. Teaching them to be positive, even in these dark times and the times yet to come is crucial, explained Raageshwari.

Giving the example of Buddha, she added that grief is the fundamental reality of life and one cannot escape it. “However, what sets you free is accepting it (the truth). This way of thinking will help you live life more productively and positively.”

On being asked what’s that one life-lesson she’s learnt while quarantined, Raageshwari answered, “To not waste time waiting for the crisis to get over and instead start working on myself right at this moment.”

ScooNews completely resonate with the Singer-turned-Writer’s words. Don’t try to rush into the future immediately, do not worry about the post-COVID-19 life too much. For now, focussing on adapting to the present is more important than being continuously worried about what will happen in a few months.

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Stretching the thought further, Amish added, “What is happening now is essentially an evolution. The species that show the most resilience and make efforts to adapt physically or emotionally will survive.”

The author appealed to educators to teach young children the same. He also informed them, parents and guardians, to warn the young generation about the non-favourable situations they might encounter while realising their dreams in the future. “Let Corona-crisis prepare them for the future. Let them see how tough it can get. This is one of the best opportunities we could seize to train the next generation and lead them to the way forward,” he insisted. 

To this, Raageshwari stated what elders can, in turn, learn from the young minds around them. She said, “Youngsters are actually the gurus of mindfulness themselves. It is us, the adults, who keep producing thousands of thoughts in a day, jumping from one to another in a jiffy and hence, losing the present. Children, on the other hand, are mindful already. They live in the moment and enjoy both happiness and sadness with equal intensity. That’s mindfulness and that’s courageous.”

In the end, Amish also highlighted the issues the tech-industry (educational, industrial, etc.) might possibly face post-COVID-19-crisis. “It shall boom,” he predicted. “There will be a significant change in lifestyle all around as people will try to live better, cleaner lives.”

He added, “There is a huge chance that the present era of globalisation will die, but India, being self-sufficient, can manage it well.”

According to these experts, India is all set to emerge stronger after the pandemic comes under control. The children will be more adaptable, resilient and sagacious, provided we remember to educate them to be more mindful, self-aware and optimistic. “It is time to teach more values than just academics, to tell them it is okay to fail but not okay to not try,” the panel said in chorus.

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Psychologist Shweta Answers Educators’ Queries On How To Tackle Uncertainty & Anxiety

ScooNews got in touch with the expert with over two decades of rich experience in both Academia and Corporate world, to help answer the queries of educators who’re emotionally struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Founder of The Quench, a learning and development platform, Shweta Ahluwalia is known for her motivational thoughts. ScooNews got in touch with the expert with over two decades of rich experience in both Academia and Corporate world, to help answer the queries of educators who’re emotionally struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s see what she has to suggest:

Teachers will have a crucial role in the recovery phase when the schools reopen. How do I prepare myself after working from home for all these months? It feels like a sabbatical already.

Trying times are the best appraisal of our truest capabilities. 

We are the teachers, the mentors. We can choose to limit or expand our contribution in a child's life, in the completion of prescribed curriculums, and other related activities. As the hands that sculpt the future success stories of these children, it doesn’t really matter if you do it while sitting in your living room or conducting an actual class full of students.

When in doubt, you need to run a litmus test on yourselves. Ask yourself – Do I have what it takes to shape up the future of these kids? If the answer is Yes, it means now is the best time to demonstrate your skills to cope with what it takes to ride over the wave called Corona crisis. 

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Our expectation from ourselves will either make this phase a challenge or turn it into an opportunity to be the catalytic source of inspiration for future leaders.

I don’t get time for my family as I get fully consumed in forming the new curriculum, taking online classes and doing the assessment. How do I ensure that my own kids are not left behind?

The day I opted to be a teacher, I was clear that I was going to be responsible for not just a child or two that I bear, but hundreds that I would be entrusted with. Moreover, this is a perfect opportunity to build the Success Assuring skills in your own children aka Life Skills. In a recent report from January 2020, the experts called it a skill-set that’s required with the school authorities, parents & children through this phase.

a) Creative Thinking: How to innovate ways to design learning solutions for children, parents & school 

b) Adaptability: How to cope effectively to learn new tools and pedagogy

c) Emotional Intelligence: How to react & respond positively and constructively 

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d) Persuasion: How to persuade children to learn enthusiastically in the new landscape 

As they say ‘actions speak louder than words,’ I believe that we, as teacher/parents who teach and demonstrate continuously, will be able to build these skills in our children.

I’m a school Principal and although I’m doing my best to support my teachers live through this evolutionary time and help them adapt to this new online/remote way of teaching, I also want to back them emotionally. How do I do that, kindly suggest?

The concerns of school management are absolutely valid. These are the times that demand the Principals to wear multiple feathers on their hat. They are the leaders, the mentors, the counsellors, the friend and above all, the captain of the ship.

a) As leaders, they ought to be optimistic and not just positive. Positive, may at times, is a state of denial of reality. However, such situations demand leader to honestly convey that times are hard & tough, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we shall get through it together.

b) As mentors, they need to lead by example. Demonstrate what needs to be done, address queries and create a strong redressal mechanism. 

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c) As counsellors, they should maintain calm amidst the chaos and lend a patient hearing to everyone. What is heard, often heals. 

d) As a friend, they have to bake in slip lanes for those who struggle to cope. Calibrate the strengths of each team member and align responsibilities and support accordingly. 

e) As the captain of the ship, they must ensure the logistics & operational ease of executing the technological switch to new teaching tools. 

Now that many organizations are laying-off, I feel my employment, too, is under a threat. How do I calm myself and focus on the present?

It's the right time to do a reality check. There is NO WAY that those who are instrumental in helping their employers meet their financial goals will be laid off. Period!

However, those who had taken salary as the financial reward for the "hours spent" at work, might have to re-invent their productivity metrics. That is, don't just count your productivity by the number of hours spent at the workplace, but by the revenue generated through your work…even if you’re working from home.

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Taking online classes has taken a toll on my health. Suggest some ways to deal with physical pain.

Coronavirus crisis is based on the theory of ‘Survival of the Fittest.

1) Those of us who have had a physically fit lifestyle will hail

2) Those of us who are mentally tough will thrive

3) Those of us who have been productive at work will survive

It is time to introspect. Where is the gap? The gap between the acquired skills and the required skills to adapt to the new expected work style. 

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1) Is it your physical well-being? If yes, start with an exercise regime as per your body type.

2) If it is the little voice in your mind that scares you of the hardships ahead, be mindful of what you read and who you listen to because that is the real culprit manipulating your thoughts.  

3) If it is job-insecurity that is the real sleep invader then revisit your productivity at work. No boss will palm off an employee who is revenue-generating, directly or indirectly. 

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Neurodiversity: The Future of Special Education?

If we want to use the most effective approaches with kids—and draw on new research about the brain—special education needs to change its approach.

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April 2017 | Volume 74 | Number 7

Differences, Not Disabilities Pages 10-16

Special education needs to change. For too long it has traveled on its own track parallel with the regular education track, carting along its own tests, programs, and terminology. For too long it's been weighed down by a history emphasizing deficit, disorder, and dysfunction, ranging all the way from Henry Goddard's creation of the "moron" in 1910 (Gould, 1996) to current formulations such as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (now included in the DSM-5) and a proposed variation on an ADHD diagnosis called sluggish cognitive tempo (not yet added). Even as regular education has opened up to new ways of thinking about brain-based learning, neuroplasticity, a growth mindset, and other innovations, special education has too often remained insular, holding fast to its diagnostic categories, instructional objectives, proprietary learning systems, and remedial and corrective methods.

At some point, the field of special education needs to rid itself of its negative baggage and embrace a more progressive way of educating students who learn differently. The concept of neurodiversity provides the catalyst for such a change.

The Neurodiversity Revolution

Coined in the early 1990s by journalist Harvey Blume and Australian autism activist Judy Singer, the term neurodiversity can be defined as an understanding that neurological differences are to be honored and respected just like any other human variation, including diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, and so on. In the past 10 years, neurodiversity has emerged into international prominence through university programs such as the College of William & Mary's Neurodiversity Initiative and the London School of Economics's Dyslexia and Neurodiversity program, which seek to provide broader acceptance of neurodiversity on campus and to support neurodiverse students in creating positive niches for themselves at school. There have also been efforts to integrate neurodiversity into the workplace through conferences (such as one sponsored by Microsoft on Neurodiversity in the High Tech Workplace) and job initiatives to bring more people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and other diversities into the computer industry (Higgenbottom, 2016). Neurodiversity is popping up in media coverage in such venues as The New York Times, PBS, and Wired and in many academic papers, books, and projects. Although many neurodiversity advocates focus their efforts specifically on autism spectrum disorder (ASD), increasingly the concept is being applied to other disability categories, including learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, intellectual disability, and social and emotional disorders (Armstrong, 2011, 2012).

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How Neurodiversity Differs from Current Special Ed Approaches

A neurodiversity-based approach to special education differs in many ways from the special education system currently operating in most schools. Figure 1 summarizes these differences—some theoretical and some more practical. Let's look at a few of the differences that have the most powerful implications.

Theoretical Foundations

Conventional special education views disability categories—such as ADHD, dyslexia, and autism—as having an organic basis, usually involving some combination of biological, neurological, and genetic causes. This orientation draws from theories related to genetics and neurobiology.

Neurodiversity advocates, on the other hand, offer a more nuanced and complex approach to the origins of these conditions, focusing, for example, on the evolutionary advantages of particular disability categories as a way of explaining why the genes for certain diagnoses are still in the gene pool (for instance, see Harpending & Cochran, 2002, on how ADHD symptoms might have been adaptive to hunting and gathering societies).

Neurodiversity also places greater emphasis on the social and ecological dimensions of diagnostic labels by examining how a person may be disabled in certain contexts but not in others. For example, a person with autism spectrum disorder may function at a level surpassing a typically developing individual when working at a job that capitalizes on the ability to discover tiny errors in computer code, as has happened with employees at the Danish software company Specialisterne (Henry, 2015).

A practical outcome of this perspective is that the role of the neurodiversity-oriented special educator becomes less one of correcting errors, remediating deficits, and teaching instructional objectives and more one of creating environments within which neurodiverse students can thrive. I've termed this process positive niche construction (Armstrong, 2012).

A Focus on Strengths versus Deficits

The biggest practical difference between special education as it's currently practiced and the neurodiversity-based approach is the way in which educators emphasize either deficits or strengths. Although special educators are certainly taught to look for students' strengths, the actual infrastructure of special education doesn't provide them with much in the way of formal or informal instruments, methods, protocols, or procedures for assessing their students' strengths. The one place in special education that has done a relatively good job of this is the field of gifted and talented education, but I can't emphasize enough that these procedures need to be available for all students with special needs.

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The diagnostic instruments used in most special education systems today are designed primarily to diagnose disabilities and pinpoint ways of remediating student deficits. The neurodiversity-based approach, by contrast, aims to make use of the emerging literature on the strengths of special education populations (see, for example, Mottron, 2011; Diehl et al., 2014) and focuses primarily on assessing strengths, talents, abilities, and interests.

Figure 1. A Tale of Two Special Education Paradigms

 

Elements of Deficit-Based Special Education

Elements of Strengths-Based Special Education (Grounded in Neurodiversity)

Focus

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Disability

Diversity

Assessment methods

Testing to detect deficits, disorders, and dysfunctions

Assessing strengths and challenges

Instructional approaches

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Remediating weaknesses

Building on strengths and using them to overcome challenges

Theoretical foundations

Genetics, neurobiology

Evolutionary psychobiology, social and ecological theory

View of the brains of students with special needs

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In many cases, the brain is seen as damaged, dysfunctional, or disordered

Part of the natural human variation of all human brains

Program goals

Meeting instructional objectives

Developing human potential

Student goal

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Learning to live with your disability

Learning to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses

Student self-awareness

Explaining students' disabilities to them using machine-based metaphors

Helping students value their diverse brains using growth mindset, neuroplasticity, and "brain forest" metaphors

Along with the typical deficit-focused diagnostic assessments, a neurodiversity-trained special educator must be familiar with a wide range of strength-based approaches to discovering abilities in their students. For example, a teacher might use assessments associated with asset models like the VIA Character Strengths and Virtues, Dunn and Dunn Learning Style Assessments, Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets, Gallup's StrengthsFinder, the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, the Multiple Intelligences Diagnostic Assessment Scales, or the Baron-Welsh Art Scale. He or she might tap informal assessment methods to gain additional information about student strengths, including rough-and-ready inventories such as my 165-item Neurodiversity Strengths Checklist (Armstrong, 2012), "strengths chats," (Epstein, 2008), and motivational interviewing (Sheldon, 2010).

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A neurodiversity-oriented approach would focus more attention on using the information gained from such assessments to help build on learners' strengths and to help students use their assets to tackle their social, emotional, cognitive, and academic challenges. Whereas traditional special educators often seek to teach students how to "live with their disability," both the theory and practice of a neurodiversity-based approach would emphasize helping students learn to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

For example, an educator might encourage a student diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder who has an intense interest in a particular topic (a feature common to many individuals diagnosed with ASD) to develop that interest through project-based learning, group sharing, and other experiential approaches (Kluth & Schwarz, 2008).

The Role of Workarounds

A key strategic component of this new approach is what I call workarounds, ways in which students can manage assignments and other academic and non-academic challenges without letting their disabilities get in the way. For example, special educators could guide students who have trouble getting their ideas down on the page because of handwriting difficulties, dysorthographia, or dysgraphia to use speech-to-text software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking or Windows Speech Recognition. Similarly, wheelchair users can use virtual reality applications such as Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift to gain access to experiences that might otherwise be closed to them (like exploring the inside of a cave or examining underwater coral sea life). Students diagnosed with ADHD who have difficulty concentrating on their work but do better when they can move around and fidget would be able to use ergonomic "wiggle furniture," such as stability balls, bouncy bands, or standing desks.

These strategies and tools are already employed in some special education programs, but their use in this new neurodiversity-based approach to special education would be expanded and seen as fundamental to most students' Individualized Education Plans.

How We Talk to Kids: Machines or "Brain Forests?"

Similarly, rather than "teaching students about their disorders," a neurodiversity-based approach would teach them about the value of human variation and neurological diversity. Educators would teach students about how the human brain—and their brain—works, how the environment shapes brain structure and function (neuroplasticity), how brain power can be used to its maximum, and how a growth mindset improves performance. Students would be given tools and tips to help them actualize their brain's fullest potential.

An emerging theory about the brain that's particularly appropriate in helping students understand their neurological differences is Nobel Prize-winning biologist Gerald Edelman's model of the brain as an ecosystem (1994). I like to use the term brain forest as a metaphor students will understand and appreciate more readily than many of the machine-based metaphors used in conventional special education materials. (For example, in Galvin, 2001, the ADHD student's brain is compared to the engine of a car that runs too fast.) The problem with using "machine" metaphors to talk about the brain is that it's easy to fall into a dichotomy of "it's either working or it's broken." This practice is not too far away from cultural insults like "his elevator doesn't go to the top floor." A brain-forest metaphor, on the other hand, allows us to speak to students about the beauty of diversity, about how nutrients grow plants in the brain forest, and about the resilience of the brain forest to regrow itself even after suffering substantial damage.

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Benefits of Transformation

There are clear benefits to moving ahead with a neurodiversity-based approach to special education as opposed to staying with our current model. Perhaps the most important outcome would be a change in the expectations of those involved in the special education system—most important, the expectations of students themselves, but also those of teachers, administrators, support personnel, and family members. The literature on expectations and the influence of words and labels on our attitudes and behaviors show clearly that positive expectations improve academic outcomes (see, for example, Rubie-Davies & Rosenthal, 2016). Similarly, students are less likely to be bullied in school if they're perceived in a more positive way by their peers (Swearer, et al., 2010). In addition, the seamless inclusion of neurodiverse students into regular classrooms is more likely to succeed if regular classroom teachers see students entering their classes as assets rather than burdens.

I also believe that a system that regards students with special needs primarily in terms of their assets and contributions is more in tune with 21st-century views of respecting diversity and giving all students a chance to contribute something of value to society. Such a system aligns more closely with society's emphasis on equity and with not singling some students out on the basis of their weaknesses, but rather giving them the same opportunities to succeed as anyone else.

Potential Roadblocks

Formidable challenges stand in the way of implementing this forward-looking approach to special education. Perhaps the most fundamental obstacle is the fear by many special educators and parents that portraying a student with special needs primarily in a positive light rather than in terms of that student's "disability" would threaten the very foundations of special education itself. Special educators—and parents—have fought with great energy and courage over the past several decades to ensure that the needs of their kids are recognized and served. The focus on disability has functioned as a rallying cry for many advocacy organizations. So to suddenly stop and say, "These kids should be seen primarily in terms of their strengths and abilities" risks a reaction from legislators and the heads of funding organizations, who might think, "So why do these kids need special services?"

This is a legitimate concern. The answer lies in establishing clear boundaries between actions designed to protect the availability of special services for students with special needs (essentially using disability categories as a means for obtaining services) and actions designed to provide neurodiverse students with cutting-edge approaches to learning and human development (strength-based learning, inclusion, and other innovations) that will help them develop their full potential. In other words, use the disability laws to get them services, but then discard the "disability mindset" and use strength-based learning and other positive innovations. This latter goal should be seen as both the theoretical and pragmatic core of special education practices.

A second potential roadblock to this approach is the concern of many parents and educators that without the constant push of traditional special education programs to remediate weaknesses, students with special needs would fail to meet the increasingly rigorous academic demands of today's accountability-focused educational realities. People who care about these students worry that they would be at risk of falling far behind their typically developing peers.

This fear of "falling behind" is really an indictment of the "one-size-fits-all" mentality plaguing our current educational climate, but is nevertheless a real concern. One practical response to this problem lies in what I'd like to call guerilla special education. This describes the process of using the letter of the law to justify using practices that will lead to optimal learning for neurodiverse kids—practices that are in the spirit of truly educating them with strength-based approaches.

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For example, Common Core State Standard W.4.3, a writing objective for 4th graders, states, "Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences." Neurodiversity/strength-based special educators would be trained to help students meet this standard using their gifts and interests. An educator might allow a boy who draws beautifully to create a comic strip, encourage a girl with a gift for dramatics to write a short play, or have a student with strong oral skills but weak writing ability use speech-to-text software to craft his story.

Similarly, in writing IEPs, neurodiversity-based educators would be trained to incorporate strengths into each objective. For example, if Jason has highly developed three-dimensional thinking abilities and some difficulty with reading, instead of his IEP reading "By March, when discussing a story, Jason will answer 4 out of 10 'why' and 'how' questions in a mixed question probe," it might be written in a more strength-based manner: "By March, when discussing a story, Jason will answer 4 out of 10 'why' and 'how' questions in reference to a preferred activity or product, such as a three-dimensional structure he has built."

Setting Change in Motion

Finally, there is the question of how to practically bring about this type of neurodiversity revolution in special education. There are several positive initial steps we might take.

First, school districts that have existing programs, departments, or offices devoted to inclusion, diversity, or equity (such as the Springfield Public Schools in Missouri and the Clark County School System in Nevada) can begin to liaise with their departments of special education to integrate the values of neurodiversity in helping students with special needs succeed. One way to begin might involve setting up a schoolwide "Neurodiversity Fair," where both typically developing kids and kids with various learning differences would showcase their gifts and strengths through art, plays, musical performances, sports, and other creative channels. Another strategy might be to create a classroom curriculum on the importance of diversity (in general) and neurodiversity (in particular) for creating positive changes in the world.

In addition, districts can create a "neurodiversity coordinator" role within their departments of special education. Ideally, the coordinator would be someone who has completed a thesis or dissertation on the strengths of people with a specific learning difference or on some aspect of neurodiversity. The coordinator should be familiar with the strength-based literature on kids with special needs (see notes sections of Armstrong 2011, 2012 for a good start) and competent in administering strength-based assessments. This person could advise regular and special education teachers on how to create strength-based instructional strategies for neurodiverse students and provide professional development to the district's teachers.

Finally, special educators themselves could establish study groups, conduct action research, and do an individualized study of neurodiversity using the growing body of information available in the field, effecting change from the grassroots up.

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Although there would be significant challenges involved in bringing about this change, the benefits would be many. We owe it to our neurodiverse students to give them the best, most innovative ideas education has to offer.

References:

  • Armstrong, T. (2011). The power of neurodiversity: Unleashing the advantages of your differently wired brain. Cambridge, MA: DaCapo/Perseus.
  • Armstrong, T. (2012). Neurodiversity in the classroom: Strength-based strategies to help students with special needs succeed in school and life. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
  • Diehl, J. D., Frost, S. J., Sherman, G., Mencl, W. E., Kurian, A., Molfese, P., et. al. (2014). Neural correlates of language and non-language visuospatial processing in adolescents with reading disability. Neuroimage, 101, 653–666.
  • Edelman, G. M. (1994). Bright air, brilliant fire. New York: Penguin.
  • Epstein, M. H. (2008, February). Strength-based assessment. Slides presented at the 21st Annual RTC Conference, Tampa, Florida. Retrieved from http://rtckids.fmhi.usf.edu/rtcconference/handouts/pdf/21/Workshop%2005/Epstein.pdf
  • Galvin, M. R. (2001). Otto learns about his medicine: A story about medication for children with ADHD. Washington, DC: Magination Press.
  • Gould, S. J. (1996). The mismeasure of man. New York: W.W. Norton.
  • Harpending, H., & Cochran, G. (2002), In our genes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99(1), 10–12.
  • Henry, Z. (2015, May 21). How a Danish company is helping people with autism get jobs in IT and tech. Slate. Retrieved from http://slate.me/1Rkeww5
  • Higgenbottom, K. (2016, October 23). Organizations reaping the benefits of neurodiverse employees. Forbes. Retrieved from www.forbes.com/sites/karenhigginbottom/2016/10/23/organizations-reaping-the-benefits-of-neurodiverse-employees
  • Kluth, P., & Schwarz, P. (2008). Just give him the whale! 20 ways to use fascinations, areas of expertise, and strengths to support students with autism. Baltimore, MD: Brooks Publishing.
  • Mottron, L. (2011, November 3). Changing perceptions: The power of autism. Nature, 479, 33–35.
  • Rubie-Davies, C. M., & Rosenthal, R. (2016, August). Intervening in teachers' expectations: A random effects meta-analytic approach to examining the effectiveness of an intervention. Learning and Individual Differences, 50, 83–92.
  • Sheldon, L. A. (2010, Fall). Using motivational interviewing to help your students. Thought & Action, 153–158. Retrieved from www.nea.org/assets/img/PubThoughtAndAction/Sheldon.pdf
  • Swearer, S. M., Espelage, D. L., Vaillancourt, T., & Hymel, S. (2010). What can be done about school bullying? Linking research to educational practice. Educational Researcher, 38(1), 38–47.

Endnotes:

  • An excellent children's book on neuroplasticity is Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak (Little Pickle Press, 2010).
  • My own doctoral dissertation, published in 1987, was on the strengths of children diagnosed with learning disabilities and is available through University Microfilms International in Ann Arbor, Michigan, 48(08A).

Thomas Armstrong (www.institute4learning.com) is an educator who presents internationally on education and is the author of 16 books translated into 26 languages. His most recent book is The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (ASCD, 2016).

© 2017 by ASCD. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. No further distribution or display of this article is allowed without the written permission of ASCD. Learn more about ASCD at www.ascd.org. 

This article first published here.

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Indian School Heads Discuss Switching To Virtual Learning During Corona Panic

To fight the global emergency that Corona has brought, e-learning is one solution that many teachers and parents are readily supporting worldwide. We spoke to Heads/Principals of schools from all over India about the implementation and prospect of Virtual Learnings.

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The rate at which the Coronavirus is spreading is haunting. Declared as a national emergency in many countries already, the schools all over the world are slowly shutting down and taking severe measures to keep their staff and students safe. This simply means that millions of students are going to miss the set curriculum layout and might lag behind. For now, home-schooling and Virtual Learning seem like potential resolutions to not make our widespread education sector suffer. 

To get a better insight, we indulged in conversation with some leading Heads/Principals of schools from all over India. Find below their respective plans to deal with the unfortunate situation and innovative ways they're introducing to meet their students' academic needs.

Madhav Deo Saraswat, Principal, The Scindia School, Gwalior

Since we're a boarding school, our planned break was from 7th March until 11th. We cancelled the Holi break in the wake of the epidemic of COVID19 to ensure safety of students and adults alike. The school, being a centre for CBSE Board exams, is visited by about 300 students, examiners and other visitors on exam days. All of them are being provided with masks and sanitizers at the main gate. In addition to this, all the mess staff, support staff, local workers and domestic help who come from outside the campus have also been provided with masks and sanitizers. Moreover, they are going through a preliminary medical examination including checking of their body temperature by the RMO and his team for any signs of the virus.

Inside the school, sanitizers are being placed at several locations. A special assembly was conducted to apprise the entire community on COVID-19. Last but not the least, we have stopped all kinds of student engagements/travel outside the school for the foreseeable future.

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For now, our students are attending school regularly as we have ensured safety for all on-campus and they are preparing well for their board exams. Our late evening remedial and enrichment classes are going on to ensure good grades for our students. We have also included Yoga & Meditation, and have revised the daily schedule to include free time/recreation time to ensure a stress-free environment at this critical period. To further ensure safety, we have cancelled all outings and leaves. We are not taking any technological help as our regular classes are going on in the safety of our 160 acres, highly protected campus. 

Meera Isaacs, Principal, Cathedral & John Connon School, Mumbai

The School has decided to enter a state of lockdown starting from 13th of March to Tuesday 31st March 2020. The HMs of each of the respective sections of the school will keep the guardians updated about their academic planning and timelines. The students are expected to follow the schedule already shared with parents on Managebac. 

Even though students will not be physically present in school, we will continue teaching by moving onto online platforms. Teachers will conduct their lessons on a regular basis, sharing presentations, videos, and other resources on online platforms like Google Classrooms, Hangouts and Zoom, etc.

Amlan Saha, Principal, The Sagar School, Alwar

We haven’t closed down the school yet. However, there is a year-end break in the school calendar w.e.f. Monday for 2 weeks. Good news is we have no such medical case in the school yet. Meanwhile, our contingency plan is getting ready.

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Amrita Burman, Deputy Director, Sunbeam Group Of Educational Institutions, Varanasi

We have finished the session and the school is closed already. We intend to reopen by 28th March, if the administration has no objection. We plan to use apps like Snap, Edunext and Zoom to be in touch with children and teach them if need be. We may try other means of technology, too.

Dr Arunabh Singh, Director, Nehru World School, Ghaziabad

We have shut the school recently, keeping in mind the safety of our staff members and students. The entire administration is on an active loop and we plan to use Google Classroom and Khan Academy to keep up with the semester. 

Dr Jagpreet Singh, Headmaster, The Punjab Public School, Nabha

Coincidentally, we are closed for our end of term break and plan to resume on March 22, 2020. Since the students have taken their annual exams, we will be resuming a new session with a specially designed time-table. Meanwhile, we plan to send out some recapitulation material to kids through our personal school app. Students have been instructed to work on their projects and exhibitions for our upcoming 60th Founders’ in April.

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Ms Nikhat Azam, Principal, Billabong High International School, Santacruz

We plan to close the school only if we receive the intimation from the Chief Minister or if an unfortunate case is detected among the students, teachers, parents. For now, we’ve regular classes going on.

Manit Jain, Co-Founder, Heritage Xperiential Learning School, Gurugram

At Heritage Xperiential Learning School and Heritage International Xperiential School, we have advanced our session end spring break and hence, we are closed since Monday, 9th March 2020 until Sunday, 29th of March 2020. We have decided on learning platforms manoeuvre to ensure a seamless learning experience for our children. Hence, we’re providing virtual lessons through various platforms like Teamie, Google Hangout, and Managebac.

Sunitha Nambiar, CEO, Kunskapsskolan Schools India, Gurugram

Our school is closed for kids from pre-nursery to grade 5. However, students of grades 6-9 and 11 will be coming for their yearly assessments for two days in the next week. To ensure that students do not lose out on academic time, the school has put together a plan whereby the teachers are sharing tasks and resources that students may use to achieve their goals. This work has been shared online with grades 1-5, already, with submission timelines. For senior grades, we’re conducting sessions using Zoom.

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As a school that uses a web-based learning portal as a resource, our students are luckily accustomed to the use of technology in their learning process. Google Classrooms, online interactive exercises, assessments and learning extensions have been shared to provide students with adequate support.

ScooNews truly appreciate the wise and prompt efforts made by educators around the country for the advancement of their students during this global crisis. Interestingly, in another attempt, many prominent schools worldwide are using the turmoil of a black swan event, COVID-19, as a learning opportunity. The Wharton School, Pennsylvania, US, for example, is planning to offer a course about the effects of Coronavirus. “The primary goal will be to bring expert knowledge on how to deal with these disasters to investors, workers, consumers and savers so that they are better informed and can make better decisions,” said Mauro Guillen, Professor at Wharton.’ (CNBC)

On the other hand, Harvard University experts are actively talking about how to keep students’ learning and their communities calm in this hour of need. Emily Boudreau (Communication and Marketing, Harvard) said that it is important for teachers and families to stay in connection since the schools are closing due to Coronavirus scare. She ensured that the teachers can be on-call for additional virtual support time for students who need it and check on children’s independent work. This can be done with emailed photographs, phone conversations or through a digital-learning platform, reported The Washington Post.

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Here’s An Overview Of Sustainable Development Goals For Education

The UN decided on Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by 2030, Inclusive Education is among them. Read about how targets are set to bring a positive change.

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Education is the prime tool that equips a child to meet the challenges of life. Children with any physical or emotional disabilities need this even more to supplement their different talents. Indeed, disability need not be an impediment to achievement.

As per the Census 2011 of India, out of over 120 crore people, 2.2 per cent Indians are disabled. In absolute terms, over 2.68 crore people live with one form of disability or another. To make life better for them, the concept of Inclusive Education came into action. It's a model of education in which children with disabilities are free to spend all or most of their time in common (govt. & private) schools with children without any special needs. Fortunately, the universal access to Inclusive Education has proved its potential to shift our society towards creating a more just and equitable future for everyone.  

‘Education Is A Human Right And A Force For Sustainable Development And Peace’.

The SDGs or Sustainable Development Goals were set in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and are intended to be achieved by the year 2030. These are a collection of 17 Global Goals designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” The SDGs were developed to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended in 2015. 

One of the set goals in SDGs is No. 4 Education 2030, which says that in order to enjoy a more secure and sustainable future, equal educational right for all regardless of one’s colour, creed, caste, race, gender, physical or mental ability etc. is important 

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Let’s talk in detail about the targets set in the SDG 4 that are to be achieved by 2030:

Ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.

The provision of 12 years of free, publicly-funded, inclusive, equitable, quality primary and secondary education – of which at least nine years are compulsory, leading to relevant learning outcomes, should be ensured for all, without discrimination.

Ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education

The provision of at least one year of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education is encouraged, to be delivered by well-trained educators, as well as that of early childhood development and care.

Ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university

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Significance of skills development and technical and vocational education and training (TVET), starting from the secondary level, as well as to tertiary education, including university, and to provide lifelong learning opportunities for youth and adults. The provision of tertiary education should be made progressively free, in line with existing international agreements.

Substantially increase in the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship

Equitable access to TVET needs to be expanded while quality is ensured. Learning opportunities should be increased and diversified, so that all youth and adults, especially girls and women, can acquire relevant knowledge, skills and competencies for decent work and life.

Beyond work-specific skills, emphasis must be placed on developing high-level cognitive and non-cognitive/transferable skills, which can be used across a range of occupational fields.

Eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

All people, irrespective of sex, age, race, colour, ethnicity, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property or birth, as well as persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, and children and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations or other status, should have access to inclusive, equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities. Vulnerable groups that require particular attention and targeted strategies include persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities and the poor.

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All girls and boys, women and men, should have equal opportunity to enjoy education of high quality, achieve at equal levels and enjoy equal benefits from education. Adolescent girls and young women, who may be subject to gender-based violence, child marriage, early pregnancy and a heavy load of household chores, as well as those living in poor and remote rural areas, require special attention. In contexts in which boys are disadvantaged, targeted action should be taken for them. 

Ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy

It is underpinned by the contemporary understanding of literacy as a continuum of proficiency levels in a given context, action for this target aims at ensuring all young people and adults across the world should achieve relevant and recognized proficiency levels in functional literacy and numeracy skills that are equivalent to levels achieved at the successful completion of basic education.

 

Ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and nonviolence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

The knowledge, skills, values and attitudes required by citizens to lead productive lives, make informed decisions and assume active roles locally and globally in facing and resolving global challenges can be acquired through education for Sustainable Development And Global Citizenship Education, which includes peace and human rights education, as well as intercultural education and education for international understanding.

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  1. Build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender-sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all

This target addresses the need for adequate physical infrastructure and safe, inclusive environments that nurture learning for all, regardless of background or disability status.

 

  1. Substantially expand globally the number of scholarships available to developing countries, in particular, least developed countries, small island developing States and African countries, for enrolment in higher education, including vocational training and information and communications technology, technical, engineering and scientific programmes, in developed countries and other developing countries

Scholarship programmes can play a vital role in providing opportunities for young people and adults who would otherwise not be able to afford to continue their education. In line with the SDG 4 Education 2030 focus on equity, inclusion and quality, scholarships should be transparently targeted at young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

 

  1. Substantially increase the supply of qualified teachers, including through international cooperation for teacher training in developing countries, especially least developed countries and small island developing States

Teachers are the key to achieving all of the SDG 4 targets. It requires urgent attention, with a more immediate deadline, because the equity gap in education is exacerbated by the shortage and uneven distribution of professionally trained teachers, especially in disadvantaged areas. As teachers are a fundamental condition for guaranteeing quality education, teachers and educators should be empowered, adequately recruited and remunerated, motivated, professionally qualified, and supported within well-resourced, efficient and effectively governed systems. 

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According to UNESCO, to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all, it would require political will, global and regional collaboration and the engagement of all governments, civil society, the private sector, youth, UN and other multilateral agencies to tackle educational challenges.

Source: sdg4education2030.org

Image Courtesy: sdg4education2030.org, Google

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Learn How Peer Mentoring Can Make Your School An Exciting Place To Work

The psychological effect of feeling lonely is a bane and can develop depressive tendencies. Being able to help someone and to know that your peers are ready to support you will automatically create a feeling of belonging. Discussing each other’s setbacks without judgement at the lunch table will al

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One of the most vital issues that working professionals face in any sector is how they start finding work uninteresting after a period. This sense of detachment only surfaces when the work is monotonous and involves the same group of people.

Teaching, for example, is a profession that involves working in a similar environment and interacting with similar sets of people on a daily basis. This can naturally get boring for a few. Amidst the attention that the corporate sector gets regarding these issues, we have unfortunately left the teachers behind.

One of the essential ways of dealing with this kind of boredom and loneliness is interaction with peers, but the interaction that is non-specific only provides a sense of gratification for the short term. To really do something that is worth spending the time and will give educators a sense of achievement and pride is to mentor someone and bring him/her at par with yourself.

Take two colleagues for example, who might work at a similar designation and yet have vast differences in their knowledge and work experience. One individual might be an avid reader while the other is stuck with the amount of knowledge that he/she has gained during his/her academic journey. Now, as a senior, mentoring can be at different levels depending upon your capabilities and the need of the disciple.

Below, we have shared some important ways in which you can initiate Peer Mentoring:

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  1. You can provide skill classes for useful online tools. If you are a tech-savvy educator, you can provide your comrades with updates on the latest technology trends.
  2. You can share advice on maintaining discipline in the class and how to promote order if your disciple is a fresher.
  3. You can share a different teaching methodology for a subject or a particular topic, for example, teaching history through visualization is much better than a simple narration of the event.
  4. You can help a fellow subject teacher understand the matter deeply by providing extra research resources (books, surveys, websites, TED Talks, etc.)
  5. And finally, you can always initiate retrospection in your disciple so he/she can bring out the best in them.

These are some interesting ways in which you can create a happy and learning environment for your peers/juniors You can even launch a practice that may inspire others to follow in your footsteps and create a positive learning environment in the teachers' group.

Now, let's talk about some advantages of Peer Mentoring in a school setting:

  1. Makes new recruits comfortable: The issues new teachers face in adjusting with older members and their work culture can also be addressed positively through peer mentoring, where each experienced teacher can choose a new team member to mentor.
  2. Promotes healthy human interaction: The advent of social media that provides an unnatural way to curb loneliness has taken over our lives. It is evident how people in an office might turn to their mobile phones during breaks rather than having a hearty conversation with each other. Peer mentoring/collaboration can truly change that.
  3. Cure for loneliness: Loneliness at the workplace can also be addressed through active peer collaboration and learning as the involved educators will be continuously engaged in helping each other grow, leaving no room for someone to feel lonely.

The psychological effect of feeling isolated is a bane and can develop depressive tendencies. Being able to help someone and to know that your peers are ready to support you will automatically create a feeling of belonging. Discussing each other's setbacks without judgement at the lunch table will also develop a sense of trust among the colleagues.

ScooNews believes that it is beneficial to practice Peer Mentoring in schools so that it becomes a knowledge space not only for the students but also for the ones given the responsibility to impart knowledge in them.

 

Image Courtesy: sankalpsmartschool.com

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World Wildlife Day: Here’s How You Can Teach Students About The Wild

A little change in the curriculum can help students be a better future and help sustain wildlife.

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Today, 3rd March is celebrated as World Wildlife Day to raise awareness about the world’s wild animals and plants as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly. The 2020 theme is “Sustaining all life on earth."

World Wildlife Day is also an attempt to alert humankind of the importance of wildlife’s presence, preservation and consequences if ignored. For example, it was not long back when we discovered how Penguins, Polar Bears and Rhinos are at the verge of extinction. The cruciality of this matter lies with the precariousness of preservation of the wild flora and fauna. 

Don't you think the duty lies majorly with the education system to educate the future generation about protecting the remaining wild animals and plants? We, at ScooNews, emphatically feel and propose to include studies about wildlife from the very beginning in the education syllabus and make it mandatory. 

In this way, it'll become easier to explain to them about the sanctity of all life forms on Earth, along with initiative to sustain the remaining wildlife. The curiosity in children is their major skill and to develop them become a thinker who would want to conserve the wildlife could be a legacy we should want to leave behind.

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So, how do we do it?

First, schools could do activities involving children, for example, taking them on National Parks instead of opting for a zoo where animals are not caged and enjoy living in their natural habitats. Second, Wildlife Experts could be invited for guest lectures and have interactive Q&A sessions with the little ones. Another idea could be organising debate competitions with burning wildlife topics like Project Tiger, etc. 

In fact, there could be a suggestive reading of books on wildlife. We suggest a list of books that can be introduced to kids between the age group of 3 to 12.

  • Red Alert! By Catherine Barr
  • 10 Reasons to Love a Penguin/Lion, by Catherine Barr and Hanako Clulow
  • The Little Book of the Dawn Chorus, by Caz Buckingham and Andrea Pinnington
  • I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree
  • So you think you know about Tyrannosaurus Rex/Triceratops/Diplodocus? by Ben Garrod
  • The Coral Kingdom, by Laura Knowles and Jennie Webber
  • Ambushed by Nayanika Mahtani
  • Tiger by the Tail by Venita Coelho

Image Courtesy: cityinternationalschoolmumbai.com, time.com

 

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Let Your Curious Child Jump Into That Puddle. Here’s Why!

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American Astrophysicist & Author, shares about his upbringing and how parents and teachers today can instil curiosity in the young minds of their kids.

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The child’s wonder and curiosity about the world around should be as natural as it will be theoretical. For example, to learn about ripple-effect, jumping into a puddle of water sounds like a better idea than merely reading about it in a science book. Agree?

It’s true that kids are a physical and emotional extension of their parents while they depend on their teachers for early education. To raise them well in an era of dynamic changes is an uphill task and may restrict their all-round development if parents and teachers are not careful.

In a trending online video, Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American Astrophysicist, Author, and science Communicator, can be seen sharing about his upbringing and the kind of secular parenting he received as a child. He gives the example of his father telling him that “it’s never enough to be right…it’s actually important to be effective.”

Tyson then gives the example of a mother-child duo that happened to catch his attention. He shares how he felt when he saw that this mother restricting her child to jump into a puddle of mud on a rainy day, while the kid seemed pretty excited about the idea. “At that moment, she killed this child’s curiosity,” he sighs.

In this hour-long talk, he reminds parents and educators to not restrict their children from wondering and rather think of ways to develop their questioning habit. Giving another example, he points out how we often tell the little ones to not touch the glass/mug kept on the edge of a table in a fear that it might fall down and break. In a situation like this, he suggests, we must let them touch and play with it. Breaking will teach them a thing or two about the concepts of gravity, the splashing of water, etc. He adds, “Children are the source of chaos and it is the responsibility of parents to clean up the mess.”

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The Astrophysicist argues that kids shall be allowed to experiment with their surroundings and unleash their natural curiosity. He strongly feels that parents and the education system nowadays are slowly failing the children by putting disciplinary and academic restrictions on them.

In the video, he also gives an insight into how the schools and educators should try to preserve, embed and promote curiosity in children rather than filling them with information that will only fetch them good grades, that may create excellent professionals but not the intellectual giants.

In the end, he leaves us pondering over a fact that if we notice our children happy when they don’t have to attend school, there is something wrong with the teaching methods or the school system as a whole. 

ScooNews thinks that giving young minds any kind of strict instruction will only make them robotic. We should instead strive to preserve this curiosity starting from the school days itself. If you wish to watch his talk called 'This is Exactly How You Should Not Raise Your Kids!,' click here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tv0kQbOIrjY.

Image courtesy: VOX, The Daily Telegraph

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Bringing Change

Read this to know more about Prof. Sugata Mitra and his work in education

Best known for his Hole in the Wall experiment and widely cited in works on literacy and education, Prof Sugata Mitra’s belief in the power of self-organized learning to shape the future of education is immensely inspiring.

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Education scientist and researcher, Professor Sugata Mitra is a name that gets anyone and everyone in the field of education and pedagogy excited and thrilled. He is synonymous with adjectives like out of the box, fresh and innovative. He is best known for his Hole in the Wall experiment, which proves that it is high time we break the barriers of conventional rote learning and teach with the use of advancements in technology and the internet to impart education and make our children self-sufficient learners.

A strong proponent of ‘Just in Time’ learning, he believes that the role of teachers is indispensable but what they need to do is not teach from textbooks.

He avers, “Teachers need to enable children to do ‘Just in Time’ learning. How to learn quickly, accurately, how to search for the right thing – this is our job! So the job is changing. If teachers could realise that, then they wouldn’t have this attitude of ‘Technology is evil, technology will take away my job!’ We have to understand, technology doesn’t remain technology.

You don’t think my clothes are technology, do you? It was once upon a time huge technology! My watch, my shoes, they used to be technology – they are not technology anymore. To the generation that is growing up, the internet and smartphones are not technology; they are things that you live with. If children have interest, then education happens.”

Prof Sugata believes that we can achieve better outcomes with minimally invasive education – i.e. when children can teach themselves.

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He says, “It's quite fashionable to say that the education system is broken — it's not broken, it's wonderfully constructed. It's just that we don't need it anymore. It's outdated.”

Currently, he is Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, UK. Simultaneously, he pursues his passion for implementation of minimally invasive education in the economically backward sections of society in India.

He is the winner of TED Prize, 2013.

Early life and education

Prof Sugata Mitra was born to a Bengali family in Calcutta. He finished schooling from St. Xavier’s High School, Delhi in 1969. He went on to do a Bachelor of Science (BSc.) with honours in Physics from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, in 1973. He completed his Master of Science (MSc.) in Physics with specialisation in Solid State Electronics, Acoustic Holography and Quantum Biology from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1975. He earned a Ph.D. in Theoretical Solid State Physics of Organic Semiconductors, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi in 1978.

He went on to research battery technology at the Centre for Energy Studies in the IIT, and later at the Technische Universität, Vienna. He published a paper on a zinc-chlorine battery and a speculative paper on why the human sense organs are located where they are.

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Hole in the Wall experiment and its reception

On January 26, 1999, in collaboration with the Delhi government, a team led by Dr. Sugata Mitra, then Chief Scientist at National Institute of Information Technology (NIIT), carved open a section of a wall adjoining the NIIT campus and placed a computer with internet there. This was used by children, without supervision, from the adjacent slum in Kalkaji, New Delhi and thus Hole in the Wall was born.

He found that children using learning stations like these required little or no inputs from teachers and learnt on their own by the process of exploration, discovery and peer coaching. The idea of Minimally Invasive Education (MIE) has crystallised over a period of time-based on observations and educational experiments conducted at NIIT. Minimally Invasive Education is defined as a pedagogic method that uses the learning environment to generate an adequate level of motivation to induce learning in groups of children, with minimal, or no, intervention by a teacher. Within a month, the children knew how the internet worked.

MIE uses children's natural curiosity and focuses on providing an enabling environment where they can learn on their own. Children, in the process of freely experimenting with the Learning Station, pick up critical problem-solving skills. It also provides a collaborative setting where children can share their knowledge and in the process, develop better group dynamics, all in a highly natural environment.

MIE's uniqueness is its ability to attract children towards the Learning Station driven purely by their own interests. Conventional pedagogy, on the other hand, focuses on the teacher's ability to disseminate information in a classroom setting. MIE thus complements the formal schooling system by providing a much-needed balance for children to learn on their own and provides a holistic learning experience.

In the 18 years that have passed since, the Hole in the Wall concept has spread to Kerala, Maharashtra and more states across India. In Delhi, these computers have been set up in Lajpat Nagar and Alipur. The project was also the inspiration behind the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, an IFS officer. This novel led to the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. The project is truly lighting the spark of learning in children all over India.

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For children, it is an extension of their playground where they can play together, teach each other new things, and more importantly, just be themselves.

Prof Mitra is expanding his project to UK primary schools, using the same techniques to help children in Gateshead as he used in India. He believes that it can be used in failing schools that aren't attracting the best teachers. His idea has been implemented in a Mexican school with great effect.  The class went from a 0 to 63 percent in the excellent category on the Maths exam while failing scores went from 45 percent down to 7 percent.

Across the nation, children with access to Learning Stations showed improved academic scores!

A national research programme was started, in which Learning Stations were set up in 23 locations across rural India. In 2004, the Hole in the Wall reached Cambodia through the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.

In an internal restructuring, in July 2013, NIIT Foundation (NF) which started in 2004 as a not for profit society with a mandate to reach the unreached, uncared and unattended for, ensuring inclusive development in India has been entrusted to implement the Hole in the Wall Education Project (HiWEP).

With this, HiWEP is now poised to scale up the idea of Hole in the Wall to make a significant contribution to improving elementary education and life skills of children across the world, especially those in disadvantaged communities in rural areas and urban slums.

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Since then it has already implemented more than 100 Hole in the Wall Learning Stations in India as a part of CSR initiatives of various corporates.

School in the Cloud and SOLEs (Self-Organised Learning Environments)

In addition to opening physical learning stations of varying sizes, Prof Mitra is creating a Granny Cloud, a global network of retired teachers who support kids through an online School in the Cloud platform. Granny Cloud is a platform where children interact with online 'grannies' to engage in a wide range of informal activities.

His goal is to share the Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE) method with parents, teachers, after-school programmes, and communities worldwide, and transform the way kids learn.

What makes this work is the universal 'grandmother' approach, where children get to interact with a person who is encouraging and appreciates their efforts, and in doing so enables them to learn what they need and also find out more about what interests them.

The need for the Granny Cloud became apparent during the preliminary experiences in the SOLEs. The SOLEs were originally initiated to provide educational support for children in remote, disadvantaged settings in rural and urban areas in India.

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The SOLE approach appealed to many educators worldwide and is now used by many teachers and schools in their own classrooms. The School in the Cloud joins these two components together and will bring in the Grannies who will use the SOLE approach in these settings.

In November 2013, the first School in the Cloud learning lab — located inside a high school in Killingworth, England — opened its doors to students. Since then, six more learning labs have been built — one more in the UK and five across India.

Mitra has also launched the School in the Cloud platform which ensures that anyone, anywhere, can experiment with self-organised learning. As of 2016, more than 16,000 SOLE sessions have taken place globally, with partner learning labs and programmes scattered across the world — including in Pakistan, Colombia, and Greece. Newcastle University opened SOLE Central in 2014, as a global hub for research on self-organised learning. The platform is managed at the university's culture lab. He wishes to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder. He says, “Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online. I also invite you, wherever you are, to create your own miniature child-driven learning environments and share your discoveries.”

Thousands of people from Colombia to South Africa have also downloaded his SOLE toolkit for use in their homes and classrooms, experimenting with his learning method on the ground. They are also sharing their discoveries to help advance his research.

School in the Cloud is the subject of a documentary by director Jerry Rothwell, winner of TED Prize Filmmaker Award.

Digital Learning and the Shift

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He explains that we humans have a tendency to approach something critically, especially when it is new. He says sadly many approach the internet and digital learning that way. Before the internet or books were around, we were taught by people who knew the subject. To explain his point, he says “Why do you have to be taught? Because you don’t have access to that information easily. This was the case, for example, in the 15th century, where if you wanted to learn something, you had to find an expert and ask him or her to please explain it to you. So that’s where the teaching bit comes. When books came, which was the first sort of impact of technology, suddenly the teacher’s knowledge could be tapped into a non-human form – the book. And there was equal controversy, I believe, at that time about the fact that books were going to ruin the education system! ‘What will teachers now do? Children will just pick up the book and they will figure it out!’

Then the teachers said, ‘No, that’s not going to happen because how do you know which book you have to read? The teacher will tell you!’ So, the curriculum, the library, the books, that kind of system came in. This happens for the first 17 years of your life because after that, once you get into your job, you don’t have access to all those books. You can’t carry your library on your head – you have to have it inside your head! So if you are lost, you are stuck, you are on a ship going somewhere and you want to know where you are, you use your sextant, point to a star, you use your knowledge of trigonometry, you look at your watch and you figure it out. All this you learnt in the first 17 years. But what happens when you can carry the library with you?

That’s the shift that we are going through. Not just the library, you can carry everything with you! So, if you’re now stuck on a ship, the new generation looks at a sextant and says, ‘What is this?’ Then you say ‘Well, trigonometry…’ and he says, ‘What is that?’ And you say, ‘But how will you find out where you are?’ And the new generation will say, ‘Here’s my phone’. We have to make that shift. 

“Thanks to the internet, packing your head for the first 17 years of your life, like a suitcase for a journey, is no longer required. The stuff is available everywhere – whenever you need it, you can have it.”

He believes, “It is high time we change our approach to teaching. We need to make children curious about something so that they look it up and learn, thereby reversing the process of learning. This generation doesn’t take orders, not because they are indisciplined – we often think they are indisciplined but every generation says this about the next! Nobody is indisciplined, we are just adjusting and living in our time. So we need to make that change and adapt.”                        

Conclusion

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To us at ScooNews, Prof Mitra is not just the brain behind several brilliant and innovative learning experiments and methods. He has been a mentor and he has been constantly supportive of our work. He was even gracious enough to be the keynote speaker at the ScooNews Global Educators Fest 2017. He inspires us to think out of the ordinary and come up with new and fresh ideas in the realm of education.

In the current education scenario, students are rewarded for memorisation, not imagination or resourcefulness. Prof Mitra is an inspiration to educators worldwide and we hope that his ideas can revolutionise the learning system and pedagogy in India, thereby producing better results. We need to follow his advice and make changes in our system to make it more efficient for our children, particularly to impart primary education. The concept of pointless memorisation, which is undoubtedly a burden for the students, needs to come to an end and “real learning” needs to start. We can make it happen.

Like he rightly said, “Knowing is NOT the most important thing. To be able to FIND OUT is more important than knowing.”

This story was published in ScooNews April 2018 special issue dedicated to Prof. Sugata Mitra and his work.

All images used for representational purposes only and are the copyright of their respective owners.

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