Pedagogical framework for the Indian Education system

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This paper attempts to analyze the present pedagogical framework of the Indian educational system and provides a new paradigm called "Transformative learning". The discussion in the paper leads to a critical review of the theories of learning and tries to argue the importance of constructivism in learning as opposed to behaviorism. "Constructivism is often articulated in stark contrast to the behaviorist model of learning. Behavioral psychology is interested in the study of changes in manifest behavior as opposed to changes in mental states. Learning is conceived as a process of changing or conditioning observable behavior as result of selective reinforcement of an individual's response to events (stimuli) that occur in the environment. The mind is seen as an empty vessel, to be filled or as a mirror reflecting reality. Behaviorism centers on students' efforts to accumulate knowledge of the natural world and on teachers' efforts to transmit it. It therefore relies on a transmission, instructionist approach which is largely passive, teacher-directed and controlled. In some contexts, the term behaviorism is used synonymously with objectivism because of its reliance on an objectivist epistemology. Jonassen (1991) cited in Elizabeth Murphy, 1997 describes the assumptions of an objectivist approach to learning: Objectivists believe in the existence of reliable knowledge about the world. As learners, the goal is to gain this knowledge; as educators, to transmit it. Objectivism further assumes that learners gain the same understanding from what is transmitted. Learning therefore consists of assimilating that objective reality. The role of education is to help students learn about the real world. The goal of designers or teachers is to interpret events for them. Learners are told about the world and are expected to replicate its content and structure in their thinking. This objectivist model has resulted in somewhat of a stereotyped portrayal of teaching and learning which is widely criticized and often evoked as the target of educational reform"(Elizabeth Murphy,1997). While "From the constructivist perspective, learning is not a stimulus-response phenomenon. It requires self-regulation and the building of conceptual structures through reflection and abstraction". Fosnot (1996) cited in Elizabeth Murphy, 1997 adds that "Rather than behaviours or skills as the goal of instruction, concept development and deep understanding are the focus". In this paradigm, learning emphasizes the process and not the product. How one arrives at a particular answer, and not the retrieval of an 'objectively true solution', is what is important. Learning is a process of constructing meaningful representations, of making sense of one's experiential world. In this process, students' errors are seen in a positive light and as a means of gaining insight into how they are organizing their experiential world. The notion of doing something 'right' or 'correctly' is to do something that fits with "an order one has established oneself" (von Glasersfeld, 1987, p. 15 cited in Elizabeth Murphy, 1997). This perspective is consistent with the constructivist tendency to privilege multiple truths, representations, perspectives and realities. (Hanley, 1994, p.4 cited in Elizabeth Murphy, 1997).

The Indian educational system addresses instruction from a "theoretical perspective of behaviorism and proposes a stimulus - response approach to learning. It is an orientation to learning emphasizing methodically time-controlled events and constructed environmental conditions intended to bring about particular behavioral responses" (Gregory McLeod, 2003). "This method prioritizes a didactic approach rather than a radical programme of education i.e. entire learning is teacher led, and learning takes place in a linear progression which involves a neat and systematic transmission of information from teacher to student with very little or no room for creativity. "In terms of the teaching and learning process, the teacher works as a content expert and positions himself or herself as the primary or only source of knowledge. The teacher organizes and delivers information and procedures and expects students to throw back the given ideas. The lecture format is the preferred and most often used method in class. Students appear passive and are hardly encouraged to question the information"(De La Salle University, online) This has only resulted in burdening the youth with the unimaginable pressure of passive learning and simultaneously provides miniscule encouragement to pursue their creativity. Student's knowledge gained by this method of education is not versatile i.e. 'transmission' learning doesn't give the student the ability to take the knowledge and apply it in a different context - and perhaps this kind of 'versatile' knowledge is more what is needed to be useful in the globalised, multi-cultural and rapidly changing world we live in. Drawing from my personal experience as a student from India, I feel that Indian education is full of innumerable pages of obsolete, outdated theory with no innovation or any practical work and the eagerly awaited new textbooks have nothing more than flashier cover pages. Therefore an entirely new approach has to be adopted which focuses on innovation and practical aspects of education.

The paper attempts to create a pedagogical framework of 'Transformative learning'. "Transformative learning is actualized in practices known as student-centered teaching or in the design of a learner-centered environment. These practices are drawn from constructivist learning theories. In recent years, a number of specific approaches have been made applying the findings of research on learner-centered or constructivist classrooms" (De La Salle University, online) Some of these approaches involve problem-based learning, anchored instruction, collaborative learning, coaching, scaffolding, modeling, goal-based scenarios, and reflective learning. (Roblyer 2006 cited in Distance Education Research & Resource Website, online) Research about courses using these approaches shows learners more engaged with their studies and able to form concepts and solve problems with a variety of thinking strategies. Consequently in the constructivist classroom, both teacher and students think of knowledge not as inert factoids to be memorized, but as a dynamic, ever-changing view of the world we live in and the ability to successfully stretch and explore that view.

The scope of this new paradigm of Transformative Learning includes the following: The nature of knowledge, role of the teacher, creating space for reflectivity in the classroom, culturally responsive teaching practices, training to be responsible Citizens. The discussion of these different areas is based on various perspectives drawn from research on learner-centered education and ideology of constructivism.

Nature of Knowledge

The existing pedagogical framework of Indian education system grounded in behaviorism believes that knowledge exists separately outside human perceptions and must be transmitted through directed instructional methods. "The teaching profession has often been associated with the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Many teachers think that students begin their course with very little or no knowledge at all, of the subject matter. Teachers then consider it their task to fill the students' minds with knowledge and prescribe procedures for obtaining the needed information. In this traditional view, knowledge consists of receiving and accumulating information. Students are said to know the subject when they are able to recall and recite a given set of information or discuss a given set of procedures for finding the answer to a particular problem. This view of knowledge has led many teachers to characterize instruction as a system of transmission with the teacher as the main source of the subject's facts and concepts" (De La Salle University, online)

On the contrary the proposed pedagogical framework of transformative learning grounded in constructivism believes that knowledge is not transmitted but constructed through hands on activity and personal experience. Learning can take place through scaffolding, collaborative learning, discovery learning. (Roblyer 2006 cited in Distance Education Research & Resource Website, online)

Scaffolding i.e. building on what the student already knows or based on their prior experience. Vygotsky (1896 -1934) defined scaffolding instruction as the "role of teachers and others in supporting the learner's development and providing support structures to get to that next stage or level" (Raymond, 2000, p. 176 cited in Rachel R Van Der Styuf , 2002).Therefore teachers have a different approach to the students' development of knowledge. Teachers think that students have some initial ideas about their subject matter. These initial ideas are part of the students' prior knowledge. "Teachers look upon their work as designing learning experiences where students examine their prior knowledge and change it into new knowledge based on their interactions with the world and use of different learning resources. Unlike the transmission approach where knowledge is considered as a body of information waiting to be acquired, this approach looks at knowledge in a transformative way. Knowledge emerges from doing. Knowledge does not exist as a given truth before the process of learning. The students revise their prior knowledge during their interaction with the world and exploration of questions. Learning is regarded as a process of inquiry and meaning construction. Hence, the extent of the students' new knowledge is defined by the depth of their inquiry or experimentation. In this context, students encounter facts and concepts not as isolated pieces of information but locate their significance in the discipline's network of ideas. Students examine the scope of this network and determine how this network defines the meaning of these facts and concepts. With this view, teachers will be able to help students shift from being passive receivers of information to becoming active producers of knowledge"( De La Salle University, online)

The advantages of such a pedagogical practice are:

"Provides clear direction and reduces students' confusion - Educators anticipate problems that students might encounter and then develop step by step instructions, which explain what a student must do to meet expectations.

Clarifies purpose - Scaffolding helps students understand why they are doing the work and why it is important.

Keeps students on task - By providing structure, the scaffolded lesson or research project, provides pathways for the learners. The student can make decisions about which path to choose or what things to explore along the path but they cannot wander off of the path, which is the designated task.

Clarifies expectations and incorporates assessment and feedback - Expectations are clear from the beginning of the activity since examples of exemplary work, rubrics, and standards of excellence are shown to the students.

Points students to worthy sources - Educators provide sources to reduce confusion, frustration, and time. The students may then decide which of these sources to use.

Reduces uncertainty, surprise, and disappointment - Educators test their lessons to determine possible problem areas and then refine the lesson to eliminate difficulties so that learning is maximized" (McKenzie, 1999 cited in Rachel R. Van Der Styuf, 2002.)

"Collaborative Learning i.e. according to Vygotsky (1978), students are capable of performing at higher intellectual levels when asked to work in collaborative situations than when asked to work individually. Group diversity in terms of knowledge and experience contributes positively to the learning process. Bruner (1985) contends that cooperative learning methods improve problem- solving strategies because the students are confronted with different interpretations of the given situation. The peer support system makes it possible for the learner to internalize both external knowledge and critical thinking skills and to convert them into tools for intellectual functioning. In the present study, the collaborative learning medium provided students with opportunities to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate ideas cooperatively. The informal setting facilitated discussion and interaction. This group interaction helped students to learn from each other's scholarship, skills, and experiences. The students had to go beyond mere statements of opinion by giving reasons for their judgments and reflecting upon the criteria employed in making these judgments. Thus, it can be concluded that collaborative learning fosters the development of critical thinking through discussion, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of others' ideas. Therefore, it enhances critical- thinking and problem- solving skills. For collaborative learning to be effective, the instructor must view teaching as a process of developing and enhancing students' ability to learn. The instructor's role is not to transmit information, but to serve as a facilitator for learning. This involves creating and managing meaningful learning experiences and stimulating students' thinking through real world problems" (Anuradha A.Gokhale 1995)

Role of the teacher

"The teacher acts as a facilitator by working with the students' questions, prior knowledge and misconceptions and by leading them towards a creative and critical analysis of their understanding of the concepts they want to learn. While the teacher's own expertise remains a valuable resource, the teacher also employs a wide variety of resources and interventions to help students understand the questions they need to ask and change or deepen their own prior knowledge. These resources and interventions are deployed through all available means and they include field trips, audio-visual materials, interactive online programs, readings, tutorials, student group discussions, and interviews with outside resource persons and others. Some resources from outside the actual field of study may also be used because they provide valuable analogous and alternative insights or approaches. The range of resources and interventions that the teacher uses and the quality of his or her skills in facilitating students' self-directed inquiry and cognitive change also depends to a large extent on the teacher's understanding of his or her students' diverse learning styles and sensitivity to their interests, personal concerns and learning situation. This awareness enables the teacher to tap and realize the potentials of the students. In a transformative learning process, the teacher clearly communicates to the students a genuine concern for their success. The teacher makes himself or herself available for student consultation to address individual learning problems".

(De La Salle University, online) The teacher actively monitors the students' performance and provides varied guides and helpful interventions ensuring mastery and proficiency. Thus the teachers need to modify themselves from instructors to facilitators to make learning effective through a student-centered activity (Vighnarajah et al, 2008).

The teacher needs to focus on discovery learning another important component of constructivism. Discovery learning involves active participation where learners explore the concepts, relate ideas and find alternative solutions to problems. Discovery learning is not like traditional classroom learning. It consists of three main attributes (Bicknell-Holmes & Hoffman, 2000 cited in Joyce A. Castronova , online):

Through exploration and problem solving students create, integrate, and generalize knowledge. (ii) Student driven, interest-based activities which the student determines the sequence and frequency. (iii) Activities to encourage integration of new knowledge into the learner's existing knowledge.

Teachers can use the model suggested by Bruner the constructivist, to enable discovery learning (a) 'Enactive'i.e. representing ones understanding through motor response(Use of tactile instructional strategies to teach new concepts) (b) Iconic representations where images are used to represent concepts. (c) Symbolic representations where familiar symbols are used (i.e. building on the already existing knowledge. (Discroll 2000 p224-225 cited in Distance Education Research & Resource Website, online) A significant advantage of the discovery learning method is its capacity to motivate students. Discovery learning allows learners to seek information that satisfies their natural curiosity. It provides the opportunity for students to explore their desires and consequently creates a more engaging learning environment.

Creating space for reflectivity in the classroom

The proposed pedagogical framework gives more scope for reflectivity in classrooms. Dewey (1933) is acknowledged as the initiator of the concept of reflectivity and he identified three attitudes as prerequisites for reflective teaching:

• Open-mindedness: an 'active desire to listen to more sides than one'

• Responsibility: an ability to ask 'why am I doing what I am doing in the classroom?'

• Whole heartedness: an ability to take risks and act. (Rosie Le Cornu and Judy Peters, 2005)

Teachers need to create an environment in the class rooms where they share their living experiences with the students and need to be quite up front with the fact that they are also learning alongside with them. This enables students to be more open-minded. Teachers need to create space within the class room context for students to reflect; 'It's about giving children time to reflect on what they're doing and critical thinking about what it is they're doing and saying'. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Alerby and Elidottir, for example, explained: 'Time and space are needed if we are to turn experience into learning through reflection'. (2003, p 47- cited in Rosie Le Cornu and Judy Peters, 2005).This brings in a sense of responsibility and increases the ability to take risks. Two different strategies can be adopted in the classrooms to promote reflectivity:

The students need to be encouraged to get in touch with their own thinking, and share what they were thinking, by using talk in an exploratory and tentative way. This involved challenging some preconceived views, as explained by one of the teachers 'It's changing the mindset from one which says, we don't speak until we know the answer, to using talk to help us make sense of what we're thinking.' (Rosie Le Cornu and Judy Peters, 2005)

Another strategy is that the teachers need to give themselves some space/time. The teachers should take advantage of opportunities when students were working on openended, collaborative tasks to observe their students at work to gain knowledge about each child and their learning progress. They would then often share these observations with the children and engage them in reflection about their learning, such that it had the potential to extend and challenge their thinking, as well as bringing them in to play a more active role in the teaching-learning process. (Rosie Le Cornu and Judy Peters, 2005) "Thus in a climate of openness and acceptance, much of the classroom time may be devoted for higher level discussions such as critiquing and problem-solving. Instead of spending most of class time for repeating content in assigned readings, the teacher uses the period for transformative learning by elucidating subtleties, facilitating students' synthesis of acquired knowledge, resolving differences in opinion, showing the application of certain principles in a given class problem or providing feedback on one's progress" (De La Salle University, online)

Culturally responsive teaching practices.

India being a country with a rich cultural heritage, the classroom is normally a mixture of students from varied racial, ethnic, languages and cultural background. A classroom grounded in constructivism which believes in social activism or negotiation involves all students in the construction of knowledge, building on students 'personal and cultural strengths, helping students examine the curriculum from multiple perspectives, using varied assessment practices that promote learning, and making the culture of the classroom inclusive of all students. Culturally responsive teachers have a high degree of socio cultural consciousness, hold affirming views of students of diverse backgrounds, see themselves as agents of change, understand and embrace constructivist views of learning and teaching, and know the students in their classes. It is the combination of all these dispositions, knowledge, and skills that enables them to design instruction that facilitates student learning. A central task of teachers who are culturally responsive is to:

Create a classroom environment in which all students are encouraged to make sense of new ideas-that is, to construct knowledge that helps them better understand the world-rather than merely to memorize predigested information. One way teachers can support students' construction of knowledge is by involving them in inquiry projects that have personal meaning to them. When students are given opportunities to explore topics of interest to them, they are more apt to engage in learning than when instructional topics have little relevance to their lives.

Another strategy that culturally responsive teaching can use to help students build bridges between school learning and their lives outside school is drawing on the expertise of community members, including the children's parents. In doing this, the teacher not only strengthens the connections between home and school but also conveyed to the children that their families have knowledge and experiences the school values. (Anna Maria Villegas and Tamara Lucas, 2002)

A classroom to promote Democracy

The teacher led class room approach is "inadequate because it neglects the fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life. Schools have "de-contextualized" learning by making the school environment the only one that matters, thus, narrowing the scope of learning exclusively to the school vicinity. As a result, the concept of education as a community enterprise has been severely diminished, thereby encouraging the erosion of social cohesion and inter-group communication. If citizens cannot relate across social and economic division - the lack of ongoing exchange of ideas and open dialogue undermine the very nature of democracy. Education is the one public institution that has enormous potential to prepare students to become full members of society and can play a central role in the formation of young people's understandings of democracy, and of themselves as citizens in a democracy". In My Pedagogic Creed, Dewey holds that education is "a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction." Constructivist education promotes what Palmer refers to as a subject -centered classroom, in which students are exposed to a world larger than their own experiences and egos, a world that goes beyond their personal boundaries and enhances their sense of community. (Palmer, 120 cited in Manaka Sanjani, 2004) Dewey also stresses that a student's knowledge grows and develops from the experiences of the individual student. This is imperative to accomplishing civic learning, which involves instilling in students "a capacity for responsible participation/leadership in private, associational, public organizations and Institutions" along with "a sense of personal and a sense of social responsibility and agency (Manaka Sanjani, 2004)


The application of such a pedagogical framework's focus on trans formative learning in the classroom will not be easy nor instant owing to varied factors such as organizational concerns. (E.g. class size, the exam schedule, amenities available in the schools, preparation of students for board exams, and faculty load and readiness. "Transitioning from a system of transmission to transformation will bring about changes in curriculum design, syllabus construction, lesson planning, and use of class time, grading system, faculty evaluation and faculty training. Effecting the changes will be a difficult but not an impossible process. Extensive consultation with the faculty about implementation issues will have to be made. The education departments will have to discuss among themselves how to translate the framework into their respective disciplines. Training as part of faculty development will also be needed to understand and plan for the changes.

Given this roadmap, the challenge for every teacher is to begin the journey for transformative learning" (De La Salle University, online)