The Tribune - Spectrum

, April 7, 2002

Educating educationists
S. P. Dhawan

Teaching and Learning
by Prema Clarke. Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 224 Rs. 250

EDUCATION is universally acknowledged to be one of the most significant and effective tools of individual refinement, social enrichment and national development. Sound education not only brings out of the child the best and the noblest he is divinely endowed with, but it also inspires and prepares him to face the realities of the world, to become a better citizen and to make his contribution to the betterment of the society. It is, therefore, worth pondering how far our present system of education is actually helpful in the realisation of this basic aim and how it can be improved so as to fulfill the cherished objectives.

The book under review is designed to bring about such qualitative changes in our teaching and learning practices as will enable us to tackle the problem at the grassroots level i.e. the school level. As it is not the work of an arm-chair theorist but the outcome of a scientific and analytical interpretation of actual data methodically collected from certain schools, it has valuable guidelines to offer in a pragmatic manner. The author, after the completion of her doctoral work at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is currently a Senior Education Specialist in the education sector in the office of the World Bank based in New Delhi, her primary responsibility being in the field of the District Primary Education Programme being implemented in 15 states in India.


As there is a broad agreement about the influence of culture on pedagogy, the author used cultural models developed in the fields of psychology and social anthropology to explore the culture of pedagogy evident in the class room. An honest attempt at understanding the idea of teaching within the Indian cultural context, it focuses on explicit as well as implicit cultural models of pedagogy. Based on qualitative research methods, Prema Clarke presents an analysis of teaching and learning in class rooms in Bangalore, but her findings have relevance to the school education throughout India.

The methodology adopted was quite striking. First of all they were interviewed to reveal their perception of their classroom activities. It emerged that the mathematics teachers tried to make their students understand the subject in the sense of making them able to apply formulas, whereas in the case of the social studies the emphasis was on "knowing" the facts concerning history and geography. In both the cases, the elements of repetition and memorization were stressed, without any concern for developing original thinking or creativity.

In order to place the issue in proper perspective Prema Clarke also traces of the history of pedagogy in the various ages in India, the promotion of memorisation and creativity in vedic times, decrease in interpretation and creativity in the Upanishadic period, focus on reading, writing, arithmetic and elementary Sanskrit in medieval India etc.

The Government of independent India formulated a scheme, "the minimum levels of learning" which sought to produce joyful and actively-centred learning.

The book thus attempts to promote initiatives in order to improve both teaching and learning by exploring the commonly ignored area of the teacherís actual work in the classroom. It is a strong plea in favour of pragmatism, flexibility, new systems of examination designed to stimulate the studentís curiosity and to sharpen his reasoning skills. If the teacher extends help of a personal nature to a student facing some grave problems, he will create a very fine impression.

The book is profusely rich in illustrative tables and interestingly notes following each of the seven chapters. Pages devoted to references, bibliography, author index and subject index eloquently testify to the hard work put in by the writer. It may not be a laymanís cup of tea, but it is sure to be immensely beneficial to the really open-minded teachers, educationists and policy planners.