Redefine learning
Pre-schools must focus on children’s natural curiosity and create opportunities to think beyond books and syllabus
Ira Joshi
ARLY years shape children’s future success at school and in life. There is growing evidence from the fields of neuroscience, social science and psychology that the first five years play a significant role in children’s learning. Recent findings reveal that the environment plays an important role in children’s development. 


  • Warwick University announces 16 scholarships for Indian students

  • Women benefit more from education loans than men

  • Top British pupils fail to keep up  with East Asian counterparts

Campus Notes

Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak

  • Conference on chemical sciences

  • Literature as a reflection of social reality

  • Status of women in US discussed

  • Environmental practices


Redefine learning
Pre-schools must focus on children’s natural curiosity and create opportunities to think beyond books and syllabus
Ira Joshi

EARLY years shape children’s future success at school and in life. There is growing evidence from the fields of neuroscience, social science and psychology that the first five years play a significant role in children’s learning. Recent findings reveal that the environment plays an important role in children’s development. An optimal safe and stimulating environment allows children to grow and nurture. During the first few years of their life, children spend most of their time at home with their family and other significant adults. This forms their learning environment, where they form relationships with important people in their lives. Once they start going to pre-school, their milieu expands to include teachers, children and other adults. They experience new people, places and materials, all of which have the potential to influence and impact development and learning.

Countries around the globe focus on and invest in early childhood education. There are clear norms and standards about quality in pre-schools. In India, while there is recognition of the importance of good quality pre-schools, we still have a long way to go. In recent years, pre-schools have mushroomed and covered the length and breadth of our country. In the absence of clear regulations and standards, they differ vastly from each other. Yet, what seems to remain consistent is the growing emphasis on academics with the intent to prepare children for formal school.

Very often activities around reading, writing and maths (3 Rs) take the center stage of the pre-school curriculum. Children are expected to know the letters, write sentences and solve number problems before they are developmentally ready to learn. Many pre-schools follow a rigid syllabus and use the ‘drill and practice’ way to make children learn. Exercise books and copies are an integral part of the class. Children copy the letters and numbers several times, so much so that their brain gets conditioned to remember and reproduce these later. This over-emphasis on the 3Rs undermines the core skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity (4Cs). Recent studies have enumerated the importance of the 4Cs for succeeding in today’s technology-driven, globalised world. Good quality pre-schools emphasise a curriculum that helps children learn through play, movement and exploration. They integrate the critical domains of all-round development along with the core skills, so that children can feel good about themselves and take pride in what they do.

It is unfortunate that the education system focuses on completing the syllabus without giving children enough opportunities to apply what they have learnt. A study conducted by Wipro and Educational Initiatives (EI), covering 23,000 students and 89 schools across the country, shows that when children were asked to apply existing knowledge to solve problems, they were largely unsuccessful. Sadly, even in pre-schools, learning is restricted to memorising of facts within the confines of the classroom.

Thus, we need to prepare our children to open their minds, be curious about the world, observe and explore their surroundings, investigate new phenomena and enjoy learning. How can we transform our pre-schools into places of true learning? Are there ways that help extend children’s knowledge beyond books? Here are some strategies:

Tap children’s interest

This is a good way to begin the journey of discovering together. Children have varied interest areas, so find some time and talk to them when they are involved in their favourite activity. For example, if a child likes playing with blocks, you may use the opportunity to explore about how many blocks make a tall tower? Use language to build curiosity and encourage exploration. For example, “I wonder how many small blocks make a tall tower. Would you like to try?” Once children have done the activity, you may push their thinking further. “That’s really good! I am wondering what happens if you use slightly bigger blocks now. Will you still end up using the same number of blocks?” Similarly, if a child enjoys art, you may explore how mixing of blue and yellow makes the colour green.

Asking questions

Children are naturally curious. Remember to ask questions about things they experience in their daily environment. For example, “What might melt in the sun? What might grow?” or “What are some things that come in boxes?” This encourages children to observe their environment more closely and recall information based on their experiences. This is a good way to connect learning at pre-school with real-life experiences.

Let children think and predict

As an educator or parent, we constantly ask questions. However, the mantra is not to give the answers immediately. Give children time to think. When you give them time, they come up with their own theories and predictions. Assist them to test their predictions. You may begin by asking a question. For example, “I wonder how many steps it will take to go from the classroom to the playground”. Ask them to think and predict. Next let them test their hypothesis and count how many steps it really takes them.

Multiple perspectives

Children as young as five years begin to think from another perspective. It is an important skill that helps develop empathy and tolerance in children at a later stage. Usually, a storybook or a television show can be a great medium to discuss perspective taking with your children. Ask questions to encourage children to think about a character or an event from the story. Depending on the age and interest of your children, extend the discussion to include questions like “Why did the character act this way? What would you have done?”

Spark imagination

Involve children in activities that allow them to imagine. You may take their popular story and ask them to make up different endings. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer. Children are different from each other and so are their stories.

Games to encourage observation

Involve children in a game to observe their surroundings carefully. For example, on your way to the classroom, you may play a game of “What do you see”? Let children spot things based on your cues. This allows children to sift through diverse elements and filter out what is relevant — an important skill for future workforce.

Discover things together

Take children out for visits or watch educational shows together. Remember to discuss what you see with each other. It is important for you and children to discover things together. Make the experience fun and special for them.

Delve on a topic

Never be in a rush to cover as many topics. Instead, let children get enough time to understand a topic before they are ready to move on. Once children understand a concept, they start building and applying their past knowledge to new concepts. This forms the spiral of learning, which allows children to integrate skills and knowledge across topics and subjects.

Today we have an enormous task: to prepare our children for a future overloaded with information, booming with new technologies. Our schools need to redefine learning and support innovative ways to make children learn. It is imperative to cultivate an attitude of discovery and scientific thinking from early years. Pre-schools must focus on children’s natural curiosity and wonder, support their discoveries and present opportunities to think beyond books and syllabus. When we empower children and extend their learning, we lay the foundation for critical thinking and responsible citizens of future.



Warwick University announces 16 scholarships for Indian students
LONDON: Britain’s University of Warwick has announced 16 new scholarships for postgraduate Indian students as part of the country’s efforts to enhance bilateral cooperation in the area of education and research. The Coventry-based university announced the scholarships across a range of departments, including law, politics, international studies, Warwick Manufacturing Group, Warwick Business School, Department of Economics and School of Life Sciences. “It gives me great pleasure to announce this package of scholarships dedicated to Indian students. Warwick has long been a globally-connected university, but it has particularly nurtured its close ties with India,” Prof. Nigel Thrift, Vice-Chancellor and president of the University of Warwick, said.

Women benefit more from education loans than men
WASHINGTON: Education loans help women more than men in graduating from college, a new US study has found. The study showed that, on average, taking out loans actually makes graduation more likely for all students. But at a certain point — which is about $2,000 lower for men than for women — debt has diminishing returns and becomes less effective at boosting chances of graduation. One reason loans help women more may be tied to job prospects for college dropouts, which are much better for men than for women, researchers said. “Women will go deeper in debt to finance college because they need the degree more than men if they want to earn a good living. Men will drop out at lower levels of debt,” Rachel Dwyer, co-author of the study and Associate Professor of Sociology at Ohio State University said.

Top British pupils fail to keep up with East Asian counterparts
WASHINGTON: The brightest primary students in Britain almost match their counterparts in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan in maths but fall back by nearly two years by the time they are 16, according to a new study. The top 10 per cent of English children also appear to be losing ground to the most able pupils in other English- speaking and European countries between the ages of 10 and 16, say researchers at the University of London. — PTI


 Campus Notes

Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak

Conference on chemical sciences
The Department of Chemistry of the university will organise a national conference on “Advances in Chemical Sciences" from March 1 to 2. The conference will be organised in collaboration with the Indian Society of Analytical Scientists (Delhi Chapter). While the Vice Chancellor of Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology, Murthal (Sonepat), will be the chief guest, MDU Vice Chancellor will preside over the inaugural session. Professor K.K. Verma, Head, Department of Chemistry, will be the convener. Around 300 delegates are expected to take part in the meet. Meanwhile, a national-level symposium on “Fight Against Malaria: Prospects and Perspectives” will be organised here on March 9. The symposium will be organised by the Centre for Biotechnology and Centre for Medical Biotechnology. According to Prof. S.K. Gakhar, Dean, Faculty of Life Sciences, experts will deliberate upon the recent advances in the field of malaria eradication.

Literature as a reflection of social reality
Literature reflects social concerns, and can act as a vehicle for social change. This view emerged at a one-day seminar organised recently by the Department of English of Sat Jinda Kalyana College, Kalanaur, on the theme of “Literature of Social Consciousness”. Eminent scholars and academicians dwelled upon social concerns expressed in the literary works of Indian, American, British and Commonwealth literatures. Rajya Sabha MP Shadi Lal Batra, who inaugurated the seminar, said literature is concerned with human struggles and issues of humanity, and it could play an important role in raising social awareness. In his keynote address, Bhim Singh Dahiya, a former Vice-Chancellor of Kurukshetra University, said literature reflected the social realities of its times. Literature sensitises society, he said, while underlining the role of literature in raising social consciousness with appropriate examples from the Indian, American and British literature.

Status of women in US discussed
A special lecture on “Status of Women in USA — Struggles and Success” was held at the Department of Sociology recently. In her lecture, Madhavi Cherian, a research scholar at New York University, USA, focused on the status of women in America. She also traced the history of evolution of women’s rights in the US. She said though women have made their mark in higher education, it is still a long journey and is to be covered in the sphere of political as well as corporate sector.

Environmental practices
The hospitality and tourism industry needs to incorporate environmentally sound and sustainable practices to keep pace with the changing times. This was stated by Niranjan Khatri, General Manager, Welcome Environ Initiatives, ITC Welcome group, at a one-day workshop on “Environmental Practices in Hotel and Tourism Business” organised at the Institute of Hotel and Tourism Management recently. Khatri dwelled upon sustainable and environmental practices, strategy for organic growth, and techniques and applications for environmental practices.

— Contributed by Bijendra Ahlawat