There’s so much conversation on different platforms, virtual or otherwise about where we are headed in terms of education – children’s education. Teachers and parents find themselves thrust into unfamiliar situations as they struggle with the challenges of reaching educational goals. The children, while at ease with much of the new technology at hand [and certainly take to it a lot more easily!], are bereft of the company of their friends. They too find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings and often remain ‘put off’ and disconcerted at the attempt to have usual school curriculum ‘thrown’ at them to ensure they achieve the academic goals set for the current year. Yet little of this seems to take into account the drastically changed circumstances caused by the pandemic. And everyone – children, parents, teachers, even administrators are aware of the gap between reality and our attempts to carry on as ‘normal’.
Of course, one hears many folks, from the world of education and outside it, talking about ‘treating’ these radically changed circumstances as an opportunity rather than as a challenge – but there still seems to be relatively little that indicates we are doing that. Using it as an opportunity, I mean. In large measure, children are still being given [sent] school work, worksheets, assignments etc. that correspond to the lessons they would have been having if they were physically present in school. Surely, we should be paying more than lip service to the opportunity this pandemic presents us with! Whether we like it or not, it’s a strange, new world we find ourselves in and we might as well make use of it to finally make education more relevant, more meaningful. Technology outpaced our traditional methods quite a while back. But we’ve been reluctant to embrace it fully; to let it free ourselves [and the children] to seek an education that focuses on learning to learn, that enables us to develop the skills we need, as and when we need them rather than fixating on ‘facts’ of bygone ages; often without context or immediate relevance.
It is THIS situation that draws me to the relevance of the Granny Cloud again, and again. It is because of its essential approach and modus operandi that The Granny Cloud has a headstart! Since its inception in 2008-2009, the Granny Cloud has been based on the premise that the facilitators / emediators are not in each other’s physical presence. The Grannies have ALWAYS connected with the children using Skype or a similar kind of platform. They and the children become seasoned users of these platforms quite quickly and learn to navigate their potential to achieve the maximum possible under rather challenging situations of limited connectivity; not to mention language barriers and cultural differences.
But what is also particularly relevant to the situation the world [and schools all over] finds itself in is that the Grannies never did aim to conduct lessons. [For more information about the Granny Cloud approach you can visit: http://thegrannycloud.org/category/from-suneetas-desk/ ] The Granny-Child interactions have always been ‘sessions’ – free flowing, fluid, willing and even eager to go where the children’s interests led them; while remaining alert and tweaking the interaction [with the insertion of a strategically worded question or presentation of an audio/visual stimulus] to provoke a search accompanied by thinking, reasoning, and analysis. From the tiniest of questions that stimulated keen observations, to larger questions that kindled even philosophical questions, the Grannies have experienced fulfilling interactions with the children. [You can find many illustrations of these Granny-Children interactions in the Granny Cloud Tales https://grannycloudtales.wordpress.com/]. They have continued to work in rather disadvantaged locations with minimal resources, withunderprivileged children. And they have kept adapting the interactions to ensure that the group they engaged with remained interested and involved. Age, abilities, familiarity with the internet, language fluency varied with each group, as did the availability of resources that many schools take for granted in the ‘developed’ nations. Yet, the Grannies have worked through all these challenges to ensure that the key aims of the Granny Cloud are met. Broadening horizons, stimulating curiosity and developing search skills, developing their confidence, strengthening their social skills, enabling them to take ownership of their own learning, are just some of these. [For more information you can visit the Granny Cloud website http://thegrannycloud.org/
The Granny Cloud has never been about the ‘curriculum’. It functions on not just a ‘need to know’ but ‘want to know’ basis. The ‘wanting’ is what the Grannies create…. Call it creating motivation, inspiration, provocation … Call it what you will, the bottom line is that Granny Cloud is not just child centred, it is child driven. Tale after tale [https://grannycloudtales.wordpress.com/] are evidence for this child influenced engagement. And children know they have the power. And they exert it. In the process they make their own learning both more enjoyable as well as meaningful.
This is the time to move away from the rigid educational system we have all contended with [and criticized] for so long. It is possible to achieve the competencies we think are necessary at different points of our children’s development [although even those could do with some re-examination and thought!] without subjecting them to day long – week after week, month after month, one-way lessons. Lessons that often don’t take into account individual interests, capabilities, pace or aptitudes. Yes, there will be valid concerns about the related aspect of assessing their learning, but just as the mode of learning can change, so can its assessment. The same technology that allows us to learn in a different way, using technology and other contemporary resources; can be harnessed to allow us to document not just group learning but individual learning as well. And assessment could [in keeping with its real purpose!] focus much more on identifying what kind of input/experiences we need to create and facilitate individual children working at a pace more in keeping with their abilities.
Hopefully, as the pandemic abates it won’t be business as usual. Hopefully, some of the changes will be real and here to stay. But for that, we need to change our mindset rather than just using all the resources & technology available to us to exchange classroom instruction for a ‘lecture’ over ‘Skype’. If we really plan to treat this situation as an opportunity, it means that we will have to find ways to build in the flexibility of approach, of goals, of techniques and strategies that will keep us relevant in ever changing, evolving scenarios. And for that, we could take a page or two out of The Granny Cloud book….