For the Love of Learning

For the Love of Learning

I quite like what Peter Drucker, the most well-known management guru in the world, has to say about our education curriculum: "When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course."  

We are all different, each one of us. Our aptitudes, inclinations and outlook differ from one another. Yet, our education system attempts to test our abilities using one, hackneyed approach, which is primarily based on memory. We are often tested for what we do not know instead of what we know. And often, the subjects we are taught are outdated, irrelevant or both!

No wonder then, more than fifty years after independence, the dropout rate in Indian primary, middle and high schools continues to be shamefully high. And one big reason for dropping out of schools is the inability of the students to cope with the difficult subjects.

Thankfully, students who are "intellectually slow" or are for some reason, unable to cope with the stressful environment of formal education, can now turn to the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS). NIOS was established in November, 1989 as an autonomous organisation in pursuance of National Policy on Education, 1986 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

The Thane chapter of NIOS was started by Diocesan Council of Catholic Women of India in 1992. Sister Rossetta, principal of Holy Cross Convent Special School, was instrumental in setting up the Thane division.

Clara Correia, honorary coordinator of NIOS, Thane, is among the few volunteers who are affiliated to the NIOS. Together with Lena Callasco, who works as honorary assistant coordinator, she works hard to provide an opportunity to those who seek education.

Their efforts seem to have borne fruit. Starting with merely 24 students, the Thane division today has 261 students. Since the last ten years, all kinds of students have enrolled for the courses offered by NIOS – school dropouts, marginalised girls, poor children or those from orphanage, street children and children of prostitutes. Even borderline children (mentally challenged) and those suffering from Dyslexia (a learning disorder marked by impairment of the ability to recognize and comprehend written words) have been admitted.

Another category of individuals who often benefit from NIOS are older people, who are desirous of completing some level of formal education.

In Thane, NIOS has had (and continues to have) an interesting mix of students. An auto rickshaw driver, a peon and a dry-cleaner are some examples. Once, a 56-year old lady enrolled for the SSC course and successfully passed the exams in two years. Based on this certificate, she was able to get her full retirement benefits.

The school once had a trio comprising a student, her mother and her grandmother – all doing the course at the same time!

So what makes NIOS really different? The keyword here is flexibility.

Correia says, "Students are required to pass nine examinations in five years. There is no stigma of failure associated with the exams. This allows students to learn at their own speeds and at their convenience. We also provide specially designed, self-instructional printed material on different subjects. Wherever relevant, other support materials, like audio cassettes, practical manuals, glossaries and study guides are made available."
 
Another interesting aspect of NIOS is that while admitting students, their past record is not seen. Correia believes that every student who comes to the school should be treated as a "fresh slate".

Unlike in the formal system, the instructional approach at the NIOS is multi-channeled. Students are encouraged to become self learners with the help of educational material provided by the NIOS. The school also provides a wide range of facilities to help students gain a better understanding of their subjects.

There are no regular classes like the formal schools. However, face-to-face contact sessions are organised twice a week. These sessions focus on academic problem solving, interactive peer-group learning, counseling and tutoring.

Another feature of NIOS is that to obtain a pass certificate from the NIOS, a student must pass in five subjects. One has to choose minimum one or maximum two languages for both Secondary and Senior Secondary levels. Once a student passes Secondary or Senior Secondary examination with five or more subjects with at least one language, a pass certificate is issued to him/her.

The NIOS offers three primary courses:

  1. Foundation Course, which is equivalent to Eighth standard and serves as a bridge course for joining the secondary level programmes in the NIOS.
  2. Secondary Education Course: This is offered to those who are desirous of completing 10th standard education leading to Secondary School Certificate (SSC).
  3. Senior Secondary Education Course: This is designed for those who have passed 10th standard or equivalent and would like to continue their education for 12th standard. This leads to the Senior Secondary School Certificate (HSC).

The students of NIOS have certainly benefited from the flexibility of time and curriculum. This can be gauged from the fact that some of its students have gone on to complete higher education and have become professionals.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge", said Albert Einstein. This is the true essence of education. And this is what NIOS is attempting to achieve.

Those who wish to contact NIOS Thane chapter, they can contact Clara Correia at Holy Cross Convent Special School Building on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm.

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