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Is bagless learning – the call of the future in school education?

By G. Balasubramanian

There is a saying attributed to Sir Winston Churchill which says, “I am willing to learn, but I refuse to be taught.” Without going any further about the context of the statement, we may conveniently say that the current trend among the learners appears to subscribe to this view. There is increasing debate going across the nations about the quantum and quality of learning. Some countries have curricula which evidently add a huge stress to the learners driving them sometimes to self-defeat; others have curricula which really do not support their holistic growth that would enable and empower them for an enterprising future. It is in this context one must examine the role of school bags and the decision of the NEP to recommend bagless days in the schools. “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next” says Abraham Lincoln

It appears that the objective of these bagless days in schools is to facilitate, focus and provide opportunities to integration or inculcation of some skills to the learners. However, isolating and implementing this idea more on an exclusive outfit would downgrade what the idea could indeed deliver. Given the dynamics of knowledge explosion and the challenges it provides both through convergence and divergence, the future of the classrooms is likely to be largely limited.in its current form and functional profile. The scope of a classroom may not really define the learning or the learnability of the learner. The quality of learning through informal sources and through self-learning methods might outplay the role of the classrooms. In short, the text-based learning would be slowly finding its way out or take an inferior position as compared to the extensive informal learning that might happen. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind” says Virginia Woolf in the book “A Room of One's Own”.

What are the likely reasons that would lead to such a situation?

1. Increasing irrelevance of textbooks

Though textbooks will continue as evidence to show the universe of learning objectives the schools intend to deliver, their relevance will be fast decreasing. The inability of the textbooks to fire curiosity, their reduced communicability in the spectrum of several other contemporary learning tools, its content remaining conventional and non-interactive, the textbooks will play an insignificant, inefficient and ineffective role in learning. It may support to some extent learners with focus on targeted minimum levels of learning, but not as a trigger for extended and extensive learning that would promote a sense of enterprise and nurture curiosity, “It is the mark of an educated mind to bae able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” says Aristotle.

2. Conditioned learning in classrooms

The classrooms generally provide conditioned learning with focus on specific learning outcomes. They help the administrators more to fix, define and evaluate on certain norms keeping aside the curiosity, interest, aptitude and personal energy levels of the learners. It appears more like a bland diet given to a sick or convalescent mind. Their inability to trigger opportunities for curiosity, research and further learning fixes it on a lateral platform with a linear approach. This deprives the learner the real joy of learning.

3. Pedagogy as a prescription

In many institutions pedagogy is more prescriptive to meet certain specific and popular social and parental demands. It fails to open the vistas of learning in the minds of the learners. It fails to link concepts to the world of reality and thus plays the role of completing the functional demands of a teacher. Rather than a positive and passionate expression of the conceptual universe to the learner by the teacher, it acts as feeder to rote learning. With newer understanding of learning as a neural activity, there is a huge scope of triggering learning positively as a self-learning process. The classrooms will move beyond textbooks to generate this environment. Bagless schools will be more adored concept.

4. The emerging learning opportunities through technology

Technology has opened the flood gates of knowledge. Free intercourse of information, the opportunities to acquire contextual skills alongside the knowledge, the scope for extended assimilation of information, knowledge and functional opportunities, freedom to learn without fear and stress, the focus on self-accountability in learning, the possibility of cross-functional and multi-polar learning and others are quite reassuring to the learners to learn without any discrimination, without any comparison, without any fear. Further it facilitates repetitive use of the content to the learner without fatigue. The learner is also relieved from the burden of knowledge storage in the brain.

5. Freedom from structured assessment

The Bagless learning, while offering a plethora of opportunities to a learner to learn at his own freewill, at his place and speed, it also liberates one from a structured normative assessment that leads to comparative notes among learners without celebrating the individual talents, competencies and growth profile. Assessment of learning and assessment for learning can be customised with newer tools with the help of Artificial intelligence. Timely, need based and authentic assessment based on contextual learning would be more positive and act as feedback for further growth. Further, with bagless learning the typology of questions could be broader based linked to several of the intellectual and emotional profiles of each learner. It could be more evidence based and hence authentic.

Bagless learning would be a natural outcome of the social dynamics and knowledge diffusion. Its basics would be empowered by self-learning and self-directed learning. Extraneous intervention to scaffold will be much lesser and would be specific and need-based for each learner.

The role of schools and their functional profile might have to be re-engineered and re-articulated to this new challenging scenario.