Shall be a tad nerdy this time and write a little about curricula. Am in the process of writing a service-learning curriculum for Indus that would tie in with the main teaching project that I’m doing here and would also support further community projects that the school decides to undertake. My main beef with many service-learning programmes that I’ve worked on in the past is their episodic nature that does not tie in with what is actually done in class. Sure, learning does occur but it’s tied directly to the project and though students to get a good experience, it’s fairly abstract and students tend to see learning there as quite distinct from what’s done in the classroom.
That’s where this programme comes in. I’ve always wanted to push service-learning to its logical conclusion but never quite got the chance to do so. Over here, I get that chance. In addition to working with the schools in the nearby villages, I’m also working to support the community projects that Indus is doing by creating the curricula links to work that the students do in class. Doing this makes me think about what a curriculum actually is. Read an article some time ago about the curriculum being more than a unit outline – the researchers conducted a phenomenological study and tried to get academics and teachers to think about what ‘curriculum’ means to them. Several definitions were proposed and to me, the one that makes most sense (in most situations) is the one that states that a curriculum is a ‘dynamic and interactive process of teaching and learning’.
‘What?’ some might ask, ‘A curriculum is not a set structure that dictates everything that is taught for a fixed period of time?’ While that may be the case for those preparing students for national or board exams and other necessary evils (more on this another time), I prefer to see a curriculum as a living, breathing thing that thrives when teachers and students react to what’s learnt and can change the learning to suit their preferences and what has been learnt already. A teacher should not be the only one who drives all the learning in class – students should have a say in what and how they want to learn and in so doing chart their own course for learning better. All this is well and good but one realises that unless a certain amount of freedom is given to the teachers and those who craft the curriculum to build this reflexivity into the system.
That’s what we’re hoping to build into the programmes that are happening here. Do remember my students giving me odd looks when I kept on asking them if they felt that they were learning ‘useful’ things and if they wanted to learn other things as well. They are used to being told what to learn and took a while for them to get used to the teacher asking them about things that they wanted to learn. This has worked as some of the latter classes did get much more lively as the students actually started learning things that they chose. Power to the people!