Space for discussion and debate | #teacher | #children | #kids

The Social Sciences can be an umbrella under which students can explore their lived experience and realities, not just in subject silos but as a cohesive whole

A teacher’s role today, goes much beyond just disseminating knowledge. It is about nurturing young learners to be resilient, adaptive, innovative, empathetic and critical thinkers; all of which they need, to be successful in a fast evolving world. As teachers, it is our collective responsibility that we open their minds to not just ‘what was’, but to ‘what can be’ and ‘what is my role in it’. The bubbles created by social media, and magnified by the pandemic, are mirrors to what an extremely polarised world may look like.

Creating classrooms where multiple perspectives are debated and discussed critically and reflectively is imperative towards nurturing 21st century global citizens. However, the question is how ready or equipped are we, to foster this environment? We need to introspect at every level and reflect on our teaching pedagogy. Our own learning process gives us an opportunity to implement methodologies to help the classrooms evolve as healthy spaces to collaborate, and express and respect different voices.

The Social Sciences provide an excellent space to engage in such discussions. The subject is able to unravel normative binaries, while traversing in the grey zones of right and wrong. The teacher as facilitator of debates and discussions is pivotal to contextualise the text and provide conceptual clarity.

Understanding as reflection

This is the first step to untangle complex narratives and events. What is my stand on an issue, and why have I chosen said stand? Before understanding what makes others take conflicting perspectives, learners need to engage with what makes them hold on to theirs. Any issue of relevance to the learner can be picked up here — from the Partition to the ongoing farmer protests. Before debates and discussions with others, reflection provides learners with the opportunity to consolidate and comprehend their thoughts.

Developing a thinking classroom

Visible thinking routines are effective to get students to share how they feel and reflect, as well as give teachers a sense of the learning. Try to develop independent thinkers by nurturing a culture of creative thinking and encouraging students to have a voice in the classroom. Adopt a concept-based curriculum, a 21st century need in academics to develop independent thinkers. This is a research-backed approach to teaching thinking dispositions, and has provided educators with a tool kit to develop a culture of thinking in the classroom. Students should be encouraged to discuss their take on an issue from multiple stakeholder perspectives, which can show that different people have different connections to the same thing that influence their stand.

Debate as discussion

It is a valuable skill to be able to both debate your ‘opponent’ and discuss your points of view. The Social Sciences as a curriculum are effective in providing a space where the learners engage with the human experience and condition as a laboratory in itself. The Socratic Method — using questions to probe values, principles and student beliefs — is a great tool to encourage classroom discourse. Inquiry, rather than facts and topics, drives the discussion. What is the value for a student in 21st century India in learning about the French Revolution? By conceptually unpeeling concepts and context, we understand governance as a system, change as a constant, and state legitimacy as a relationship. So, the student is able to relate these to democracy, dissent, and revolutions as they see around them.

Contexts and connections

The Social Sciences can be that umbrella under which students can explore their lived experience and realities, not just in subject silos but as a cohesive whole. Learning more about ourselves and the world around can be enlivened by aligning it with other domains, and even using their concepts, knowledge and skills. The school, therefore, needs to evolve towards concept-based learning to give student voice priority, among other reforms. Connecting the threads of learning, debate and discussion can foster creative thinking beyond traditional Social Science topics. For example, when discussing human rights, students can discuss the need, if any, for the rights of robots or xenobots to both critically evaluate and innovate.

Including such practices routinely in Social Science classrooms is possible for offline, online or hybrid learning. It is especially crucial given the effect the pandemic has had on education to keep students engaged and informed. Navigating critical issues of our times can seem daunting but, with careful thought and preparation, the teacher can nurture thought leaders and change makers of tomorrow, who are willing to engage with multiple ideas, identities and ideologies.

The writer is the Political Science teacher at Shiv Nadar School, NOIDA.

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