Don’t STUDY it – USE IT

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This has to be the latest trend in all education and I personally have been pushing this angle for 30 years and are so pleased that some educationists are now implementing this approach to learning in high schools and universities.

The fundamental principle here is that no one should study anything unless it is going to be used. This comes down to a simple human desire to move forward somehow. I do believe this to be a very true point to teenagers and early 20s students in particular. So many times students ask their parents or teachers, ‘Why do I have to learn this? I’m not interested in it and I will never use it – ever!’ The answer of course is always something along the lines of ‘you will need it – trust me’, or more accurately – ‘just do it, it will be good to have on your certificate, it will show you are a good all rounder’. Well, both answers are useless.

At the same time I am not advocating that people should stop learning something that could in the future be very important for them, but they may not understand that right now, but what I am advocating, (and thank goodness a lot of educationists too!) is that the teaching or learning of the concepts in these kinds of subjects (including English) is completely wrong. Students should be using the subject not studying it.

There was an interesting study done by an Indian Educationist (Sugata Mitra…..https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk60sYrU2RU) who famously put a basic computer with internet access, in a brick wall in a slum in Mumbai. As soon as the computer was operational, a child came up to him and said ‘What is that?’ and he simply shrugged his shoulders and said ‘I don’t know’…and left the child there to look at it.

Within 2 weeks he came back to find that the wall was crammed with children, old and young, male and female all shouting, arguing and telling the person using the mouse to ‘do this – do that…etc’. It turned out that over the 2 weeks many children had come to the computer and started to play with it and had discovered some miraculous qualities to it. He checked later the screen browser list and found that the range of sites the children had accessed was anything from Disneyworld to deep Physics topics. He later found that there were many children (who previously spoke no English), who had also picked up a range of computer terms in English and were able to explain to Sigata (also in English) that the group of children had all decided that now this computer had reached it’s capacity and that everyone needed an ‘upgrade’ if it was to be considered of any use to the slum.

I really laughed and loved this story because fundamentally it is exactly what I believe. We are all children at heart and it is our curiosity and drive to understand something for good purpose that makes us do things. These children of the slums were no different, except they were starting from absolute zero.

Sigata went on to do the same experiment in schools in the UK, and with similar results. The children were ‘using’ their computer skills to find out important information, give presentations to the rest of the class, and set up systems that were going to change the world around them.

Bringing all this back to English is the key. We are told to study English at school – some like it and some don’t. However, it is always the question of ‘why should I learn this?’, that needs to be attended to by the teacher. If a child is asking this question, it means that the teacher has been unsuccessful in making this subject useful.

There is nothing more exciting that getting children or adults to acquire enough English to be able to make a friend with a stranger who has common interests and who also speaks English. This is the ultimate goal of any teacher is to build in that student through constant ‘roleplays’ and ‘ real life experiences’ to understand that using this language is the reason behind the whole learning process.

The great teachers of this world making learning fun and useful. Grammar does need to be ‘studied’ of course but with the constant purpose of using it correctly to make the person is understood moment to moment.

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