Dr Arun Prakash
The success of Delhi Public School, RK Puram, in the 1980s and 1990s was a phenomenon. In every competition open to class XII students, it consistently secured the most coveted seats. Dipsites from DPS RK Puram excelled in professional colleges, setting a high standard for academic achievement. I was fortunate to be associated with this prestigious school, first as a senior teacher and later as Principal of other branches of DPS society schools. The hard work and foresight of Principal R. S. Lugani played a significant role in taking the school to its zenith.
Students from all over India flocked to DPS RK Puram after completing their 10th-grade board exams. Admission to the school was seen as a guarantee of selection in prestigious professional colleges. Admission with less than 90% marks was almost impossible, as most students had secured even higher marks in the board exams. But this level of competition wasn’t unique to DPS RK Puram; it was similar in other sought-after schools. So, what made the difference at DPS RK Puram?
The answer lies in the unique system of “Ability Sections.” The best students were placed in special sections, and the best teachers were assigned to these sections. The atmosphere in these Ability Classes was truly inspiring. These classes became showcases of brilliance, where students taught each other, cooperated, and flourished. Teachers served as learning facilitators rather than just knowledge providers, creating an atmosphere that made the difference.
I attempted a similar approach at DPS Dhaligaon. Out of three sections, one was formed by selecting the top 40 students, while the remaining 60 were divided into two sections without any distinction. This approach worked exceptionally well, and the results were outstanding.
However, a similar experiment in another school, where children were divided based on their performance in previous exams, proved disastrous. We failed to do justice to both groups, resulting in a decline in student scores. The criticism of segregating students persisted, and even DPS RK Puram abandoned Ability Classes when a new principal took the reins. The debate on this issue continues worldwide, with educationists divided in their opinions. Some argue that segregation benefits both high achievers and underperforming students, allowing teachers to tailor their strategies to the students’ needs. Others believe that discrimination brings emotional turmoil and a lack of motivation among underachievers.
As a teacher, it’s challenging to cater to both ends of the spectrum. We tend to focus on average students and sometimes overlook the brightest children, who already know most of the lessons taught in class. At the same time, underachieving students are also neglected, as they need the basics. Research around the world suggests that students perform best when they are in mixed groups, where they help and cooperate with each other. Any system functions best with inclusiveness in its philosophy, but the benefits of Ability Classes cannot be disregarded.
The latest advancements in technology and pedagogy can be used to address this issue. In one of my schools, we encountered a problem where only a handful of students consistently won prizes in competitions, leading to demotivation among others. We couldn’t simply bar those who had won in the past because they were also deserving of opportunities. So, we designated students who had won competitions multiple times as “veterans” and gave them the role of mentoring others. In this way, we achieved both goals, and both veteran and new students improved significantly.
Taking cues from these experiences and utilizing available tools and techniques, we can create an inclusive atmosphere where children of diverse backgrounds and abilities are brought together to support each other. Here are some practical ideas I found useful in my four-decade-long education career:
- Let children know that difference is the law of nature: Imagine a school in London where children of various races learn together. In such a diverse environment, students from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds come together in the same classroom, appreciating differences. It’s essential to teach children that diversity is a natural part of life, and differences should be celebrated rather than frowned upon.
- Differential Teaching: It’s time for differential teaching, where each student is recognized as unique and taught accordingly. Recognize that students have different learning styles, such as auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic learners. Learning difficulties, like dyslexia, should not be overlooked. Schools now have counsellors, but a systematic study of students with diverse learning needs is often missing. With the help of multimedia, various communication methods, ERP solutions, TLMs (Teaching-Learning Materials), and social media apps, we can identify and address students’ problems, enabling them to learn at their own pace and convenience.
- Let Children Own Their Learning: At Shiv Nadar School, Greater Noida, a remarkable incident occurred that embodies the principle of allowing children to take ownership of their learning. During a video conference with parents and teachers, a student was tasked with analyzing their first-term results critically. The student created a compelling presentation highlighting their weaknesses, strengths, and a plan for improvement. This presentation was not solely focused on grades; instead, it emphasized the ease of learning, understanding of concepts, correlation with daily life, and the development of life skills. What made this presentation extraordinary was that it was entirely student-led. Parents and teachers engaged in a discussion centered on the student’s growth, with questions aimed at probing deeper into the student’s self-assessment. As a result, the student gained confidence in their ability to set and achieve their educational goals. This experience underscores the importance of recognizing each child’s potential and working collaboratively to enhance their unique qualities, values, and life skills. By implementing this approach, we empower students to become active participants in their education, helping them shape their learning journey while receiving guidance and support from understanding and cooperative teachers.
- Collaborative Learning: Collaborative learning is a powerful approach. Recognize that students have different abilities. Some may excel in understanding and explaining concepts, while others may have exceptional presentation, IT, or artistic skills. By dividing topics into groups of students with diverse capabilities and encouraging everyone to contribute, students can learn from each other and build confidence.
- Something for everyone: In one school, teachers devised a creative way to cater to students with diverse learning capabilities. They allowed students to choose the number of questions they attempted on a test, with those who answered more than the minimum receiving extra recognition. This approach allowed average students to avoid overly challenging questions while challenging high achievers.
- Awareness is the key: It’s essential to raise awareness about differences and learning difficulties. Identifying and sensitizing students about these challenges is crucial. This might involve counseling and training for students, parents, and teachers.
- Celebrating diversity: Schools should embrace the mantra of “Unity in Diversity.” Celebrate diversity through events like “Mother Tongue Day” and cultural festivals. Create an environment where diversity is respected, understood, and celebrated.
- Peer Tutoring and Mentoring: Encourage peer tutoring and mentoring within the classroom. Students can learn from each other, with older students guiding their younger peers. This not only fosters a sense of inclusivity but also promotes leadership skills among students.
- Flexible Learning Environments: Create flexible learning environments that accommodate various learning styles. Consider the physical layout of the classroom, the use of technology, and the availability of resources to cater to diverse needs.
- Incorporate Cultural Education: Teach students about different cultures and traditions. Promote cultural awareness and understanding to celebrate the rich tapestry of our world. This can be done through multicultural events, international days, or cultural exchange programs.
- Parent Involvement: Encourage parents to actively participate in their children’s education. By involving parents, schools can build stronger connections with families from diverse backgrounds and ensure that education is a collaborative effort.
- Conflict Resolution and Empathy: Teach students conflict resolution skills and empathy. These skills are essential for fostering positive relationships among students with varying perspectives and backgrounds.
- Anti-Bullying Programs: Implement anti-bullying programs to create a safe and inclusive environment. This ensures that no student feels marginalized or threatened, reinforcing the idea that everyone should be treated with respect.
- Promote Cross-Curricular Learning: Integrate diversity and inclusivity into various subjects. Encourage teachers to incorporate diverse perspectives and cultural elements into lessons, enhancing students’ understanding of the world’s diversity.
- Career Guidance: Offer career guidance that is sensitive to the diverse aspirations and abilities of students. Recognize that every student has unique career goals and provide the necessary support and resources to help them achieve their dreams.
- Regular Assessments and Adjustments: Continuously assess the effectiveness of inclusivity efforts in the school and be willing to adjust strategies as needed. Solicit feedback from students, parents, and teachers to ensure that everyone feels valued and supported.
Inclusivity and diversity are essential in education. By recognizing the uniqueness of each student and implementing these practical strategies, we can create a supportive and empowering learning environment that celebrates differences and helps students reach their full potential.