Kamalika Bose -Mathematics Teacher
Once upon a time, marks were created to understand how much children understood, but now children memorize and learn only for marks. Today the role of marks has been disillusioned and teachers like Ms. Kamalika Bose who dares to think logically strives for a change for the better.
Ms. Kamalika Bose, can we please start with a quick introduction about yourself?
I started my teaching career from May of 1977 at a school in Calcutta, right after I completed my Masters in Applied Mathematics from IIT Kharagpur. I have always wanted to pursue a career in education. I wanted to factor in application into my teaching. That has been my starting and ending point. I have always encouraged and made children ask questions and I still do it. For example, why do we need to learn about fractions or decimals, etc.? It is important to ask questions.
Most of the time, they are taught concepts without letting them know why they need to learn it; lessons are taught only because it is part of the curriculum and teaching concepts becomes a mechanical process.
Time has changed and most schools are trying to bring in a new way of teaching. Most of our schools, however, are part of villages. I go to villages to train teachers and I see a huge disparity between schools in the cities and those in villages. I am trying to bridge the gap.
The old school of thought still continues its ways but it doesn’t create any results. Children, when they become professionals, are expected to crack problems and so they should be trained to think critically. On the other hand, we only assess them based on what they have studied/memorized.
While at the school in Delhi, from where I retired recently, I noticed this huge vicious circle. Parents want result, schools want good result, and schools are ranked based on the results that they stream in. If schools don’t get ranked well, teachers are penalized. So, the safe way out of all this for teachers is to have question papers set with the questions that children have already worked on. This is not an assessment of how children think independently/critically. People are scared to do it differently. I can’t blame teachers either because everybody wants to keep their job safe. But, at the end of the day, it is adversely affecting children.
On the other hand, if we go for Global Testing, which we have avoided since the year 2009 and we ranked 72 out of 74 countries. The reason being that, they won’t give questions which children have already done. Despite scoring well in our board exams – 98/99% I am not sure how India will score on a global ranking system today. It is the fear factor.
We don’t experiment, we teach as we are told to. Teachers are also stressed and over worked. Though we have all the facilities in most of the schools – the white board, etc., I am not sure how much critical thinking we expose our children to. It is disappointing. We have to be brave in our assessment procedure.
I have been questioned by parents of class 6 and 7 children as to which book I have chosen to put questions in the question paper. Why is it a compulsion to take it from a book? Times are coming when we have to create problem solvers, not people who can memorize and replicate things on paper. This is not going to do any good to the world.
Is this trend a recent development in the last 15-20 years?
Yes, because it wasn’t so earlier. There was a time, when people were happy to score 80%. Now 80% is considered bad! It is the age of 90%.
Also, if in term 1, you score 90%, you have to score 95% in term 2. If it goes down to 89%, then the teacher’s performance is termed poor. There is pressure in every corner. I really don’t know how this can be solved other than through a revolution.
You have been observing many schools; do you see any glimmer of hope of things being done differently?
No. We have workshops on different ways of teaching. Teachers have been teaching in different ways but at the end, in Class X for example, children are aware that questions will only come from an RD Sharma, RS Agarwal or an NCERT Exemplar. Hence, they practice those questions; mug up a few sums even if they don’t understand, etc. They are tuned to the idea that finally it is the marks that count.
I have also observed that children forget very easily. This is because of the methodology adopted to learn. For example, when we teach them addition of fractions, they do not know why we take the LCM of the denominator. They are told a procedure and they just follow it. And in time, no one is interested in knowing because knowing doesn’t add up to their marks. Even if I try to tell them the origin of the formulae, they don’t listen. I have been told on my face that they don’t need to know these things. This is the precise reason why they forget things.
Most children won’t know why we call 164.53 as one sixty four point five three and not one sixty four point fifty three. These are basics.
I am currently coaching some IB students in Goa and I feel that their syllabus is better developed than CBSE. In my opinion, the CBSE syllabus has to go through a complete change. I am not sure how this will come into effect, but the assessment process and the entire dependency on marks and the resultant admissions must go through a revolutionary change.
Percentage does not reflect competency.
What are your thoughts on the new curriculum that is coming in, like IB?
There has to be a complete change in curriculum, in the way we think and this vicious circle has to break. CBSE schools are there all over India and they are taken to be the most convenient board but these students are going to suffer badly on a global scale. The world doesn’t believe in rote learning.
What are your thoughts on the new generation of people coming into the teaching career?
That is the next point. We have to build a method to check the competency of teachers. In the several interviews that I have conducted to find Math teachers for my school, it has been highly discouraging.
I would want teachers to know why a linear equation is called linear, for example. They don’t have an answer. I want them to know why area = Length x breadth. They don’t have an answer. But, these are crucial when you teach children. Most of our Math teachers are banking on algorithms. They give an algorithm to children. Children learn that and derive answers. It is difficult, even in Class X, for most students to convert from meter to kilometre and vice versa.
If you give them sq. meter to sq. km they won’t be able to do it. It is sad because these are concepts related to everyday life. Volume is a different story altogether. They are extremely weak in units because they are not taught correctly in lower classes. The result is that in the long run children tend to think that Math is not a subject for them. And hence, the upward trend in children choosing Humanities over Science and Math. This is an extremely sad situation.
We need critical thinkers who can solve problems like climate change, shortage of food, etc. We cannot produce the scientists that the world needs with this kind of base education. And, what careers are these children left with?
The only thing that they know is to opt for being doctors and engineers. Nobody wants to become a scientist because it doesn’t pay enough.
Math teachers have to go through rigorous training on competency, how to teach Math, giving reasons for everything because math is logic.
What would be a good first step to try and do things differently given all the constraints and expectations we have today?
The first step is to change the curriculum. It is extremely pressurizing. We are teaching too much and it is not well coordinated. If I look at A level and O level curriculum, they make connections. For example, when they teach units, they teach the relationship between meters and kilometres and in the same chapter they also teach the relationship between sq. meters and sq. kilometres. The same for volumes as well.
In CBSE, all this would be taught in three years. By the time they reach sq. units they would have forgotten how to convert meters to kilometres. Also, we should avoid repetitive teaching. We teach fractions in Class IV, V, VI and VII and there is no need for that. So, rethinking our curriculum is of utmost importance. It is not properly framed.
Our assessment pattern has to change. Even CBSE throws 70% questions from NCERT text books. But that is not a measure of competency. It is perhaps a measure of hard work. But not competency. It doesn’t measure how well the child will develop as a person who can contribute towards solving global problems. We have to change the pattern of questions we set for them.
In IIT, 1st and 2nd year we had to study all subjects – Physics, Chemistry etc. Our Chemistry teacher once gave us a problem as part of our questions which none of us could solve. We went back to the professor to check this who expressed that that was a problem which could not be solved; but, he wanted to check how we approach the problem.
Today we don’t have the courage to do these kinds of experiments in school. We don’t make children think. Do we give them the time to think? There are 30 – 40 questions in a question paper that need to be solved in 3 hours. They are supposed to know all of it – not think and solve.
We should hence, reduce the number of questions and may be the syllabus as well. If you have three hours and you have this pressure to score x number of marks, where is the time to think?
There are 4 basic parameters on which we set our question papers – knowledge, understanding, application and skill. In my opinion, if they already know how to solve, we are only testing knowledge and the skill is how fast you can do it.
Somewhere we need to start bringing about a change. We may not have to make the entire paper difficult but may be a few questions can be made challenging, wherein they need to think critically and come to a solution.
You mentioned that you have retired. So, what do you do now, Mrs Bose?
I have formally retired from the school where I was teaching, at Delhi. As an HOD I tried bringing about a lot of changes in the way I train my teachers, the way they think, to make them brave assessors etc. I even asked them to connect parents to me if they are questioned. But, I reached a point when I felt that things are more difficult to implement than one thinks.
So, right now I teach a few children in Goa, where I stay. I teach children who do A level and O level courses and yes, I find it a refreshing change.
I also teach some children in Delhi who belong to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). They all have mobile phones and so I connect to them digitally because they cannot afford tuitions. Once a week or so, I get into Zoom. We exchange doubts.
There is a school in West Bengal – a school for the underprivileged. I am in the advisory committee for teachers at their school. I noticed that children are really bright. They are ambitious, mostly first generation learners. But, the teachers have to be competent to really nurture and shape them well and to help them meet their goals in life. They need support – both financial as well as physical. India will grow when we help everyone grow – not just a handful privileged group of children. With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, UN Member States pledged to ensure “no one will be left behind” and to “endeavor to reach the furthest behind first”. My dream is to empower those who are being left behind [or who are at risk of being left behind]; and to enact inclusive, far-sighted and progressiveeducational policies and create a new age in India.
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