Goodbye ‘old school’ teaching

By: Tumpal Sujadi, INOVASI Child Protection Officer

Recently, I had the chance to visit a public primary school located in Mojokerto District, East Java. The school was involved in a recent education innovations stock take study undertaken by the Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) program, a partnership between the Australian and Indonesian governments. In the spirit of INOVASI’s mandate, to find out what does and doesn’t work to improve literacy and numeracy outcomes in basic education, the innovation stock take investigated successful approaches to education in certain contexts. A total of 27 practices were explored in-depth, with areas in literacy, numeracy, school leadership, community engagement and social inclusion.

This particular school was spacious and beautiful. Usually, a typical public primary school atmosphere is quite the opposite.  You’ll find classrooms with bare walls, just a few tables, boards and perhaps some pictures of the state leader on the wall.

But not this school. In this school, classes are lively. Children sit in groups as if always ready to discuss lessons with their friends. The walls of the classroom are covered with student work displays and reading books are scattered everywhere.

I sat that morning and observed a third-grade class, with the teacher was discussing the solar system.

At this school, I didn’t see the one-way teaching habit usually employed by primary school teachers. This particular teacher was using a replica of waste materials to portray the sun being surrounded by the planets. Although made from simple material, the props were able to provide a visualization of the position of the planets and how they circled the sun.

After explaining the concept with simple props, cards containing eight pictures of the planet were distributed to the students. Students were then required to sort the pictures of planets in order, as shown by their teacher previously.

The students deftly and passionately sorted the pictures and wrote them down on paper. I watched the students joke and laugh as they coloured in, all the while discussing what they were learning. The students were active in the discussions.

Not stopping there, the teacher then invited the children to come out to the school yard for outdoor activities.

Still using the solar system theme, the children were asked to draw eight circles with chalk from small circle image to the large one, and with one child standing in the centre of the circle. Eight children were asked to stand along the lines of the circles and then begin walking around the child standing in the centre. As they carried out the activity, the children running around the small circle would quickly circle their friend in the centre of the circle. They noticed that the children running around the outer circle took a longer period of time to circle their friend in the middle.

Using this activity as an active example, the teacher explained how the planets travel around the sun, emphasising that each planet’s orbit varies depending on its distance from the centre of the solar system.

As I could see from this activity, active learning inside and outside the classroom is much more effective than passive learning. Children can very easily obtain a more concrete picture of how the solar system works. It reminds me of the heliocentric theory that planets circle the sun as the centre of the solar system and not the other way around, as is often the question raised by small children: “why does the sun always follow us?”

The method of learning that I witnessed, is very different from what I experienced when I was sitting in early grade primary school. I recall teachers using just the one-way teaching method,  with students just siting and listening sweetly. Even if there are learning props, they are usually only given with the pictures.

What is being implemented by teachers in this school is very attractive, giving attention to the uniqueness of individual learning style differences. What the teacher has done reminds me of the theory developed by Walter Burke Barbe that everyone has a unique learning style that is usually divided into three categories such as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.

Starting with visualization and learning props, the teacher stimulates children who prefer to learn by looking at concrete examples and encouraging their enthusiasm. This is then followed by children discussing and playing outside, stimulating children who are happy with listening and active movement and helping them to quickly absorb core learning concepts.

From my observation that day in East Java, I felt that my curiosity was answered. I wondered why the children were so enthusiastic, participative and enjoying what they were learning so much. Within only one hour, students could easily grasp core learning concepts such as the sequence of planets around the sun, memorizing the names of the planets, knowing how they work when circling the sun.

So, I think it’s time to say good bye to old learning styles and welcome new approaches to teaching and learning in primary schools. It’s crucial to improve early grade student education quality and learning outcomes since 60-70 % of Indonesia’s labour market are graduating only from primary school or junior high school. A new approach is needed to improve this.

Goodbye ‘old school’ teaching