Few would argue that school systems today are in trouble. The problems are sparking national debate as educators, administrators, school boards, teachers and parents search for ways to reform and strengthen the system at all levels, more effectively respond to our needs, our expectations and less to the rapidly changing world around us, and even less at educating our children for tomorrow.
Human beings are creatures of interpretations. Our behavior and our attitudes are shaped by the images, assumptions and stories that we carry in our minds of ourselves, other people, institutions and every aspect of the world. Two people can view the same incident differently, interpret differently and their responses can be very different. They are paying attention to different details. Our mental models determine what we see. According to Peter Senge, “in any new experience, most people are drawn to take in and remember only the information that reinforces their existing mental models”.
These mental models exist below the level of awareness, often untested and unexamined. But they influence the way we view the world and our approach towards the world itself. Mental models, if unexamined can become blocks for change and development. You see this resistance in many forms.
Thus it limits people’s ability to change.
Shift in mental models:
The Government may believe in set of ways to improve school systems. Currently, our Government realizes that change is the only way but is not sure which direction to choose. We can see it in their attempts with examination systems, admission process, and curriculum reform and fee fixation. When we try to “fix” the problem without taking into consideration the history, identity and politics, culture, economic realities, people’s aspirations and changing national, global agenda, we tend to make choices that are neither futuristic nor holistic. At the same time, we must remember and appreciate that any reform takes time and the transition period is always chaotic and ambivalent. Perhaps, that is the phase in which we all are sailing.
Educationists may want to put their efforts and attention to processes of teaching and learning. Here we see many successful experiments with experiential, child-centric, joyful learning, individualizing instructions, allowances for including children with special needs, developing life skills while imparting skills in other “subject areas”. Educationists are welcoming the reform with caution. We know that certain “mental models” regarding the way we teach & test will take long time for radical change. Some educationists resist any positive change as they may become powerless and redundant when the focus will shift to process much more than the product.
Parents’ mental models may be guided by their own experiences as learners when they were young and their own dreams and aspirations for themselves. Parents are also given models by market forces projected successfully by media and commercial on how a successful student is defined. Parents need to have a fair understanding of their child’s abilities, interests and provide the environment.
Administrators may want to bring more clarity in procedures as ways of school reforms.
Teachers will bring their mental models based on experiences they had when they were students. Many schools are working overtime on changing the character of teacher – from content giver to process facilitator. Teachers who are product of the system, family, educational institutions and society at large are caught in this time warp.
Students’ mental models are often shaped by what is “popular” and “cool” in terms of choice. Our students step into classrooms with an image of how a student should behave while teachers may have another idea of who is a “good student”.
The consequences of untested and unchallenged mental models can be chaotic and at times tragic. It leads to lots of misunderstanding and damage to relationships.
Changing mental models require more than just an improvement plan for the system and individual. Much of the shift has already happened under other names: “school reform,” “effective schools,” “anandai shikshan,” “educational revolution” etc. We are talking about the process of examining the mind set we have towards education of our children, keeping what is relevant, questioning those practices that are either irrelevant or obsolete and radically transforming the way we approach the learning process.
The school is a fulcrum point for educational and societal change. If this change has to happen, all those dedicated to the idea, all those involved with it, associated individually and together need to continually enhance and expand their mental models.