Teaching: From traditional to learner-centered approach

By Karim Muhammad Khan 

A saying goes “Teaching is about lighting the fire not filling the pail”. (William Butler Yeats)

Several studies reveal that earlier classroom practices were mostly carried out in traditional manner where teacher was regarded as the key source of knowledge provider while a child was considered an empty vessel that is to be filled by pouring knowledge from outside. For instance, Dewey (1902) illustrates, “that the traditional concept of pedagogy is centered on the subject matter to be taught and the major flaw in this methodology is the inactivity of the student; the child is simply the immature being; who is to be matured; s/he is the superficial being; who is to be deepened.”

Another educationist and philosopher Poulo Freire (1970) called it “Banking System” in which students are considered ‘empty bank accounts’ that should remain open to deposits made by the teacher.” He was critical of this approach to teaching learning as students usually become passive recipients of objects and their critical and creative thinking and actions are restrained. Nevertheless, the basic critique on teacher-centered approach was not new as Rousseau’s (1782) concept of the child as an active learner was already a step away from tabula rasa (a blank slate) which is basically the same as the “banking approach” to education.

The aforementioned theories and concepts indicate that traditional way of teaching like transmission of content knowledge by the teacher without involving students in the lesson is less effective to produce desired learning outcomes. While children come to school with day to day new experiences and empirical knowledge and that just need to be nurtured by involving them in activities according to their level and interest. In this regard, Benjamin Franklin well said, “Tell me and I will forget, teach me and I will remember and involve me and I will learn”.

However, when these theories are evaluated critically in the context of schools across Pakistan, child-centered approach seems lacking as classroom practices are mostly carried out in conventional mode confining to bookish knowledge and teachers mostly deliver their lessons by lecture method. Amin Rehmani (2006) in his studies on teacher education in Pakistan cited British Council (1998), Farooq (1985) Ghafoor and Khan (1994) and Ali (1998) that whole class instruction is mostly based on lectures given from the front and there is minimum classroom participation by students.

Brown and Kathy Laboard (2001) explained that “learner-centered approach places students at the center of classroom organization and respect their learning needs, strategies, and styles.”  Thus, students can be engaged in small group, pair and individual works relevant to their mental level. Nonetheless, Dewey (1902) was alarmed by many of the “child-centered” excesses of educational-school pedagogues that too much reliance on the child could be equally detrimental to the learning process as the potential flaw in this line of thinking is that it minimizes the importance of the content knowledge as well as the role of the teacher.” Generally speaking, subject matter is to be presented logically, appropriately and orderly to the students by the teacher and s/he should perform as a facilitator with hands on and learner specific plans to obtain the set objectives of the lesson.

In a nut shell, the above mentioned theories and studies suggest that traditional way of teaching is less effective as compared to learner-centered approach in raising students’ learning outcomes, creative and critical thinking skills. But, studies unveil that in the context of Pakistan mostly classroom teaching is practiced in one way whereas students’ participation is lacking in the lesson. Therefore, it is pertinent to shift from traditional to child-centered method as it is learning oriented and to do so preparation and hands on activities are prerequisite on the part of the teacher.

Further, continuous professional developments of teachers are also imperative to get insights regarding pedagogical content knowledge and classroom dynamics. Finally, a comprehensive mechanism of monitoring, evaluation and observation of lesson demonstrations with sharing feedback are equally significant in order to ensure the efficacy of students’ learning outcomes which is the ultimate goal of the school.

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