Learning becomes meaningful when it is attuned to the needs, goals and strengths of a learner and he/she is at the helm of the learning process. However, that does not mean the isolation of the learner from the peers and teachers in the classroom in particular and the outside world in general. The learner needs to realise that individual learning goals fit within and are advanced through collaboration and engagement. A learner needs to explore and critically understand his/her own world in close relation to the world of others, to become responsible members of the society, and make a positive social impact.
Social Studies Nurtures Social Beings
The main aim of teaching social studies is to promote civic competence among learners. Subjects like history, geography, economics together make the social studies. . Even though it is not the only responsibility of social studies, it serves as the pivot to commit learners towards various democratic values, and impact the community, nation and also the larger world. Social studies also introduces the learners to the cultural, regional and linguistic diversities. A deep understanding of civic issues is particularly important in a diverse country like India, which is also the world’s largest democracy.
So, if social studies is of such paramount importance, it becomes all the more indispensable to be more vigilant and careful about our choice of tools and methods for imparting social studies lessons among the learners. For so many years, rote learning has killed the joy of learning and turned social studies to mere memorisation of dates and names of kings and wars. Instead of teaching learners about the past, the lessons should prepare them for the future. The world-view of a 12-year-old will not be the same when he/she turns 25.
Phenomenon-based Learning– an Innovative Approach
Finland, introduced the Phenomenon-based learning (PhenoBL) or teaching by topic in 2016, an approach India can learn from. Marked by an acute inter-disciplinary approach, it establishes a collaborative mode of working among learners, emphasising on inquiry-based and problem-based learning. The focus of learning shifts from isolated subjects to topics and events like energy, community, media and technology. After all, true learning can be facilitated only when links are established among the different subjects. A common misconception about the approach is that it tries to dismantle individual subjects. However, it only attempts to supplement an hour of teaching economics lessons in the morning and an hour of history lesson in the afternoon with simultaneous cross-curricular/interdisciplinary teaching.
Social Studies through the Lens of PhenoBl
A collaborative learning approach in a classroom can bring the learner at the centre of the learning process, where the teacher serves as the facilitator. The teacher can assign a group of learners to work on an event or project, and eventually present on it. The interdisciplinary approach and the open-endedness of the topic should help learners to find the relevance of the lessons to their lives. Moreover, a project-based learning enables them to learn at their own pace and work independently as well as in a group. Learners s shouldn’t just be aware about their surroundings and the happenings of the world, but try to incorporate those lessons to their lives and be truly able to contribute to the society, which is the actual intent of including a social studies curriculum in the first place.
For instance, gender inequality is a social issue plaguing Indian society from time immemorial. Economics, sociology, law, history readings have to be applied in tandem to understand gender issues unreservedly. However, the topic is introduced in school without an interdisciplinary approach. It is only presented only as isolated menaces of past instances like ‘Sati’ and ‘Dowry’. The practice of burning a woman alive along with her dead husband cannot be understood if its economic implications are not harped upon. Though ‘Sati’ was prevalent only in the interior parts of India, the practice of excluding women from the family property and keeping her financially challenged position in the society still remains unprecedented.
The aim of education, in a broader sense, is to nurture individuals, who have the potential to take active part in social and political matters alike, and contribute to the progress of mankind in general. This would ensure that learners would never turn their back to injustices which are deeply rooted in the society. The problem-solving skills instilled in them would help them to fight those injustices and take up leadership roles.