sábado, 19 de mayo de 2018

Mi colaboración en Placement Prokriya

Hace unos días, Moumita Dey me invitó a colaborar en el blog de Placement Prokriya  (www.placementpro.co.in). Se trataba de un texto en inglés, de un máximo de 400 palabras, y mis datos y foto (por si es de su interés, Moumita busca a otros educadores que quieran contribuir de manera similar).

Hace un momento me etiquetó en una publicación, en Facebook, sobre la imagen de la publicación de mi nota, la cual les comparto:y


El texto completo, en español, se encuentra en Es lo cotidiano, y es de hace tres años.

El texto completo, en (mi) inglés, a continuación:

"We want you to read the concepts in the textbook "

Although the group had demonstrated a tremendous resistance to work as set out in the document given to them on the first day of class, detailing the design of the course, the exigence -because they were not asking for help- was a surprise to me. These were college students in a private institution.
About 43 years ago, while I walked the ranks observing the work of the students, in a math group at its first year at a junior high school in Mexico City, one of the students consulted me on what he was supposed to do. I had written the lesson in which he was working (each one was working at his own pace, consulting the doubts that arose as he advanced, first with someone who was at the same point and then, if needed, with me); it was in the materials on logic and sets for Matemáticas 100 Horas. A couple of years later, Eugenio Filloy published the whole series under his name. 

Part of work that I had to do as a student since I started my master’s degree, was to write lessons and to design activities for students at the same level as this boy, put the materials to the test with my students and to supervise other teachers using the material we made.

When the student asked me for support, he was in the last paragraph on page 202 (in the first image, above). I tried to assure me that he understood the instruction by asking him some questions – that's what I keep doing every time a student is in a similar situation.-. He was able to draw the line requested, on the grid on page 203 (the second image). He called me one more time: "What do I do now?".  I asked him: what does it say you have to do? "Paint in blue the region above the line", he read. Well, you do that, I pointed. "It doesn't say anything about what to do". Read it again, I told him, and he repeated the reading with the same result: "It says nothing." After the third attempt I began to read: Paint in blue... and there he interrupted me: "Ah! I have to paint it in blue! " Then he continued his work to finish the exercise.

The doubt that came to me was whether the wording should be modified or whether there was any other factor that was interfering (I clarified that I did not have training as a teacher before). I did some testing with the whole group: The problem was in reading difficulties, whatever the material was. Then I asked them to write down what they did on a regular day, since they woke up until they went to sleep. Most notable: six hours of daily television, on average.

True, the students who were the children of the engineers at the Petroleum Institute (which was on the other side of the street) and those from upper medium class at the neighborhood, at the time, attended lessons of English, karate, swimming, ballet, etc. by the afternoons, every day. But the boys whose parents worked all day, lower medium class or lesser, woke up with the TV on, and it remains on all the time when they were at home, even when the whole family gathered to eat; they did not have cultural or sporting activities outside their streets and they had to help in domestic chores or working in a family business. The TV always was turned on as background noise. Mostly, they were used to the spoken word, not to writings.

I took the problem to the school’s principal (a technical public junior high School): "Take a week of your course to teach them to read", I was told by the assistant director, an engineer with less knowledge than I had about what reading is and what its processes mean. I tried to; for instance, I asked them to draw something after hearing from a text read in class, selected by themselves. The parents protested: I was demanding that their children read and I was wasting the time with silly things; they “remembered” me that my class was math, so reading and writing was out of consideration.

The good thing about basic school is that the cycle lasts a whole year. The good thing about the kids being freshmen was that they could still be interested (I do not say the 100%) and that they were willing to learn in these dynamics of mine in which the student is the center of the process and have to work to learn since I started 43 years ago. The best reward to this is the boy's gratitude (now a man who must exceed 50 years) who was one of these students, and that gave me some candies and flowers in the parade of the “Day of the Crazies” in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, last June, when he recognized me in the crowd... 43 years later.

And now I go back to the starting point. In the 43 years since I quit working in that school, the problem behind all kinds of misunderstanding in mathematics, physics, statistics or any other subject, at higher education, it's still in reading and all that it entails. From the belief that all truths are in the textbook and that nothing has changed in the last 50 years emerges such a demand for reading the definition in some book, whichever, and to refuse to test what is known and build the concepts from it.
The students are not the only ones responsible, of course. As a society we have abandoned the interest in our young people (children, families, students) learnings, to focus on the grades and medals that mean nothing; because it is well known that the exams are designed so that the student proves that he is able to repeat, even if he only remembers it while passing the exam, which the teacher or the official program says he should be able to repeat. Of course, better grades from our children generate the idea that we are better parents, and better ratings from our students generate the idea that we are very good as teachers, and the administrative authorities even give us recognition.

The Government, for its part, strives to reduce education to boxscores that show what international agencies demand, and to create a false idea of democratic education. The reality can be read in the many publications of the last few days about the quality, coverage, and inequality of education in Mexico.  In Educación Futura, Manuel Gil Anton has been realizing of many of the real situations relating to it. In El Universal we find the actual size of the educational lag. Univision reports on the bleak panorama of our educational system. The newspaper Vanguardia reproduces a note taken from the newspaper El País about the bad education in Mexico. The OECD, to whom government efforts are intended, says that "when Mexican teachers were asked the question ‘In general, am I satisfied with my work? ‘, they responded in a more negative way compared to the teachers in the participating countries ", and one intuits or knows that the teacher's satisfaction with his work is a factor in the pupil's performance, and one cannot infect what one does not have. The same OECD notes that "Mexico ranks among the five nations with the highest percentage of students with low qualification, since 52 percent have failed to complete their upper secondary education", according to reports at La Jornada. And there is much more in other national and international publications, although we try to cover the sun with a finger.

Teachers have contributed to lack of critical thinking among students by not developing or encouraging it, the same goes for creativity (although we adorn ourselves by making congresses to invite the experts), and to let them become actors in their own development. Just the opposite: we encourage their dependence on teachers and authorities of all kind, of course; on the textbook we love most or with which we were instructed; we prohibit the use of technology for fear, among other things, and we keep them, in general, in a state of lethargy that does not allow them to understand how to use the concepts to pose and solve real problems maybe because if they are out of the textbook exercises, we don't know how to do that either.

Howard Eves, in his book Return to Mathematical Circles, presents Some Bits and Tips on Teaching Mathematics. He quotes E. Kim Nebeuts “Teach to the problems, not to the text”, and points “Don’t be a 2 x 4 mathematics teacher, one who always stays between the 2 covers of the textbook and within the 4 walls of the classroom”. These recommendations apply to every subject, of course.
So, at a section of a class, at the university, we find students who demand to:
·         the teacher reads to them the definitions and concepts as they appear in a textbook
·         Do not relate concepts in a class session (and do not ask for conceptual maps)
·         For each concept the teacher must provide only stereotyped exercises, without mixing several concepts
·         be given a sheet whit all the formulae they are supposed to apply
·         the course level must be the same as the high school level because they are accustomed to that

Sadly, for them, "An expert problem solver must be endowed with two incompatible qualities, a restless imagination and a patient pertinacity.”, as the same Eves points out in 
In Mathematical Circles (1969).  In current times – when the approach and resolution of problems require constantly updating the knowledge one has, and the incursion into domains that seemed far away- It is not possible to continue to see education such as Evariste Galois denounced almost 200 years ago.
We all have a part of the problem, and we all must look for a way to solve it.

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