S. Arul Rayan
The students today inhabit digital landscape and it comprises generations- not of family- but of technology such as 3G, PS4 and iPhone5. Their world has moved beyond their schools and colleges to encompass a 500 – channel television universe, the global gaming village and the endless internet. The teens of today were born with dial-up internet, learnt to crawl alongside the PC and practiced writing the alphabet on the touch-screens. To this generation of ‘screen-agers’, a world without keypads, joy-sticks, digicams, headphones and LCD and DLC is unimaginable. They view the world differently and connect with each other in unprecedented fashions.
The younger generations growing up with digital and internet technologies are using them for things that were not integral part to the technologies. For example, Facebook was only meant to be a social networking site. Twitter was merely a microblogging platform. And yet, we now see the young users using these spaces for political participation, social transformation and mobilizing of resources.
It is in the context of such generations of students the relevance of the Ignatian pedagogy becomes a matter for contemplation. Here I would like to reflect on the Ignatian pedagogy and the challenges that emerge in the present education system.
Jesuit education systematically incorporates methods from a variety of sources and contributes to the intellectual, social, moral, and religious formation of the whole person. In the underlying principle of Tantum Quantum, that which may work better is adopted and assessed while that which is proven ineffective is discarded.
The Ratio Studiorum of 1599 provided a coherent statement of operating methods and objectives for the hundreds of Jesuit colleges in Europe, Asia and the Americas that constituted a vast and growing education operation. While such a universal curriculum is impossible today, a systematically organized pedagogy whose substance and methods promote the explicit vision of the contemporary Jesuit educational mission is consistent with the Jesuit tradition. Ignatian Pedagogy embodies five key teaching elements: Context, Experience, Reflection, Action, and Evaluation.
Context: What needs to be known about learners (their environment, background, community, and potential) to teach them well? Cura personalis- personal care and concern for the individual- is a hallmark of Jesuit education, and requires that teachers become as conversant as possible with the context or life experience of the learner. Since human experience is always the starting point in a Jesuit education, educators must know as much as possible about the actual context within which teaching and learning take place. Teachers need to understand the world of the learner, including the ways in which family, friends, peers, and the larger society impact that world and effect the learner for better or worse.
Experience - What is the best way to engage learners as whole persons in the teaching and learning process? Teachers must create the conditions whereby learners gather and recollect the material of their own experience in order to distil what they understand already in terms of facts, feelings, values, insights and intuitions they bring to the subject matter at hand. Teachers later guide the learners in assimilating new information and further experience so that their knowledge will grow in completeness and truth.
Reflection - How may learners become more reflective so they more deeply understand what they have learned? Teachers lay the foundations for learning how to learn by engaging students in skills and techniques of reflection. Here memory, understanding, imagination, and feelings are used to grasp the essential meaning and value of what is being studied, to discover its relationship to other facets of human knowledge and activity, and to appreciate its implications in the continuing search for truth.
Action - How do we compel learners to move beyond knowledge to action? Teachers provide opportunities that will challenge the imagination and exercise the will of the learners to choose the best possible course of action from what they have learned. What they do as a result under the teacher's direction, while it may not immediately transform the world into a global community of justice, peace and love, should at least be an educational step towards that goal even if it merely leads to new experiences, further reflections and consequent actions within the subject area under consideration.
Evaluation -How do we assess learner’s growth in mind, heart, and spirit? Daily quizzes, weekly or monthly tests and semester examinations are familiar instruments to assess the degree of mastery of knowledge and skills achieved. Ignatian pedagogy, however, aims at evaluation which includes but goes beyond academic mastery to the learner’s well-rounded growth as persons for others. Observant teachers will perceive indications of growth or lack of growth in class discussions and students' generosity in response to common needs much more frequently.
The challenges today
I dream of an educational system where there is a give and take of knowledge. “The illiterates of the 21st century are not those who cannot read or write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” It is said that ‘to teach is to learn’ and hence the lesson for a teacher is that he/she has to a lifelong learner. Be it from seniors, peers or even juniors, one has to constantly acquire knowledge and keep replenishing and reinforcing academic rigour.
‘Updating’, ‘twitting’, ‘scraping’, are some of the common vocabularies among the contemporary student community. By contemporary I mean the students of the 21st century, to whom technology is affordable and unavoidable. I shall base my reflection keeping in my mind such ‘privileged’ students. The middle class and the rural students have different needs and a detailed research could address them. As the love of God can’t be preached to the hungry and the naked and the homeless, if there is no school to learn the alphabets, then, there is no point in talking about ‘Google’, ‘blogspot.com’ and the like of the technology. When the basic necessities of life are fulfilled, one can talk of both god’s love and the appropriate use of sophisticated technology. What concerns me is the fact that the available technology to the affordable is not utilized to the full.
Gone are those days, I wish that they are really gone, where the intentions of the author of the text was insisted upon. With the developments of the hermeneutics, there are philosophers who emphasize that importance is given to the text and the intentions of the author need not to be known by the reader of the text. Let the text speak! They say. The text speaks to the students in various given context of the individual students. I believe that the interaction between the text and the context is more important than the intention of the author.
In our education system today, it remains a matter of apprehension, if the system is student-centered or teacher-centered? Even though there is a projected, wished-for, ideal phenomenon of student centered education; “Education today, student-centered or teacher-centered” is a topic for a dialectical and a dialogical dialogue. However, at the same time, one must admit that there is a paradigm shift in the teaching-learning process, where there is a move away from the teacher dominated style to a student centered style, where the aim of a teacher is to share and impart knowledge to the students, not just checking their ability to learn by heart. The best learning takes in the student-teacher interaction.
Students of today are better informed. The philosopher Gadamer in his hermeneutics argues that we can never approach a text without a pre-understanding. The students of today come to the classroom with some knowledge of the subject, thanks to the available technology. The knowledge that they come up with may be right or wrong, and that can be rectified in the process of a dialogical learning in the class room. The world over, the participation of students in the education process in increasing and a teacher is gradually assuming the role of a mentor or a coach. No longer is the ‘teacher a sage, but a guide by the side’ who is called upon to facilitate the student’s learning process.
It is time to reflect on the reasons that blocks us from benefiting the blessings of modern technology. Is it fear of mishandling? Or lack of dependence in the teachers on the ability of the students to appropriate the advantages? As men formed in the school of Ignatian discernment, we can educate the student-world to ‘use’ technology in so far as it helps us to gain ‘true’ knowledge, and abstain from it when it leads to ‘destruction’ of any kind.
The relevance of Ignatian Pedagogy today
There is a great need for introducing innovative methods of teaching enhanced by technology. Team teaching, video conferencing, the internet and modern technologies have helped improve the standards of disseminating knowledge. Teaching then, has moved into a fast track where the teacher has to juggle many balls at one go. Keeping abreast with new knowledge, interacting with the industry and corporate world to make the curriculum relevant, building international linkages, carrying out research and mentoring students has become a marathon task. Teachers have to hence multi skill themselves and learn to commit their best to the profession and bring back the shine on what was once known as the ‘noble profession’.
Ignatian Pedagogy promises to help teachers be better teachers. It enables teachers to enrich the content and structure of what they are teaching. It gives teachers additional means of encouraging learner initiative. It allows teachers to expect more of students, to call upon them to take greater responsibility for their own learning.
Ignatian Pedagogy personalizes learning. It asks learners to reflect upon the meaning and significance of what they are studying. It attempts to motivate students by involving them as critical active participants in the teaching-learning process. It aims for more personal learning by bringing student and teacher experiences closer together. It invites integration of learning experiences in the classroom with those of home, workplace, community, and ever-present human need. Ignatian Pedagogy stresses the social dimension of both learning and teaching. It encourages close cooperation and mutual sharing of experiences and reflective dialogue among learners. It relates student learning and growth to personal interaction and human relationships.
Ignatian Pedagogy is a process by which teachers accompany learners in the lifelong pursuit of competence, conscience, and compassionate commitment. Such a pedagogical paradigm can help teachers and learners to focus their work in a manner that is academically sound and at the same time formative of persons for others.