Cognition a cure for PGI woes

By Benjamin Lyngdoh

“Education Minister, Lahkmen Rymbui while acknowledging the report pointed towards the improved performance of Meghalaya over the period 2017-18 to 2019-20. While that is fine, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are laggards.”

The performance grading index (PGI) report for Meghalaya is not a surprise. As stakeholders in education, we all know that a number of things are going wrong. The only difference now is that the shortcomings are quantified and are out in the open for interpretation. Yes, it is true that government departments are known to fudge data. A case in point, the international community does not trust the Covid-19 numbers reported by India. In the case of PGI, a number of people have opined that they have seen far worse in UP and Bihar. One person unequivocally debated on social media that if Meghalaya is so bad then why do students from other states come here to study. But here lies the heart of the issue. The PGI is basically a statistical representation and it deals with ‘averages’. Shillong and other towns might do well, but on the average, for Meghalaya we do paint a dismal picture. Similarly, students from other states come mainly to Shillong for studies. It is important to get these points straight. Accordingly, despite the allegations of political and religious bias, in the grand scheme of things the PGI report stands as a valid document which must be taken note of.
Education Minister, Lahkmen Rymbui while acknowledging the report pointed towards the improved performance of Meghalaya over the period 2017-18 to 2019-20. While that is fine, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are laggards. Over the three years, the aggregate scores (out of 1000) are 584 for 2017-18, 610 for 2018-19 and 649 for 2019-20 representing an increased rate of 5.29%. This is minuscule. Although the views of the readers might differ, it would be fair to point out that of all the five domains, ‘learning outcomes and quality’ is the most important. Interestingly, in this domain the score of Meghalaya has remained constant at 126 (out of 180) over the three years. This is a red flag and it indicates the gravity of the problem. The constant score of 126 basically means that the other domains such as infrastructure and governance have improved (an increased rate of 19.82% and 8.86% respectively). But how does it help when the most important domain (learning outcomes and quality) has seen no increase? The claims of our education minister excludes the very essence of education – learning. Alas, the PGI has really turned depressing! But what is the cure? Should we confine ourselves only towards PGI or shall we address the real issue? To this end, we need to revisit our teaching-learning orientation and focus on ‘cognition’. It is the building block of effective education as it shifts learning beyond the classroom and into practical/real-time situations.
The subject-matter of cognition is not new. It refers to a thought process. It is different from thinking. As a thought process, cognition implies that a person is continually involved in a topic/subject consciously or subconsciously. It is not a stop-gap measure. If it is so, then it becomes just plain thinking. The real point of distinction between thinking and cognition is that in the former it is inconsistent. One thinks on a topic in the morning but does not do so in the afternoon. In the case of the latter, the topic evolves in the mind of a person as a thought process. It is always in the mind and the student tries to understand it in a practical sense. This is what is required with regards to our students. This process ideally starts at a very young age. It starts at school. It goes without saying that in the efforts to nurture cognition in the minds of the students, the role of the teacher becomes critical. However, it is sad to note that the training of the students into realms of cognition has received less attention in academic circles. This is one of the reasons for poor critical and analytical skills of students. Teaching-learning is theoretical and only confined to the classroom. The moment school gets over, so does all forms of education. It is time to factor that the ‘cognitive student’ has now become a way of life and the more we are alien to it, the more we will suffer.
As an example, let us take the case of Arithmetic. Many students are paranoid about it. The reason for that could be the way it is presented and taught. There is that perennial psychosis around the subject. The starting point of dealing with the fear is in realizing that Arithmetic is not only about school and marks. Rather it is something that we will have to use every day. Taking Arithmetic as a thought process will make it attractive/interesting. Arithmetic is not only about scoring marks. It becomes a practical application. We apply it when we buy groceries, giving/receiving money, watching cricket/tennis scores, figuring out the size of our homes in feet and meters, etc. The list goes on. The point here is that Arithmetic can be perfected outside the classroom. It is not about marks but a way of life. This is what cognition does. It brings a realization on the students that we will need Arithmetic till the day we die and not just till class ten. Hence, a student may not score 95% in it, but as a thought process it becomes an invaluable help in carrying out daily activities. This similar advantage is true for other topics/subjects as well. Like, we may learn photosynthesis in the classroom. It becomes even better if it is learnt in a smart classroom. But the ultimate learning happens when a student observes the plants in the garden and relates photosynthesis to it.
In the end, cognition has outcomes. The first is called ‘cognitive flexibility’. It is the ability to make the best use of time/situation. Say, the light goes off so I cannot study; well, no problem; I will watch the stars instead and try to figure out the constellations. As a result, one does not get irritated because of no electricity but makes even better use of time. The second is called ‘scientific temper’. It is about drawing conclusions only through adequate observation of scientific facts and more importantly it is the ability to change conclusions in the face of new evidence/developments. Scientific temper takes time to develop. It normally happens when one reaches higher classes such as college and beyond. However, the starting point is cognition at school. A continued practice of cognition ends up in the development of scientific temper. One might say that cognition over time is equal to scientific temper. Examples of scientific temper include people who earlier hesitated to take the Covid-19 vaccine but now in the face of new evidence have agreed to take it. Similarly, people who earlier hated the LGBTQ community, on learning more about the condition and the reasons thereof have become more accepting. This is the beauty of scientific temper. It shapes a responsible and productive citizen. This is the very purpose of education. Thus, the focus on cognition as a cure right from schooling can do wonders for human resource development, far beyond the PGI woes.
(Email: [email protected]; The Author teaches at NEHU)

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