“Speaking Is One Of The Best Ways To Learn”

Nune Hakhverdyan

Art critic, journalist

There are serious changes in the educational system of Armenia. Especially at school. And what we give our children and what we want to get from them in an environment saturated with this information is one of the most important questions. 

Speaking about the new state standard of public education, ESCS Deputy Minister Zhanna Andreasyan also highlights the quick effect when a child is heard at school, they feel that they are required not only to be a silent witness and addressee of the class but also to become a participant of the class. 

And from here, very practical answers can be given to the most important question of schoolchildren: why should they go to school, what for? 

Zhanna Andreasyan is convinced that even if making changes is difficult (the system has hardened and rusted over the years), in specific cases, fast results can be seen. 

The idea of pedagogical autonomy is also at the basis of the new educational standard. In other words, horizontal connections between schools, the creation of unique networks, where the state does not have the monopoly to decide everything but is in the role of a supporter. 

We live surrounded by a huge volume of information. The media is not only a tool but also a total environment where schools are often very behind. What do we want schoolchildren to do with all that information? 

Especially when it comes to media, we can learn from our children rather than teach them. And here we also need to review our approach to education, which according to our traditional ideas is hierarchical. 

In other words, it is a hierarchical relationship where there is one who teaches and the other who learns. Now the roles are changing. The development of media and technologies, and children’s ability to quickly perceive, borrow and create shows that these roles are changing. 

And this is where the important change that we want to get in the school comes from. 

We want schools to get out of that one-sided process where one talks and the other listens. 

Now we have a situation where our children learn more outside of school than in school. And schools have become a place where they get grades. In other words, by and large, we have had a situation of a lack of real content hiding behind labels for years. 

And today’s changes are aimed at a structural change, where the child becomes an equal participant in the educational process, gets involved, and can actively think and turn their knowledge into behavior, instead of being a passive listener sitting in a reflective position. 

And the second important point is the change of content. What the child learns at school. 

We are also on our way to creating and printing new textbooks. The texts we used to read are now simply incomprehensible from the point of view of visual memory and text construction. 

How and what should we learn? Along those series of questions is why should we learn? Many children ask that question. 

Yes, and we are trying to suggest the answer to that question by making project training mandatory. 

The child independently chooses any problem, which can be within the scope of one subject or crossing several subjects, or related to their community or environment. 

And from here one begins to learn what to pay attention to, from which point of view to understand that problem, how to analyze it, separating the important from the secondary. 

It can be both an applied project (for example, climate protection) and a comprehensive research project. 

We have been testing this program in Tavush since last year, and from September 2023 it will become mandatory in all schools starting from the seventh grade. In other words, we are currently in the testing and preparation stage, but we already have good results in Tavush. And it is one of the most exciting methods because children learn to do things independently. Moreover, the project can be a team project. 

It is important that the child not only achieves a certain result individually but also works in a team. 

And we have wonderful examples when the teacher and the child work together and the project becomes the most effective form of learning. Moreover, we did not invent a single bicycle, after 2015, almost all countries of the world changed their educational standards, based on the project-based learning method. 

We want our children to have the opportunity to discover their abilities: research, analysis, criticism, etc. 

And here the work with information, the culture of filtering and referencing becomes a priority. How to find not just information, but necessary information in the digital clutter. 

I agree. That’s why in the general education state standard, we have 8 basic abilities (competencies) that we expect from the child after finishing school. And one of them is media capacity. 

It is a requirement of life to be able to distinguish between accurate, fictitious, and incomplete information, to check the sources, to understand which information is significant and not significant, related to the topic or not, and scientific and pseudo-scientific. 

And at the same time be able to participate in the creation of information flows, and know how to manage them. 

I guess the teacher has a very big role in this matter, otherwise, this method will become purely formal. 

Even the best standard will remain on paper if there is no teacher to make it a reality. We emphasize teacher training, but it can never be the most effective way. The process of training teachers should be changed. That will be the fundamental solution to the problem. 

Training teachers first of all means supporting them. No one has the right to blame the mistakes of the system on the teachers because we have abandoned them for years. Now the state says that teacher training should be based on the need for teacher development. 

This year, in the document, we described what kind of teacher we want to have in the school. 

We formulated the teacher’s professional standards with four components: knowledge of the subject, pedagogical skills of teaching, recognition of the learner’s needs, and provision of feedback. And finally, the skill of self-development and development of the pedagogical community. 

In other words, if we say a good teacher, this is what we mean. 

Pedagogical education is very important, especially when children’s needs change so quickly and they are so diverse. 

Although children quickly perceive new technologies, because the digital environment is their natural way of life, they are also more confused. They seem to accept that they don’t need to put in a lot of effort, and if they require longer concentration, they retreat. What dangers does the digital generation face? 

In reality, we are living in a time of fundamental changes. And we don’t even realize their consequences until the end. 

For example, the coronavirus showed all the layers that were less visible under normal conditions. Especially in the conditions of distance learning and the cessation of daily social contact of children, we saw how the communication characteristics of our children are being transformed. 

For example, it is a widespread and expanding paradoxical situation when almost all children have a phone, but they do not talk on the phone. 

Even the root of the word suggests that it is about speaking, sound, and our children do not utter sound, they mostly write to each other. And moreover, they often use visual means rather than words in writing. 

And the consequence of this is that children’s vocabulary is reduced. 

There are many linguistic studies that show what is the minimum daily vocabulary that forms linguistic thinking. After all, the basis of the development of thinking (critical, analytical, creative) is language thinking itself. 

And this, of course, is the problem of the educational system of the whole world. If two students sit next to each other and do not talk, but communicate with virtual signs, it means that they are on the verge of serious changes. 

And the school requires them to read and tell what is written in the textbook, which they perceive as an unpleasant and mechanical obligation. The school does not teach to formulate thoughts, argue, justify, to have a position, and finally, to speak well. 

In a big sense, schools have always taught us to be silent. 

At school, we were the ones who had to listen and respond when asked. And there was no need to talk. It was a certain tradition. Now we want the school to be a place where they talk. After all, speaking is one of the best ways to learn. 

When you speak, you get a chance to “see” your thoughts voiced and thereby rethink them. 

The less children talk in class, the more difficult it is to operationalize a measure of critical thinking. 

Children should be active, involved, participate, and for that, dialogue is necessary. 

I think it will be very difficult to keep our children in school without that. 

There is also another important thing here: the school should not come into conflict with other environments where the child studies (informal courses, groups, sports or music schools, etc.). The school should become a cooperating, coordinating, and developing body. And the child will see that the school connects all their interests. 

After all, what matters is the learning process, which should not recognize boundaries, whether it is inside or outside the walls of the school. 

We are introducing a credit system in the high school, with which extracurricular activities will be included in education. Now we will cooperate with the FAST Foundation, which has developed an artificial intelligence course. And if there are those who want to study that course, they will be able to take that credit to the university in the future. 

And the child will understand how what they learned at school today has to do with the profession they choose tomorrow. 

We are also discussing the credit system with the Agrarian University. 

High school should become a link for the development of the child’s abilities as a person and professional training. If this did not happen, naturally the child will ask every day why I am going to the senior class. 

The old educational standard listed what the child should know in each subject. The new one describes the end results. In other words, what do you want to get not only at the end of the training but also at the end of each lesson? 

I assure you that when the child clearly understands what is expected of them and what result they will achieve in the end, the question of why should I study ceases to exist. 

At that time, children’s questions have answers. 

There is a new subject in the school, which starts in the second grade and is called “Digital Literacy and Computer Science.” What goal do we want to achieve with that subject? 

It will teach children how to use media tools and learn through them. That they become creators and distributors of media content. That problem is placed on other subjects as well. 

For example, when learning Armenian language and literature, there is a requirement that the child presents some topics using multimedia tools (for example, a slide). 

In other words, media literacy is not only a separate subject but also a method that is embedded in the teaching methodology of other subjects. 

One can often hear the opinion that phones should be banned in schools. Of course, we can take the phone from a child and not return it for a few hours, but as soon as the child leaves school, they will take the phone and do something that maybe they wouldn’t do if we taught them to use the phone at school. 

Our goal is not to ban, but to use any technology for the benefit of learning. Including learning with the help of the phone. 

As, say, happened during the pandemic, when the phone became the main tool for distance learning. And this applies not only to the phone. In school, anything can become a learning and teaching tool. 

And that’s what good teachers do. And even in an unfavorable situation, they find a way and a tool to teach. 

And what is the ideal school? 

There are such schools in Armenia. And I really want us to understand that the ideal school is not a theory, that it is next to us, it exists, we just need to be able to see and also learn from each other. 

I would like to talk about the school in the border village of Nerkin Karmiraghbyur, Tavush region, where the working senior teachers decided to leave their jobs and give their place to young people so that they could stay and work in their native village. Of course, the experience of senior teachers is still used in the school, and that’s great, but the gesture of public solidarity was important here. 

That school has become a well-kept, organized, budding, and developing environment. Everyone has something to do there. And it is an ordinary public school, where people receive ordinary salaries, but have much greater concerns because they are on the border. 

And there are many such schools in Armenia. Usually, these are the schools that we don’t know about, we don’t talk about, including in the media. 

On the contrary, we see a very bad influence of the media. We all talk about how important education is, but we talk about that education very carelessly. 

We never think about how we express ourselves about our teachers, among whom there are people whom it is a great honor to know. 

In general, the profession of a teacher is unspeakably important. We have 30,000 teachers in Armenia. And if we can make changes, then only thanks to them. 

Interview with Nune Hakhverdyan 

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