“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education”
- Mark Twain
Fear is often used in schools as a tool to educate students. Students are placed under constant pressure to either win a competition or do well in an exam, which often causes them to deviate from the goal of learning. A fear-free classroom not only makes students learn something, but it also allows them to think about it and practise what they learn in their life. In light of this, the Azim Premji Foundation conducted a session on what a fear-free classroom is and how it can be achieved in schools. In this online session, Ms. Uma, a teacher at a school which is a part of the Krishnamurti Foundation, expressed her views about fear-free classroom and how she is trying to maintain it in her school.
WHAT IS FEAR?
Ms. Uma started the session by sharing her thoughts on a fear-free classroom and the benefits that it can have. She explained what fear is, how it reflects in the body, and the various impacts it can have in children. Medically, fear can be categorized in three ways: physical fear, psychological fear, and social fear. Nobody is devoid of psychological fear. When we have any kind of fear in us, it is imperative to identify its root cause. When we have such a fear, our body starts to react— the body tends to have a fight or flight response. This raises the blood pressure and causes palpitations. The entire focus of the brain is shifted in responding to this fear. When we continue to face the circumstances that caused us the fear, we tend to struggle—we have to finish the work as well as face the fear. In such a condition, learning cannot happen at all.
When fear is instilled among students, they cannot be expected to learn effectively. As a result, if an exercise is given to the students, they will tend to find shortcuts to simply finish it; however, no real learning will take place. When an atmosphere of terror is created in the classroom and the teachers take a higher stand over the students, the teachers basically create a power situation for themselves that they are afraid to lose. People tend to be afraid of others when they begin to view the others as being better or lesser than them.
Teachers must demolish such a perception in themselves. Some teachers tend to think that students are lesser than them and that they have a greater influence over their future. As a result, such teachers believe that they have an upper hand over their students. This is what creates an atmosphere of fear in the classroom, and it cannot beget respect.
One always respects one’s parents; however, one does not have to be afraid of them.
The fear that the teachers may have can also lead them to question as to why the students are not respecting them. As a result, they may behave in counter-productive ways. However, if a teacher is aware of their own abilities and is confident about themselves, it will automatically result in the students respecting them and learning from them without having any fear.
Some teachers get afraid when students begin to question them. It is, thus, necessary for teachers to be confident in their abilities, as then they will be able to handle the situation better.
HOW EFFECTIVE CAN A FEAR-FREE CLASSROOM BE?
A fear-free classroom allows students to think and express themselves freely without fear hindering their learning capabilities. Such a classroom can be created when students receive comments/feedback to improve themselves instead of competing for prizes. This competing for prizes unconsciously puts the students under pressure to compete for the first prize. As a result, the students get caught in the clutches of fear of losing the prize, which reflects in their lack of interest in learning.
A FEW QUESTIONS FROM TEACHERS:
Teacher 1: Is it enough for only the class teacher to create a fear-free classroom or do we need
the cooperation of other teachers, parents, authorities, and others?
Ms. Uma: We do not have a general solution to all of these problems. We are not dealing with machines. So, we cannot have one strategy that suits everyone. So, I cannot be the solution provider. I can only share my experience. Certainly, it is essential for all stakeholders to be responsible for creating a fear-free environment for the students; but we cannot simply blame others for not maintain the fear free classroom We must have great patience and create a fear-free environment by involving all the stakeholders. It would help greatly if we can set the example so that there is a possibility that others may learn from us.
Teacher 2: You said you do not have a system of punishment or reward. So, in that case, how do you encourage your students?
Ms. Uma: I believe that it is a superstition that a prize or a reward can improve a child’s learning ability. Let’s take the example of the ranking system. This system creates a lot of pressure among the students. I have seen that many students get prizes on Sport’s Day. However, those who get the second prize are oftentimes unhappy about their performance, and they undergo a certain level of stress. Surely, this system cannot encourage a child.
It should also be noted that in many instances’ students do not motivate themselves to learn or get involved in a learning activity. Instead of forcing them, we should identify what the child is motivated to do and then encourage them to do it well.
Facilitator: Ms. Uma, The School, Krishnamurti Foundation
Date: 6 May 2020