The empathic way of solving the problems should be the foundation of the peaceable classroom where the student learns to take responsibility for their actions
New Year (2020) has just started. Thousands of Class XII science students have now already taken their New Year resolution to get a seat in one of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) for a bright future.
This has been a regular practice for the last few decades of many bright science students of the country. Nothing unusual about it for the students as well as their parents until recently. The statistics revealed by HRD ministry regarding IITs raised many questions. During the last 5 years, more than 50 students committed suicide in 23 IITs. IIT Guwahati tops the list with 14 cases of student committing suicide. The recent data shows that students’ suicide cases have been reported from Indian Institutes of Managements (IIM) as well as many premier educational institutions of the country. According to National Crime Records Bureau latest available records, a student commits suicide every hour in India. (Retrieved from www.fairobserver.com/region/central_south_asia/india-student-suicide)
The above discussion leads to introspect on why students committing suicide even after reaching premier educational institutions like IITs and IIMs? These institutions normally ensure their tickets to work either in USA or in any European country. There are various reasons cited by psychologists as well as researchers of the country that academic stress, intense competition for a better pay check from professional occupations including parents and peer pressure. The current situation makes many students stressed, anxious and depressed. The study routines and draconian rules from primary schools have been compelling many students to commit the highest crime of humanity.
How to reduce student suicide cases in India? There is no single and easy answer to this very sensitive issue. However, the repair work needs to be done from their school days. Revisiting our education environment indicates that there is no institutional structure to allow students to express their emotions of depression and stress openly. Hence, there is an alternative concept of education which is getting recognition slowly worldwide, which is Conflict Resolution Education- popularly known as CRE.
The advocates of the conflict resolution discipline have been able to enforce this concept in the school education system of many countries. The CRE critically analyses the contemporary classroom settings on following key points:
• Are there safe spaces for collaborative learning?
• How conflict is handled in the classroom?
• Are we following the empathic way of solving problems in the classroom?
The fundamental premise of the safe spaces is that no student should feel tense to go to the school because he or she is afraid of the classroom. Similarly, no teacher should ever fear to walk into a classroom. The second question reflects that conflict is natural in our classroom; hence it should be understood properly so that it can become an opportunity to learn and create. Thirdly, how conflict is being handled in the classroom and school problem solving mechanism.
During a US Consulate funded school project for schools of North East India, the writer himself experienced a different situation while interacting with a group of school teachers of the premier educational institutions of the region. When we asked the group of teachers about the conflict management in schools, then most of the teachers admitted that there is a need for an organized mechanism to address conflicts in the school. Only mere counselling to the students should not be able to help student to overcome their emotional problems.
CRE encouraged teachers to use cooperative learning where students work in small groups to accomplish shared learning goals. The academic learning comes through different group works. It stresses on constant efforts to identify conflicts arising in the school between students, between teachers and students, teachers and management. A more holistic approach should be adopted by introducing the concept of peaceable classroom, which integrates conflict resolution into the curriculum and into the management of the classroom and uses the instructional methods of cooperative learning and academic controversy.
The advocates of CRE also stress on the Peaceable Classroom concept in schools. This focus on teaching students the foundation abilities, principles, and one or more of the problem-solving processes of conflict resolution. A comprehensive school methodology that builds on the peaceable classroom approach by using conflict resolution as a system of operation for managing the school.
William Kreidler, a pioneer of the peaceable classroom, views the classroom as a caring and respectful community. According to him a classroom should have qualities of cooperation, communication, emotional expression, appreciation for diversity, and conflict resolution. It should encourage cooperation among student of the class and transform it into a learning community. The sharing of knowledge should not happen as a monologue rather dialogue style should be adopted.
The empathic way of solving the problems should be the foundation of the peaceable classroom where the student learns to take responsibility for their actions and develop a sense of connectedness to each other and with the school environment. They should develop group norms and be able to understand different points of view which foster their tolerance.
The Peaceable Classroom for junior classes uses storytelling, role-play and games that promote cooperation and encourage interaction among students and increases their tolerance. Anger management is also an integral part of the Peaceable Classroom. For the upper classes, it teaches students to train other students as peer mediators, holding school assemblies and demonstrations, and focuses on transformation skills like self-reflection and active listening. The important conflict resolution skills like negotiation (assert own needs as well as understanding that a sustainable solution requires to address the needs of others) and mediation (help people to guide through the process of negotiation to mutually satisfactory solutions) should also be added in this innovative approach to classroom.
The current scenario like the increasing trend of student committing suicides enhances for an alternative approach of CRE to make classroom peaceable. This can be the right response which allows identifying student’s depression, frustration as well as empowering them to overcome their emotional issues. To prevent student suicide cases, we need to address student’s depressive behaviour at the right time. Be it school or be it IITs and IIMs, the CRE needs to be implemented in the curriculum systematically. The first step should school teachers are trained in CRE so that they could infuse its elements in their school teachings. This may be the response to prevent suicidal tendency of students as this will allow them to construct right values and attitudes desired by the family and society
(The author is a Fulbright Conflict Resolution Fellow. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)