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Champa Rathnayake: PBL 30 years ago and citizens of 21st Century


by Champa Rathnayake
Expert Educator Columnist, Sri Lanka

This is something I am trying to analyse. Beyond 25 years, I had noticed how my mother taught to her students. She was teaching in primary classes. So, I heard always the phrases “subject integration”, “learning by doing “with regard to her professional talks with her colleagues; and I was not a teacher.

I review that, John Dewey’s idea of “learning by doing” advanced and applied in education as a teaching learning methodology called Project –based learning (PBL), was well implemented in her classroom.

Her class often went out of the school; surely with permission and with an assistant teacher. (As a child of her, I remember I was worrying about her walking and getting tired, with a class of kids).She had walked along village roads with her students creating a playful and enjoyable atmosphere. She had visited some places with streams or small lakes, tea plantations, paddy fields and official places like surveying institute. Students had come back with a lot of knowledge and experience and brightened up. Definitely she may have made students observe ,inquire and create things with authentic learning situations .Often she had brought home drawings, handicrafts, poems, essays and lot more to show us as students’ creations. A lot of integration of subjects was there – Environmental studies, mathematics, languages, Aesthetics with skills of creativity, knowledge construction, communication and collaboration. I remember she was always against with grading students!

Very often, her school had organized exhibitions, demonstrations parades and concerts showing the students’ learning. Community participation and collaboration was very high.

However, I wonder about integration of technology except the tape recorder and a camera she used seldom. These two tools did serve a lot then. There were many audio cassettes with recorded songs and dialogues of students; A lot more albums full of photographs of events.

Memories of my mother’s professional life arise when I meet students of her. I remember once I met a medical student in a bus. He was talking how he enjoyed environmental studies then, how he practiced patience in observing things in the environment-insects, caterpillars, ants…etc. After that wrote verses on his thoughts.

At my mother’s funeral, a young carpenter told me with tearful eyes how he loved her. Because she had made others in the class to praise him, even he had been a “weaker” one. He had become confident with himself; even though he had not scored “good” marks, he is successful with his skills with confident.

Even after 11 years of my mother’s death, her students still have precious memories to live with and enjoy.

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