Janabai

I have been reflecting on the NCF 2005 — Teaching of Science Focus Group Position Paper. I am reading it for conducting a session for the DIET teacher educators in Bihar. I particularly would like to reflect on the ‘Janabai’ point. Below is the verbatim text from the document (p. 12), some critical questions that I raise, and some discussion around it.

What Biology do students know?
“These students don’t understand science … they come from a deprived background!” We frequently hear such  opinions expressed about children from rural or tribal backgrounds. Yet consider what these children know from everyday experience: Janabai lives in a small hamlet in the Sahyadri hills. She helps her parents in their seasonal work of rice and tuar farming. She sometimes accompanies her brother in taking the goats to graze in the bush. She has helped bring up her younger sister. Nowadays she walks 8 km every day to attend the nearest secondary school. Janabai maintains intimate links with her natural environment. She has used different plants as sources of food,  medicines, fuel wood, dyes and building materials; she has observed parts of different plants used for household purpose, in religious rituals and in celebrating festivals. She recognizes minute differences between trees, and notices seasonal changes based on shape, size, distribution of leaves and flowers, smells and textures. She can identify about a hundred different types of plants around her, many times more than her biology teacher can – the same teacher who believes Janabai is a poor student. Can we help Janabai translate her rich understanding into formal concepts of biology? Can we convince her that school biology is not about some abstract world coded in  long texts and difficult language: it is about the farm she works on, the animals she knows and takes care of, the woods that she walks through every day? Only then will Janabai truly learn science. (NCF 2005 — Teaching of  Science, p. 12).

When reading it critically, I framed the following questions:

  • From whose perspective is this narrative written? — As this is a policy document, we are aware that this is from a teacher’s or the school education’s perspective.
  • What is the nature of knowledge that Janabai has, Is it knowledge or information? –Janabai knows quite a lot of the flora and fauna around here, as she has dwelled in the natural context. But at this stage, I think, that this is mere information. At the point, when she makes association with seasonal changes, etc. then she is constructing knowledge.
  • Why is Janabai’s knowledge different from formal or school knowledge? — If Janabai can recognize the plant by size, shape, etc. (attribution, variable properties of object), I think, Janabai already has scientific knowledge.
  • What are the different classification systems followed by Janabai and teacher?
  • Why is the need for shifting Janabai towards school knowledge, and why not the other way? —
  • What are the different associated knowledge or information that Janabai has?
  • Does this association appear in school knowledge?
  • What is the age of Janabai? — The context is middle school. But if we consider that she is just entering to school, then she may be a teenager, much older than her peers in school
  • The text “She recognizes minute differences between trees, and notices seasonal changes based on shape, size, distribution of leaves and flowers, smells and textures” — This is scientific knowledge that Janabai has?
  • What is this formal concepts of biology?
  • Why is the need for Janabai to learn to understand this formal knowledge?
  • If the school knowledge talks about Janabai’s context “it is about the farm she works on, the animals she knows and takes care of, the woods that she walks through every day”, then why is the impression that Janabai is lacking formal knowledge?
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