Error Analysis - An Effective Tool For Learning

G. Balasubramanian is a doyen of school education in India. He has held several positions of leadership at CBSE, including Director Academics. He was the brain behind the introduction of several innovations at CBSE which included frontline curriculum, Communicative Approach to Language Teaching, Information Technology, Alternatives to Homework, etc. He is also an author, poet and a sought-after speaker at education conferences world over.



One of the shortcomings in the Indian learning systems, both at the school as well as the higher education levels, is the excessive focus on the results of performances. While theoretically, it sounds good to have all the learners to be successful in whatever they do, it often happens at the cost of the quality of the learning processes. Learning doesn’t become effective unless the learner is aware of the kind of mistakes he or she does, the reasons for such a mistake, and the methods of correcting and updating them. This appears to be totally absent in the learning strategies, as both the teacher and the taught are concerned about the results than the process. Consequently, in many institutions, the teachers aren’t aware of identifying different types of errors the learner would do – at the conceptual level, processing level and the communication level.

On a lighter side, in many of the laboratory processes in schools and colleges, the learners go ready with the required result and even if the tools and appliances are non-functional or defective, the inputs are manipulated to lead to the result. As such, these practices become a second habit and there are cases, even at the research levels, where data manipulations have become an order of the day.  Subsequently, when the people land in professions, they are absorbed in the execution of work and sometimes land in crises with their inability to locate the errors, if any.
The ability to accept mistakes or errors as they are and analysing the inherent causes for the same is just an exercise in establishing the integrity, honesty and discipline in the learning processes as well as in a work environment. Unfortunately, the errors are considered as the reflection of the incompetence of the person and looked upon with a sense of contempt. There is a need to change the mindset.
Error analysis develops a culture of examination and triggers positive and provocative action. These skills are essential for most professions and cannot be developed overnight.  The skills have to be identified and cultured right from the school level. 
Error analysis can be a fun-filled activity. Admission of inaccuracies, and oftentimes omissions and commissions, can lead to lighter moments of humour and laughter. Further, it leads to learning.
Error analysis can be used as a case study. Objective review of data, processes and strategies would lead to meaningful learning for strategic operations, futuristic planning, critical thinking and decision making.
As such, the ability of the learner to self-evaluate based on the errors committed would add a greater value than directed learning through external inputs.
Maybe our evaluation systems need to refocus on differentiated evaluation of the learners based on specific and targeted studies on the above, so that mere knowledge (memory) based learning without insights gives way to insightful learning.  
“Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also”- Carl Jung.
This article was originally published in magazine in the month of December, 2018.