Tara was born a happy lark! Be it her new pre-school, a swimming pool or an intimidating aunty (the one with huge glasses and a booming voice, who peers down and asks Mommy whether the baby has been good or not), she had always been able to handle challenges with charm, enthusiasm and a bewitching smile.
The mother looks back with fondness when her cute ball of warm guzzling energy was sent to preschool. The whole family had gone bonkers and the young one was dancing silly with happiness. When she burst into an undecipherable rhyme for the n th time, one couldn’t help but think “How perfect and complete”!!
Once Tara emerged victorious over separation anxiety, the land of colours, numbers and toys became synonymous with fun. Time flew by as if on a deadline, yet the constant was her 100 % devotion towards teachers and school. Stars in her eyes, if you may. A move to the capital, different schools and a variety of teachers- yet, the love stayed. The teacher could never ever go wrong. The eagerness to rush to school was awe-inspiring; definitely beat the way we felt at 8 in the morning.
Cut to class 1-a leap of faith into formal schooling. Mind it; it is indeed a blessing to be a part of an institution which respects freedom and creativity. And yet, the formality of it all robs one of their inner happiness. All of a sudden, the words “School nahi jaana” come to haunt the parents every single morning. The child, who could eat a bowl of uncooked broccoli without batting an eyelid, suddenly develops gastronomical pains every morning.
She was unhappy and angry. So am I.
Further interrogation revealed matters which is something we, as a generation have accepted lying down. “No talking!!” “Follow instructions “and my favourite “you are a good girl!” have now become a part of our DNA so much so that we are virtually trampling over young buds. Seriously, the Britishers have left-do we still want to raise clerks?
We contain our children in a box –like classroom, train them like monkeys to sit for 4-5 hours at a stretch and absorb knowledge -for straight 12 years. Fast forward 15 years, and you would be googling chair exercises in the office.
Does this make sense? Then why are we still doing it?
Schools in Finland have a 15 minute free play break every hour with breathtaking results in productivity and attention spans. Why do we need to fit a curriculum in a classroom like a three year old trying to get into infant’s sweater?
Many upcoming schools recognize the value and the dynamics involved in inter- personal communication and team work; hence the circular pattern of classroom arrangement. My teachers would have had my skin had I been found chatting during class. Punishments ranged from a warning to complete humiliation.
So, is it any surprise that we Indians would greet a foreigner crossing us but would steadfastly ignore other Indians? THE END RESULT-AS A GENERATION, WE DO NOT EVEN HAVE THE SELF -CONFIDENCE TO SMILE AT OTHERS. Look everywhere but into the eyes of the person in front of you- that’s the basic idea. Go back in time – was stage fright handled by us and our teachers the way it should have been? Or was it too unimportant in the sea of children?
Now, let’s get into the details. None from my generation has been able to escape the rigmarole and I plan to relive those traumas for you, right here right now 🙂
I loved Maths. Still do. Even today, the idea of creating a pivot table gets me giddy and excited. But probability stumped me. So, I quickly learnt to choose to reject parts of a subject I totally adored. I closed a door on a topic I didn’t research on. How can you reject something you don’t know?
I respect you for Pythagoras theorems and quadratic equation and I am not using it anymore. So why did I spend hours on it? I still remember those days of trauma when my well- meaning family members would encourage and finally threaten me to write so that I could learn-Need regression therapy to get the table of 8 out of my head. I could have read books or danced or learnt how to swim or sew (NO!!) – The stuff that stays.
And, why do our kids have to learn maths from a book? Isn’t the super market a better idea?” That’s where I get lost when I need to count change. Correct answers ought to be rewarded more than the steps followed. That’s how real life operates, right? Maths ought to have taught me day- to-day decision-making and analysis. Did it?
Don’t even get me started on science. We dissect a frog but are scared to pat a friendly dog. We can define photosynthesis but can we identify plants based on our sense of smell?
A facebook post a few days back urged people to throw orange seeds on the roads randomly. The idea was to promote plantation as a part of one’s routine. Genius, I know. Now, didn’t we all study germination in school? How come we never thought of its practical implementation before?
Let the children grow herbs at home; for bigger projects take them to farms- daily. Let’s build wells and teach them to draw water-beats making posters to Save water. Try that Hand pump. I still mourn the death of my brain cells practicing a diagram of a prawn. Instead, take the children to an animal hospital and teach them to nurse animals. Difficult? Yes. Worth the trouble? Yes.
What use is Geography if I get confused between Panchsheel, malviya nagar and Shivalik even today? I run around in circles because I never learnt to read signs and navigate. Pointing things on a globe seems like geography; it is not. A 4 year old is perfectly capable of navigating his/her way to the nearest bin to drop off that juice box- only if we let go of their hand. I have taken my children to construction sites and stood on traffic pavements to simply observe and was amply rewarded when they yelled “5 minutes more“. The real life.
Could never get the order right – Humayun, Babar, Akbar – it seemed like a club! If the objective was to prevent wars and promote tolerance, Trump seemed to have skipped classJ Have we taught our children to connect with Ashoka and Buddha? “ My experiments with Truth “ opened my mind to the fact that how we , as a generation have always kept Gandhi on a pedestal; whereas he was a simple man, prone to the same temptations as us and who yet, strove to facilitate our country to freedom ?
I have read Vivekananda and it’s not enough-want to sit on that rock and feel what he experienced. How can we appreciate the efforts to build the Taj mahal if we haven’t even built a vermi-composting pit in our backyard? World wars were wars in my head, while I was fighting to stay awake. Go ahead, design a musical, create weapons through craft and re-live the trauma of those times. It’s only when you know fear that you can desire peace.
Leaders inspired us (Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mandela) and brought about transformation. Has History inspired us to do any better? Can a group of 8 year old teach their household helps the basics of ABC? Can children be mobilized to share their royal birthday parties with not-so fortunate ones? You don’t just read history, you make it.
Every practical experience in school– visiting an orphanage or an SOS village has remained with me. Make it a part of formal education – Not something you do once in a while. Something as dynamics as Civics was made out to be a set of paragraphs stacked one on top of another- and it needs to be real time. Gather children and take them to a village to observe a panchayat discussion. Don’t go that far even-let them attend a society’s meeting. Open them to the fights, the squabbles and the peace making. A firsthand account of how our society operates.
Hindi is my national language and yet people look around with a frown at – pachchatar rupaya hue! Many of us are lost after the first three initial letters. We speak in Hindi for the sake of convenience and not with pride.e
Hear a Bachchan recite a poem by Bachchan and you’ll get goose bumps. We crammed poems (and their analysis) but never learnt to enjoy them. Have we ever felt the soothing warmth of a much- read poem – has the power to heal us out of our depression. Though the telly’s easier.
The purpose of language is fluency which flows from conversation alone. Grammar cannot be learnt from a book. Did those essays teach us to articulate our thoughts? (It’s late at night and I am pinching and poking God mercilessly to create one more original piece of work!) Keeping it simple is always tough. The real lesson is reading between the lines and understand how to employ words to express genuine emotion and intent.
Schools encourage debates to promote expression of opinion. Yet we often lose our cool during crucial discussions around our trigger points. Am rethinking the merit of these verbal exercises. Where is the translation into real life?
And don’t even get me started on the test system! What a false sense of superiority it created!
This week, while I was leafing through my wad’s maths notebook, I noticed a star by the teacher. Like any well meaning mother, I made a big deal out of it – sharing it with the family, verbal encouragement, the works etc. And yet, she seemed untouched, aloof even. And it hit me then. A child never judges his own work. We gleefully teach it to them. She was complete when she did the assignment. The star meant nothing to her and it really shouldn’t.
Enter adult life and we are completely confused. After years of research, we are not sure what makes us successful and happy? Is that why we look for express approval as years of judgment have dimmed us to our own acceptance?
Is our education freeing us today or are we like minions, blissfully unaware of our own potential to think and innovate? So, what do we do? What do we want and how do we create it?
Stand at school gates in the afternoon and look at children spilling out from the school- you‘ll see how happy they are. All giggles and smiles as if the weight of the day somehow couldn’t manage to beat them. That’s how strong their spirit is. Let’s give respect to that power. Let’s give them a real purpose.
If you are as excited as I am at the thought of transformation, go through the learning objectives that I expect a school to impart after 12 years! The idea is to go reverse from application needs to knowledge needs.
- Self – Awareness: My thoughts have the power to create my life. Life is beautiful. I need to know myself, my body and my environment and what it feels to be ME. SWOT analysis and Positive affirmations. I need to be comfortable with myself.
- Communication: How to connect with people and extract relevant learning from every person that I meet. I need to know how to talk and talk sense; when to say NO. A balance between leadership, personal space and community sense.
- Connect with nature: A deeper connect with nature including the 5 elements. Awareness around flora and fauna- Milking cows, feeding birds and planting trees. Environmental skills- Water harvesting and solar paneling etc.
- Professional/ Entrepreneurial skills: A basic orientation into ALL professional courses so that it becomes a window to one‘s real calling. Would include one’s potential area of influence and contribution to the society including Basic laws as applicable, Cooking ,First aid, Swimming, Sports etc.Let our children invest middle school in choosing their options or rather, creating newer pathways. Let middle schoolers work for consideration! Work, study and play!
- 21st century Life skills: The only place where life skills can be learnt is outside the classroom-Conflict resolution, Networking, Gratitude, Integrity, Leadership, Patience and Impulse Control, Negotiation skills etc. (Integrity is always learnt by trial at the workplace. Make it a subject, I cry! That’s how you create a generation of happy and energized people.)
This is what schools today don’t formally teach. Yes, we as family will always do our best to orient our child, but imagine if your child could come home and say “I had a fight. I am going to my room and think about it. When I come back, let’s please find ways together on how to handle it“
Imagine going to school and choosing your favourite activity to kickstart your day. Maybe if I get to paint or water the school plants at 8, I may be more open to learning something new at 9. And when I am 30, I won’t need that cup of coffee to kick start the day.
Starting every week, we could simulate different real life situations and discuss what emerges.
Welcome critical thinking and self analysis integrated with the curriculum. Let the army train our school children in basic self defense so that discipline and integrity become the foundation stones of a miraculous life. And then we give each child warmth, compassion and freedom to choose their field of further work and study.
In such an environment, the teachers then transform into facilitators with knowledge well -digested in the form of experiences.
And then I will be okay.