I see a child at the traffic light. He is about two years old, in tattered clothes and howling away. He looks like he has been abandoned, perhaps temporarily. What’s new about that, you might ask? It’s a regular sight in any Indian city. Life is harsh for many out there! *shrug*
One the same day, our Finance Minister was presenting the nation’s annual budget and there was much talk in the air about the revival of investment, the promise of growth and development, the changing fortunes of India.
I was having a hard time reconciling the two strains of thought. I gulped and what I had the taste of bile in my mouth.
Of all the dismal facts about India, it is the ones about children that are the hardest to come to terms with. The trafficking, the child labour, the sexual exploitation. Today’s Hindustan Times carries a full-page editorial about the number of children out of school in our part of the world and this is disturbing too.
Two aspects of the editorial struck me. First, that it wasn’t just poverty that keeps children out of school. India has unleashed a slew of legislation to reinforce primary education- the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the National Programme of Nutritional Support and others. Yet children stayed out of school. Experts attribute this to the poor quality of education that is unable to keep the kids interested. In my research with migrants in north India, I find access to private sector education for their children drives poor households away from villages to small towns, but they are hopelessly disappointed in the quality of these private schools, that offer English-medium all right (as compared to govt schools that teach in Hindi) but no knowledge whatsoever. Also, experts point to the availability of funds but the utter poverty of good ideas that means new investments in the sector are hardly ever realised, especially at the primary and lower secondary levels.
The other idea that struck me was the familiar argument that couches the entire issue of children’s education in the garb of productivity and loos of potential on a national level. To me, more tragic is the experience of the child herself, the family to which she belongs or worse to which she does not if she is an orphan or being trafficked.
We aren’t able to create enough jobs for the ones we do manage to educate, so perhaps instead of worrying about creating a higher volume of educated workforce, we should focus on improving the quality of the education and the experience that children have in school. And higher education? The majority of youth in rural and small town India do not actually attend college, but get their degrees through correspondence and part-time engagements or by simply appearing for exams without ever being taught.
I find it hard to be hopeful about a generation that is barely getting a real education. And yet when you speak to young people, it’s hard to feel so low. They are charged with energy and ambition and I can only hope that we can find a way to not let them down!
At work, we are often disconcerted to see organizations and individuals focus too much on the end product without giving due attention to process. In my view, process is key and we can learn far more from studying the process of creating a solution or product than from deploying the solution per se.
An interesting example of this came up when we were watching Aadyaa’s class show on Saturday. At Shikshantar, Hamara Manch is an institution. Literally ‘Our Stage’, it is a platform for children to express what they like or feel, the way they want to express it. A friend and a parent I was speaking with was commenting on how her child’s class did not do ‘as well’ as last year and how she felt they should do something different, better, etc. She was entirely focused on the product on show before us, the parents, today.
However, as a few of us went on to point out to her, the children view Hamara Manch as a process. Over a month, they select an idea, story or theme that they like. They have to agree on something as a group, not an easy task for little children, but they do it with the able facilitation of their teachers, whom they affectionately call didis. Then they develop the theme or story into a performance. Teachers share with us sometimes the process of casting and it is interesting to see that, unlike in many other schools, it is not the natural talent or most gregarious personality that lands the meaty role. Often, children opt to do something they really like, even if it is a small role. For example last year, Aadyaa’s class did a take on the Ramayana. Her teachers wanted her to be Laxman, but she opted to become a butterfly because she loved the idea of wearing colorful wings and pink! Go figure! Often, they draw lots to choose and they learn to accept collective decisions even if they are against their individual liking. An important social skill and attitudinal attribute for the adult world as well!
The children are totally involved in creating the backdrop and the props, customizing their costumes as well. Everyday we hear of the next steps taken in developing their little show, everyday we see the excitement and the involvement of the children. It’s a beautiful, enjoyable, democratic participative process.
So when we come to see their little show on Hamara Manch day, we must see it in the light of this process; not merely as a product. And like the children learn a zillion soft skills in their month long journey, we must learn to see many aspects of what they present and appreciate the tremendous talent and team work that has brought their efforts to fruition. Once learnt, it is something for us to apply to our adult lives, to situations at work and at home. Whenever I find ourselves quick to criticize or tending toward cynicism, I will now think of Hamara Manch and review my reaction to what is before me!
Children are so incredibly resilient and we adults, parents included, underestimate them all the time. My kids never cease to surprise me.
Last night, Aadyaa started complaining of earache. Now that is bad news indeed, for it is an ailment that she has recurrently a few times a year and it is bad news! The earache is usually acute and takes a while to subside and means half a night of her howling in pain, while we scurry around trying to medicate, placate and allay the sinking feeling in our hearts. Over the past year she has had this problem, we have an arsenal of homeopathic, home remedies and mild allopathic medicines ready to combat it. For some reason, last night all the ammunition failed and Aadyaa and we were up most of the night in pain, hers physical and mine mental!
There was the added stress that she had her annual sports meet at school this morning. Something the kids look forward to and have been working really hard to prepare for. She would have been heartbroken if she had missed it and till midnight I was hoping the earache would oblige us and go away. Well, as you know, it didn’t. Surprisingly though, Aadyaa deviated from her pattern of howling through the night and was exceptionally tolerant of the pain. We read books, munched biscuits and chocos, chatted, sang songs and caught 15-minute shut eyes through the night, peppered with the various doses of medication we were trying out.
Eventually when she fell asleep past 5AM, we had decided that sports day happens every year and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if she misses it. On the other hand, she made me promise that I would take her if she woke up in time, even if it meant she simply sits in my lap and watches!
Morning came and we all got ready before we tried to wake Aadyaa up. Not only was she up and about, but she went on to complete all the activities that were planned at the sports meet, displaying her usual balance and poise at all types of physical challenge. No tantrums, no crankiness. Yes, I was pleasantly surprised.
Small things I observed today made me realize just how vital school, her routine, her friends and her teachers are to Aadyaa’s world. For instance, she demanded her teacher’s attention and sat in Mudita didi’s lap through the morning assembly. Once reassured by these minutes of comfort, she gave her best to the day’s proceedings.
I’m glad I decided to play along and let Aadyaa take the decisions this morning. I was rewarded for my trust and she gained another few notches of self-confidence. All in all, a good day!
Shikshantar, where both my kids study, is celebrating its 10th birthday this week. Yesterday, the primary and secondary blocks threw their classrooms open to parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to take a peek at how they had expressed their journey in the school. The theme was Stories and narratives were central to the exhibits around the school.
Oh boy, it was an emotional ride. While the younger kids had attacked the theme with enthusiasm and gusto, the older ones clearly expressed a strong bond with their schoolmates and the institution. Hearing the teenage kids, I was transported back into a world where even the tiniest gestures by friends meant so much, when passions ran high and relationships were intense; when we felt strongly about everything in our lives, when adults were often perceived as enemies of fun.
It was a pleasure to see the comfort the kids shared with their teachers though. I visited in the late afternoon, when things were beginning to wind down. In most classes in middle and senior school, groups of kids were hanging out and having a lot of fun. And also chitchatting and laughing with their teachers.
Here are some pictures I took, that express the love and the bonding the kids feel with their school, its spaces, its people and the entire world it creates to nurture them.
Yes, yes. I’m cheating and writing yesterday’s post now, but you can blame it on Krishna. Janmashtami or Gokulashtami as it is known (or simply Ashtami!) was not fully in focus on my radar till I had kids. Udai’s school is hot on celebrating festivals and when he was in Playgroup (pre-nursery), they made butter in school the week of Krishna’s birthday. That got my attention. What a wonderful way to teach kids a miracle of science while linking it to a popular character like Krishna. There must have been songs too, but Udai was never one to sing the school songs to us!
Aadyaa is another story altogether. She revels in music and dance and art. And she totally dotes on Krishna. No matter how cranky, a story around Kanha can set that right. Each time we go to Noida or Ghaziabad, the high point for her is crossing the ‘Yamuna’, even though she cannot really see the water. Well, she would be disappointed if she could, ‘coz there aren’t any gopis dancing there or Kanha playing the flute. The legend of Krishna is enchanting, especially for children, because Kanha is imperfect. He is naughty, he lies, he plays the fool and troubles everyone, but yet he is there to rescue people, help them when they are in trouble. That is a potent combination indeed!
So the entire week was about Krishna. In school, she painted a pot and filled it with cotton, making it look like a pot of overflowing butter, the sort of pot Kanha regularly broke to get at the butter. They rolled paper to make it look like his flute. They learnt songs about Krishna and about the monsoon season. Many traditional songs that celebrate the rains are about Krishna, so there learning about seasons and climate intertwined with the Krishna theme. They helped decorate the class and the day they celebrated Janmashtami in school they all got to give the baby Krishna a jolly good push on the swing on which he was placed!
At home, we had a little brood of Radhas (Krishna’s legendary soulmate), all decked up, all enthusiastic. They trooped into the little celebration in our local club, danced and generally had a great time! A lot of colourful, crazy fuss; all thanks to Krishna!
Today was all about watching the extreme sense of confidence in our children and the tremendous skills, flexibility and balance their bodies have achieved in the past year. Every time I have the occasion to observe my son Udai with his school friends, I am struck by how deep and genuine their friendships run. On sports day, it’s particularly gratifying to see how well they work as a team, how encouraging they are when their friends struggle with a challenge, how whole-hearted their enjoyment of the activities. The spirit of fun rubbed off on us parents as well as we tried out some of the activities, with some help from the kiddos! Reflecting the bonding between the kids is a genuine sense of friendship and camaraderie that parents enjoy as well. See for yourself…