“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself. ” – Kahlil Gibran
The other day I went to inaugurate an exhibition of paintings by school children organized by a local Art Club. There was one painting which caught my attention. It showed a creature carrying a huge bag stuffed with books. It almost seemed to be doubling up with the weight. This creature had the body of a donkey but a face of a ten year old child. The title of the painting was ‘How I see my self’! At first I found the painting rather droll. It was only later that the irony and pathos of the situation hit me.
The average child of average middle class parents has been reduced to a beast of burden - sharing the load of ambitious parents, selfish teachers and apathetic boards.
If this statement appears too strong please reflect.
Take any child of parents whose aspiration level is above average. What is his routine like? 6.30 am to 7.30 am Math tuition; 8 am to 2 pm, school; 3pm to 4pm, Computer classes; 4.30 pm to 5.30 pm coaching for some game; 7 pm to 9 pm, home work; and from 9.30 pm onwards, as long as he can keep his eyes open study, study and more study.
Every parent wants his child not merely to be best but to be better than the best. Parents want to achieve their unfulfilled aspirations through their children. A child today has become a brand name to be displayed. “You know my son Akshay has topped in the Science Talent Examination.” My daughter Minati is got a gold medal in Computer software.” “Swagat is practicing very hard, he will be the next swimming champ of the school.....” etc, etc, announce the jubilant parents. But little do they realize that in the process of driving their children to perfection the harm they are doing to the lives of Akshay, Minati and Swagat! They are turning them into performing monkeys - creatures whose only purpose in life is to satisfy their parents egos’ and fulfill their aspirations.
But can you only blame the parents for this for ruining the childhood of children? What about the teachers? There was time when the teacher was considered synonymous with divinity: “Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu, Gurur Devo Maheshwara, Guru Sakshat Parabrahma, Tasmayee shri Guraveh namaha.” Why talk about ancient times even in this modern age we had teachers like Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan who epitomized the virtues of erudition and commitment. But today this breed of teachers is extinct. Instead we have teachers who treat the noble profession of teaching just like any job - merely an avenue for earning money. Many have made it a kind of business. They do very little teaching in the class room and cajole, persuade and even threaten the students to come to them for tuition. And if the child doesn’t he is victimized in the class room. The parents are too scared to voice their opinion and in most cases succumb to the avaricious teacher’s game plan.
Now we come to the third villain in the triumverate - the board. The board when finalizing the syllabi follows criteria best known to itself. The entire attention seems to be on encouraging rote learning rather than in enhancing awareness. The child is fed so much of information that he misses out on knowledge. A child of class seven following the CBSE curriculum has three books in English, two in science, four in Math, three in Hindi, one in Oriya, one in Computer and three in social studies and one each for general knowledge and Value Education - 19 books in all.
Is this information overload necessary? Does a child have to memorize 100 pages of Hindi grammar which, in all likelihood he will never ever use in his life. Even the Math, science and social studies which is taught is irrelevant in the present age of computers and internet. The funniest part is even Value Education is being taught in the class and students asked to pass an examination in that. The last straw was when my daughter Ankita told me that her classmate was caught copying in the Value Education examination!
So then what is the solution? How do we bring back fun and innocence in the lives of our children? How do we give them back their childhood so that they in turn do not commit the same sins which we did?
Here are my prescriptions :
- The parents should cease to drive their kids so hard. The innocence, the fun and the sweetness of childhood should not be sacrificed at the altar of parental ambition.
- They should rebel against the commercialization of education.
- The teachers should stop treating their profession as a business.
- The powers that be should ensure that the pay scales of teachers are made more attractive so that the profession can attract the best of talent.
- The boards should make the syllabus more in tune with the times.
- The books should be chosen in such a manner that learning becomes fun rather than a chore.
- The examination pattern should be drastically altered so that the intelligence and awareness of the student is tested rather than his ability to cram and reproduce.
Finally let me end with this quote from the Chilean Poet and Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda which I feel should serve as an eye opener to every parent, teacher and everyone else who has a hand in shaping the destiny of a child : “We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worst crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his bones are being made and his senses are being developed. To him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’. His name is today.”