By Savitri Narayanan
For us teachers, time moves in circles. Come April, we stand at the door with a big smile to welcome a new batch of students. We spend the year nurturing them, helping them to string the beads, tie shoe laces, open tiffin boxes, hold the pencil, to read and write, watching them grow and change. Come March, we consolidate and document data, make promotion lists, hand them over to the next class-teacher and there we are welcoming another set of children!
It was three decades ago that I walked into a school in suburban Mumbai with my little one trailing along, seeking admission. By a quirk of fate, both of us got entry – the young one to the Nursery and me to the world of teaching. A lifetime was spent in the company of effervescent children – giggling, screaming, playing, dancing, singing, and laughing – it is a world on the move!
Once I got the password to the children’s world, life took on new hues. Each child brings in a new world, new insights, and new points of view. The children soon opened the doors to their homes – loving, caring, struggling, tense, silent, supportive, indifferent – all kinds of homes. Different settings, situations, characters – the children wove them all together.
Classrooms changed, languages changed, uniforms changed but the world remained the same – exciting, happening, ever-alive. Skills to be mastered changed from holding the pencil, tying the shoe-lace, opening the tiffin-box, stringing the beads, and counting the pebbles to writing an essay, solving an equation, proving a theorem and finding a formula. In the process, the pupas turned into butterflies, the children grew up and moved on.
During these decades, I am also witness to the way education has gradually turned into a marketplace- a shift from a service sector to a skills provider- where a wide range of offers are available for a price at the click of a mouse. With good intentions, little ones are provided smartphones and their ‘technical skills’ become topics to boast about. Children are diligently passed from home to school to tuition classes and then to hobby classes. The parents, caught between careers, the laptop, the cellphone and the television, have little time for the children. Rarely does a child get ‘to do nothing’, to hang around a caring adult, to watch a butterfly suck honey or the mango blossoms transform into sweet mangoes. The grandparents, aunts and unclesm who listened with amusement to the characteristic ‘why?’ questions, seem to have melted away. The children are turning to the smartphones for the answers which soon become their soul-mates, more so today as the cellphone has become the indispensable link to online classes.
Very often the journey ends at the counselor’s door! Parents, teachers, students – all seem to be looking for help, reassurance, and affirmation. With due respect to the counselors, what one is seeking may be right there, at home. This lockdown period could be a blessing in disguise – a time to re-connect, re-establish the family bonding, neighborhood support systems, and strengthen the threads of one-to-one communication. Reconnect with the children now, listen to them open up their minds and, rest assured, the children who walk back to the schools will be happier, more relaxed, eager to learn and go places.