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It has always got to be about children

A crucial part of a child’s learning journey is defined by a secure and supportive home environment irrespective of the emotional turmoil that families may experience from time to time – divorce, financial instability, emotional changes such as death of a family member, mental health challenges, accidents, relocation etc

Realms of statistical data archived in leading universities empathetically state that an equal, well-oiled partnership between home-school in spite of these challenges will lead to well-balanced young adults, who are most likely to become resilient and cope with a rapidly evolving world and minimise the impact of these sometimes, “difficult” experiences. Pre Covid19, we discussed this but in wake of what we have experienced since our first lockdown in March 2020, I dare say, this cannot be emphasised enough.

Now, more than ever, we need to take-stock. Next 18-36 months, will be easier to deal with if we are better prepared. And remember, what are we all working towards. That child, in our classrooms/virtuals or homes who is an important part of our country’s future.

For the past decade or so, or at least the last five years, words like “snowball”, “helicopter”, “outsourced” parenting dominated media articles, and the for many reasons, as parents we compartmentalised our outlook into a much wanted bucket-list. Children must succeed, and therefore the emphasis on the “best school” as the foundation (who defines a “best-school” by the way would be a discussion for another time and day), an assortment of activities that children must be enrolled in so that they are “not left behind” (what is the benchmark to this, no one ever knows, and these benchmarks change like the RMs in a bank), these activities make them more competent, more attentive, more participative, and add that “wow” factor for the college apps later in life, children must learn to appreciate all the effort parents put in (gratitude or recognition – never figured this one out, we want them to be more mindful or we want them to say thank you to us?!!), and deliver by “standing-out” with grades and marks, so that the in-out transaction is justified. To be fair, schools and managements have also undergone transformations in the last 20 years and from the traditional set ups we grew up in and were familiar with, the new kids on the block brought in international standards, glazed infrastructure and the narrative about 21 st century skills, “out-of-box” thinking, design thinking and constructivism in curriculum (and words that landed up confusing than making it easier in many cases), extensive co-curriculars and schools started reaching out to parents through marketing efforts which yesterday was unheard. It was always parents lining up, schools were happy recipients. The narrative changed, and with more options, clearly comparisons came into play, and with these comparisons some expectations on part of both stake-holders. After all efforts and investments go both ways, don’t they?

What is truly alarming in that in this decade of progress, conversations turned into discussions about performance and expectations, communication turned into battles and arguments and not always within the family. Social media and media playing its part divided the world into “them” and “us” – managements and parents and yet both these needed to converge eventually for the sake of the child, as both were responsible for nurturing, guiding and mentoring and yes the word that we all love – teach! Should it therefore not be from a place of trust, faith and belief? How does that work when you are on opposite sides and assume the intentions are always to blame?

Amongst this chaos and changing times, spare a thought for the child who simply moved as per the directive of decision-makers. Adults, be it parents who picked the school or school managements who decided how the child should learn, what the child should learn and between them, they of course needed achievers – schools happy when students excelled, parents ecstatic for it meant that they were blessed with the perfect strategy, the perfect edupartner in the school and the perfect child.

God forbid if the child made a mistake, or did not match expectations or simply could not cope.The blame was then assigned – either the home or the school. May be both. No one paid attention to the fact that perhaps the child needed time, was/is going through hormonal changes, was not able to culturally fit into that vision that the school represented, or the vision that the parent painted over and over again. Maybe the child was always meant to be just a child, instead of a machine programmed with a set of algorithms to execute a function.

We sadly reduced all our well meaning efforts into a game, and we had to win ahead of the other family, so that we could “secure” the place in the most coveted college/university and once there, success was only a matter of time

Wish life were so easy as we make it out to be. Degrees, qualifications are brilliant starting points but what about essential skills like the ability to become a risk taker, communicator, problem solver and adaptability that eventually leads to settling into personal or professional relationships easier? When the odds add up, the ability to independently navigate and change the course will be what is required. It is therefore so much more than the degrees. It is ups and downs, it is about life lessons learnt, it is about learning to balance!

What happened to all that?

Covid19 happened and for once, some of us foolishly believed it would not become “them” vs “we” and we could course correct. The gods gave us our second chance, the chances previously left to conference discussions, could not be realised. Everyone in the eco system needed to come together, empathise and discuss, find solutions together as it was one battle that needed adults – schools and parents to be on the same side so that strategies would emerge to “correct” some paths and channelise with was available and possible.What has emerged since Monday since many schools in the country started their new academic year post that summer break is the Great Indian Divide once again. Petitions, court hearings, ministers under stress with complaints from parents for waiving fees or discounting, disgruntlement about the on-line learning and quite frankly, the chaos of PreCovid19 replaced by this war of words and accusations and again, the poor child left to the mercy of the decision makers. In this case governments have jumped in as well and some sweeping blanket bans in place.

Where does this leave the child again?

The child locked in the house, away from the “hectic” world he/she was used to – classes, playdates, schools, activities to now being subjected to a fate that is becoming ugly because of the indecisiveness.As a parent and an educator, while I remain compassionate to both sides, the real side I wish to be on right now, is with the children. Communicating with them, and letting them know that what they are experiencing will give them the foundation and base for tomorrow, working with schools to understand what is the best possible alternative to physical sessions, giving the on-line effort some time to stabilise, not optimising every waking minute of that child into a performance marker!!!

We cannot have our children reading the manner in which polls are being administered on line, webinars have one fraction putting the other down (parents you have no idea what your kids are accessing even now …. And what they know). The message to them is simply that adults are confused and fighting, and therefore that is the way to approach something
that is new. Fight.

For the sake of this child, and his/her future, let’s restraint our comments, let’s talk to each other, let’s be compassionate to each other’s problems and let two important decision makers – the educator and parent mutually come to a decision. Leave the government to focus on health and security, and reduce their stress. Let the courts, and lawyers focus on more pressing issues. How it needs to roll out as far as learning is concerned can be easily addressed in a sensible and thoughtful manner by communication. There are many solutions – let us find them together!

For starters, let us start by listening.

Remember all this is for the sake of that child.

Let us become the role models that we hope will inspire the children and set some examples of courage, open-mindedness, patience, tolerance, dignity, collaboration, communication, and creativity

By the way, if you have managed to read this till point, thank you for your patience – these are all 21 st century teaching-learning skills. Not confined to physical classrooms or virtual world alone.

Think to re-think our approach?

Well, I reckon, we will be doing more and more of this for a very long time


Fatema Agarkar

Founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence Veteran of 3 educational start-ups – is now a Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Fatema’s passion for teaching-learning and children defines the different roles she has crafted – as an edupreneur, educator and mentor.

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