It is often said that the best gift we can give our children is Education. Indians have taken this adage to a whole new level with Indian parent’s, especially the belly (read bulging middle class) of India becoming obsessive about education. The picture below is self-descriptive and explains the Helicopter Parenting well.
Education has thus emerged as one of the largest industries in the country, and with commercialisation of education, rote learning without stress on the holistic development of the child has become the norm.
Education to most of us in India has been about gathering as many fancy degrees as we can. With the imbalance between good schools and our population, parents have also quite justifiably mostly focused on academics. Unfortunately, somewhere in the rat race, the core of Education, Knowledge and Learning, has got lost.
‘You can impose a certain discipline on children, dress them into a certain mould, lash them into a desired path, but unless you can get their hearts and natures on your side, the conformity to this imposed rule becomes hypocritical and heartless, a conventional, often a cowardly compliance’ – Sri Aurobindo
As a young mother, I was pretty much the same, but the entire paradigm of education changed for me when we moved to London, UK for a couple of years and I was introduced to the Montessori system (founded by an Italian doctor). The irony is that I was introduced to it by a Japanese friend – An Indian parent introduced to an Italian system by a Japanese in the UK.
For readers who are new to Montessori, this method of teaching was introduced by Italian physician and educator, Dr Maria Montessori. A paediatric doctor, she would often observe children in her care. Soon she developed the material and method to educate children with learning difficulties and later on went on to teach low-income mainstream children. She noted that given the right environment, free choice of education material, uninterrupted work and freedom of movement and activity under limited adult supervision resulted in better learning.
I was intrigued by the system and attended numerous sessions. The key difference was the mixed age classrooms where the teacher played the role of a facilitator and let each child operate at their pace without force-fitting a curriculum. The children were free to explore the various activities in the classroom and had the liberty to pick any activity they liked. The activities / materials have been designed keeping the learning needs at various ages / stages of development, e.g., motor skills at an early age, being independent at a slightly later age and social and cognitive skills as they turn 6-8 years old. The focus is on discovery and invoking basic curiosity in the children. By doing this, the Montessori system prepares them to be life ready and better individuals.
Outside of what parents impart at home, children spend considerable time at schools which forms the building blocks to shape them and in turn, the future of our society. While it is not practical to change our education system, I think it is important that we imbibe some of the aspects of alternative systems such as Montessori which can lead to an overall improvement in our society.
In my experience as a mother, following are the key attributes which the current education system does not stress enough upon:
1. Independence – Dr Maria Montessori famously said, “The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” A task completed on their own not only gives them a strong sense of accomplishment, but it also increases their confidence. Everyday activities like choosing their clothes, dressing up, eating on their own, cleaning their cupboards, cleaning up after meals, etc. can help instil a sense of independence. It is worth all the wait and patience, to see the child tie the lace and their eyes light up on their achievement.
2. Responsibility – One of the biggest failures of our incumbent education system has been to celebrate individual success with lesser regard to collective achievements. This has led to a callous approach towards familial, societal, environmental responsibilities. There are multiple attributes of the Montessori system which promote a deep sense of responsibility and social awareness. E.g., (i) Children are trained to clean up their surroundings and ensure the activity area is returned to its original state before they embark on a new activity, (ii) With the mixed age classes, older children are trained to support and guide younger children with their activities, (iii) Every day, one child brings food for the entire class promoting a sense of sharing and caring. A lot of large problems faced by India could be eradicated if we start preparing children from their primitive years, e.g., cleanliness, social harmony, sharing, etc.
3. Empathy – Joint family system naturally leads to strong sense of empathy amongst individuals. Nuclearisation of families leads to undue focus on children, with empathy being one of the biggest casualties. Strong societies are always built on strong empathy. I would recommend workshops with less privileged kids, children with special needs, visits to old age homes, orphanages etc. to be made part of the cur-riculum. Parents and schools should encourage the habit of giving and charity for the needy.
4. Decision making skills – Parents at home and teachers in the school tend to micro-manage everything a child does during a day. In the Montessori environment, every day, the child is required to choose an activity that they want to do. Once chosen, the child organises materials required to undertake that activity, completes that activity, and then keeps all the materials back in their respective place. This cycle repeats every time a child wants to do an activity. This entire sequence of choice, orderly execution, completion and winding up instils number of qualities – decision making, ability to operate on their own and being organised.
5. Curiosity – Children by their very nature are very curious and the present education system tends to suppress their curiosity by force fitting a curriculum. Rishi Kanad or Newton later would not have discovered the Laws of Motion if they did not have curious minds. There should be sessions where speakers from various walks of life take workshops on a variety of topics like current affairs, art, music, history, space science, mythology, business etc.
6. Environment conscious – This is really need of the hour with the clock ticking away. Explaining waste management, minimal and optimal use of plastics, farming (a lot of schools do take children on farming trips to show them the laborious process to grow food and empathise with the farmers) will make the children better citizens of the world.
In a nutshell, the education system should also focus on Emotional Quotient (EQ) and not just on Intelligence Quotient (IQ). High EQ will help children face varied situations more holistically, teach them empathy, resilience and build confidence. In the primary years, the education system should focus on equipping the children with ability to understand their feelings and ways to cope and deal with them.
This news piece was so heartening to see post the World Cup match between Germany and Japan. I would really like to believe their schools have done something right to instil this habit in their citizens.
About: CA Ankan Gupta Rastogi,
A Delhi girl by heart living in Mumbai for the past 10 years, she now loves both cities. Chartered Accountant by profession she works with a CA firm for the past 10 year. She is a good listener, people friendly and likes to mentor her juniors. She likes reading non-fiction and Indian mythological books and watching documentaries on various subjects. She constantly strives to contribute to saving the environment in her own small ways, from curtailing unnecessary purchases, to instilling the habit of reuse in her children.
She can be reached on : email@example.com
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