India is a country of billions, in a constant competition for the limited resources available. So, I get that we need to do everything faster than the rest of the world. I get why we need to stand up before the seat belts signs are turned off in airplanes. I get that we need to jostle in queues, and prepare our children for apocalypse. But, I am still unable to wrap my head around India’s ridiculous pre-school curriculum
Kindergarten of Horrors
My daughter is three and a half, and attends a ‘modern’ school, with a curriculum ‘inspired’ by International education. And yet, keeping conformity with the education board that they must affiliate to, the school sends tens of pages of ‘homework’ for my toddler every week. Before she is four, she is expected to be able to write her alphabets, numbers, and draw association words. When she was born, I had promised myself that I would try to let her have a carefree childhood, to play in the mud, and dawdle in the scorching sun all she wanted. So, when the homework started pouring in, I was worried. I started looking around to see if her school was especially stringent, and found the exact opposite. My daughter is in Kindergarten heaven, and she could have been in a much stickier puddle. Here’s what is out there:
- Real anecdote 1: An agitated mother, of a 3.6 year old, in Bangalore was found ranting in a social parenting community about her son’s wavering love for school.
The kid was tasked to write the alphabet ‘1’ – 350 times in one week. Yes, 350 times. That is almost the number of days in a whole, bloody year!
Of course, he hates the guts of formal education, and doesn’t want anything to do with school
- Real anecdote 2: An involved mother of a 2.7 year old in Chennai asked for help from her virtual friends. Her son was interested in writing, but didn’t seem to have a strong grip of the pencil yet. She was worried, as his writing ‘exam’ was around the corner. He had to magically learn to print the 26 alphabets, and numbers till 20, within a week.
- Real anecdote 3: My friend’s daughter is 4 years old. She goes to a famous convent school, with strict exam schedules. She has already learnt writing all the letters and numbers, and is practicing cursive writing currently. Often, she gets a flak from school for her handwriting, which to my untrained eyes, looked prettier than anything I can scribe today. She is expected to compose sentences by the end of the year. But, what was most disturbing to me was that, her class did not have any play time at all!
The only downtime offered to the kids at this school is a 20 min period, when they are supposed to put their heads on the desk, and sleep off their vibrancy! Yeah, it riled me up just to write this.
All the above stories are 100% true, and am sure toddler parents can completely identify. We are sending our sub-five year-olds to factories that churn out humanoids, for the industrial machine. And, we are gladly sacrificing their happiness, and their shot at a curious childhood.
What does Science have to say about it?
Dr. Stephen Camarata, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and author of the book, “The Intuitive Parent: Why the Best Thing for Your Child Is You”, states, in this Washington Post article, that the “ongoing pressure to “prepare” a baby’s brain to participate in traditional school-style learning” is leading to increased rote learning, from development of reasoning. But, we already know this. We knew this when I was cramming for my board examinations, 15 years back! Despite the knowledge, we seem to continue to move in that direction.
Unfortunately, the hyper-vigilance is often counter-productive.
Kids who start too much too early, are less likely to develop self-motivation. They have more fear of failure, and are more prone to stress, anxiety, and depression. They usually resort to homework avoidance, their curiosity is inhibited, and they tend to lie, or manipulate.
Give back their Childhood
There is a powerful, natural tool, that children were <always> supposed to learn through – playtime. Dr. David Elkind, author of ‘The Power of Play’, clarifies that imaginative play is the most powerful catalyst for social, physical, emotional, and moral development in young children. And yet, we are increasingly cutting it down from the Kindergarten ‘schedule’.
An author and a mother in the States, Bunmi Laditan, went viral last month when she wrote an open letter to the teachers of her 10 year old, saying that her daughter was “done with homework”. This is an important message. We need to be a lot more like her, standing by our children against an oppressive education system. Parents in the framework of public and private education, in India, need to get involved with the teachers, regarding what is suitable for their wards. More than anything, we need to push for a lot of unstructured playtime for our kids.
There are some alternate schools out there that are offering a setup like that, for young minds to blossom. But, they are rare, and most parents hesitate to go so far off the beaten track, in formal education. There is only one clear takeaway for me – it is fine if my daughter doesn’t get her lines straight, or her cursive down to pat! It is fine if she can’t name the State capitals, or recite the table of 9; as long as she is happy, active, curious, and interested in life.
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