I started my day by comparing the lives of two pre-teen girls I have known for a while – Ahana, my brother’s neighbour in Mumbai and Reena, who I have had the pleasure of facilitating at Tamarind Tree. Ahana lives with a working father and a homemaker mother. She goes to a private English medium school, almost 3 kms away. The lunch box gets packed by 9 o’clock. A school bus picks her up once she leaves the house all dressed. Her dad sneaks in some extra pocket money as he drops her off to the bus.
After a full day at school which involves both academics and extra-curricular activities and of course, a bit of fun with friends, she comes back home where she is welcomed with fresh snacks and a juice box waiting. To unwind a successful, yet stressful day, she decides to watch some television. Following that, Ahana catches up on her homework and/or attends her music lessons. She then comes back to have dinner, a meal she gets to enjoy with both her mother and father. Typically, her day would end by falling asleep around 10 pm.
Reena’s day begins at 6 in the morning. She belongs to a tribal community in Dahanu, 140 kms north of Mumbai, and is one of the most diligent students. She goes out to fill the drinking water, comes back home to cook and clean, and helps to take care of her three younger siblings. Her parents work on rice fields, earning just enough to barely feed themselves and their children. When required, Reena joins them even on the fields, for example, in the harvest season. After her early morning routine, she comes to school at 12 pm. It takes her approximately 20 minutes to reach by walking. In the evening, she is back home by 5:30 pm and helps out with the chores again. Her day ends by 11 at night and next day begins with the same routine.
We will probably relate more to Ahana, and why not. After all, this luxury of freedom allowed us to focus on things like our hobbies, future, career and passion. Observing the differences in the lives of these two girls makes me wonder how everyday scenarios play a vital role in how our life turns out to be, and how we function.
I did what a curious mind does – I researched, and learned about this amazing feature of our brain called ‘Plasticity’. Without going into detailed and scientific an explanation, plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience. It is the reason why children are able to learn a new language quickly as compared to the time taken by adults. Similarly, children who receive early training for a musical instrument or a sport or any art form, are able to pick it up quickly because of their plastic brain, which is why it’s important to establish the basics when the kids are young. Going back to the socio-economic differences, and how it could lead to brain development as well as skill-building, intervening at the right time can highly benefit children. One of the most effective and direct ways of intervention is school or education-based. Quality education can improve the overall experience of children which would consecutively structure their brain and prove to be an effective tool for holistic development. Another type of intervention could be family-based intervention, highly challenging considering the Indian scenario.
While discussing a child’s learning ability here at Tamarind Tree, we have to consider the roadblocks caused by their socio-economic background, especially in a first generation learning environment. For a few students, we just can’t push much. No matter how much we try, there comes a saturation level. Here, interventions like developing a skill set are more effective. For example, we have started a bamboo workshop in collaboration with a group of local artists, who teach making products which can also be sold for a living.
Education has different meaning for different people. In a tribal community, a skill is valued more than knowledge. Our intervention here is to provide enough exposure to the child and not pressurize them with study material. Learning is more important and the ability to become an independent learner is the focus because finding a way around your problems is a life skill everyone needs.
Here, I’m trying to offer a perspective by sharing my observations. There are issues I never knew existed and hence, reasons behind them remained unknown. Once I started getting more information, I realised how deeply knitted they are, to n number of variants. In this case, one of them being the suppression of Adivasis over hundreds of years leading to their overall development (or lack of it) which further links to an individual’s growth. I now can’t be not conscious enough to identify such issues.