Free the child’s potential, and you will transform them into the world
Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high.Rabindranath Tagore
Where knowledge is free.
Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arm toward perfection
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever widening thought and action
Into the heaven of freedom.
On one of the first sunny days of the year, I found myself in a busy atmosphere. Teachers briskly moved from one room to another while carrying the models, some students were busy finishing their models, whereas other students bounced from one place to another excited to go inside and some peered through the windows of the room that were closed unable to hold their curiosity. The glow in their eyes showed their excitement for this new event.
It was a science exhibition, conducted at a small government school in a village called Uliyana. As students stuck up their charts, placed their models and rehearsed their explanation there was a sense of nervousness and excitement in the atmosphere. Unlike regular days, there was a 100 % attendance for this event. It was a day where they could show case what they had learned. A day where they presented on education and the importance of the same, to the teachers, the community and other schools. It was a science exhibition. Children had invited their parents, teachers had invited headmasters and other teachers and the field staff of the organization had invited School Management Committee (SMC) members and community members.
Once everything was in place, the students sat down and prepared to explain their projects. Their faces expressed the nervousness that they were feeling. Once the teachers and the parents entered, the show began. Each student took turns to explain their models, charts and experiments to their family members and teachers. With every person that came to them, their confidence increased. They explained every single detail and tried to answer questions. At the corner of the room, a proud science teacher looked content. She had never witnessed such a sight.
“Most of the students don’t even attend school on a regular basis and now they are explaining, understanding and answering questions. I must say that I did doubt the idea of conducting a science exhibition but the effort put for two weeks has paid off. The students have understood their topics and that is all I care about.” said the teacher.
All the parents left with smiles on their faces as they watched their children explain with excitement. As the students got up, they were asked to remain seated for a special guest. Their bright smiles expressed that they had accomplished what they hoped to accomplish. In a while the guest (PEO) headmaster entered the room there was a completely different atmosphere. The children could read the tension in the air and realized that the guest was important even to their teachers. They responded to the atmosphere with fear. While the headmaster moved from one student to another, the students next in line called out to their teachers for help. While the headmaster went to one end of the exhibition a student hastily called me.
“Didi, can you tell me everything you know about my model and tell me fast. What if I don’t do it right and I forget it” asked the child when I went up to him
“Explain your model to me” I said.
He stuttered the explanation of the model. As I knelt down to meet his eye I assured him that he knew his model well and that he had nothing to worry about. He nervously smiled at my response. As the headmaster went around more of the class relaxed. At the end the boy who was nervous was able to explain the whole thing to the willing headmaster who was more than happy to indulge every single student.
In India like many other eastern countries respect is a part of a social norm. It is something that you are taught from a young age. In the education system that has an inbuilt hierarchy across stakeholders, the students ability to express freely and even learn takes a hit most of the time. The students fear the reaction of their teachers, which affects their performance in scholastic and co-scholastic activities. At the Uday Samudayik Pathshala run by Gramin Shiksha Kendra, the teachers and students are friends. They speak up about their opinions, discuss with their teachers, learn from experience and are able to express with complete freedom.
With the outreach (Vistaar) program to the various government schools for Science, Math Art, Games and Sports, the Vistaar teachers try to ensure that the students at the government school also get the same environment. But due to the limitation of time and resources, students are still exposed to the hierarchies prevalent in a government school and the outside world. The students are affected so much by it that they completely stop expressing themselves in any form. It has been shown that exposure to circumstances that produce persistent fear and chronic anxiety can have lifelong consequences by disrupting the development of the brain.
The Story Of Iniya
Vikram ji, our team leader at one of our schools has worked for more than eight years and has seen the effect of an inclusive, encouraging and free environment for the students and knew that is what he wanted for his child as well but at the end he had to succumb to the pressure of his family, who were determined to provide the best education for their child by placing little Iniya* at an English medium private school. It is often an assumption that private education gives the child a better opportunity of learning. Iniya went to a private school and with time she spoke lesser, smiled lesser and played lesser. She often started making excuses so that she did not have to go to school.
When questioned by her father she would not respond because of her fear. By spending some time with her, her parents also realized that she was not at her age appropriate learning level. Vikram Ji, decided to take her to Uday School. The first day she did not speak to anyone and kept to herself and her father. She sat next to him as she watched all the other children play in the ground. Vikram Ji, noticed Iniya smiling once in a while as she watched the children play. From the month of July the eight year old joined the Uday Community School at Fariya.
The hierarchical system that she had become accustomed to was hard for her to get out of. She was used to seeing the teacher as an adult who could hold her solely responsible for mistakes and therefore she rarely spoke in class but with time and effort from all the teachers Iniya started expressing herself. The teachers ensured to create an inclusive and encouraging environment where the students learnt from experience rather than being solely blamed for their mistakes. With time Iniya was able to read and her father found her doing well in academics and at sports. She speaks up and expresses herself from time to time. Even though there is a long way to go she has started her journey on becoming a confident young girl.
To ensure a holistic development of a child it is important to consider their emotional and mental development. An inclusive and encouraging environment devoid of any hierarchical pressure will help children grow into confident, sensitive, patient and understanding adults. Children might not remember what you say but they always remember how you make them feel.
*Names changed to protect identity