Musings on Primary Education

MY nephew is two years old. He is loquacious, mischievous, naughty and what not. Above all he is the apple of our eyes. My sis is planning to admit him in a school this session. She is worried of course; will he get admission in city's most reputed school? How would he perform at interview? How should she and her husband prepare for that particular meeting? All these apprehensions and chaos for admission in a nursery class!

Well, this is the reality of the day. For me it is a crime to send a three-year-old kid to totally unfamiliar surrounding, in the name of educating him. When he should be running after birds and butterflies, he is being taught to count their number in a lifeless book.

When he ought to be making stories out of his own imagination, (whenever it's Manu's turn to tell a story, he improvises the ones he has been told by me or other elders.) and forced to cram and parrot rhymes whose meanings he doesn't know!

It is for the benefit of parents who are anxious to show their child's talent in front of drawing-room gatherings. Neither parents, nor teachers are ready to admit that classroom teaching is not enough to equip a three-year-old
to start learning about life.

Conventional schooling stifles curiosity and bland diet from textbooks kills motivation. These two essentials to learning are generally extinguished when, indeed, they should have been fanned to brilliance. A child is shown a picture of kingfisher and is expected to remember it, but how and why should he? Shouldn't the teacher rather take the kids out on a nature walk and show birds, animals and insects that are in abundance in their surroundings? Why is it necessary for them to cram the name of seagull which they've never seen? Why can't they be told about the weaver bird which has made nests on babul tree outside their school or the tiny sunbird which hovers on flowers in their school garden?

Why aren't they told about the trees in their surrounding environment instead of being told about pines, again in entity unfamiliar to them? It's not that everything should be taught by providing a living example in front of kids, but it should be made relevant to them with the help of examples, pictures and stories.

One day I was showing a picture book to kids in my nursery class, there were large pictures of different species of apes and monkeys. For a while we transformed ourselves in to these monkeys and played a game of war. There was total chaos in the class; everybody was shrieking, shouting and crying (including me) trying to sound like real monkeys. When the mayhem subsided, I gathered them around me and told them that very long ago people had tails just like monkeys. I remember that my statement was instantly rebuffed by the little devils. To prove my point, I had to find and show them another book which had man-like creatures with tails. I was obliged with okay nods. And we resumed normal activities. When we got promoted to grade I we had a conversation on how to write an essay in English. I told them that we should write all we know about that animal (the topic). Like what it eats, where it lives, what are its characteristics and in the end you may insert other information like how many legs, eyes....and so on. So we started discussing on this pattern.

And from no where popped up this topic about how to write on man. (In some earlier discussion, I had floated this idea that may be man is an animal too and I was again criticised for not knowing anything!)

And lo! Someone remembered it. That man had a tail long time ago and it disappeared with time. There was a whoop of excitement and everybody started speaking at once.

Why are today's children not being taught to explore, to enquire, to marvel at the beauty of nature that surrounds them? The reason that comes to my mind is that the teachers themselves aren't conversant with such things. In India, many kindergarten teachers have no professional training, have a minimum education and they are generally working as KG teachers because they need money and not because they love the job.

Some of them may be BA, B.Ed. They are always waiting for better opportunities. In defence of these teachers, it may be said that they are paid poor salaries. Let's not blame them if they take their job in a mechanical way. It is the duty of the school management to provide and recruit staff which is capable of handling such impressionable and delicate minds.

So what must be done? First and foremost, a kindergarten teacher should be jack of all trades, be it art and craft, music or story in telling. He should be keen to learn, should plan the day's work ahead create an atmosphere in which the kids feel free to express themselves. It will help them in self-learning.

Try explaining unfamiliar topics with the help of various teaching aids like pictures, story, books, music, masks and puppets. Music can be of great assistance to channelize the kids' energy.

Go on nature walks. Children enjoy being outdoors. No need to pester them (to mug up the name) each time you see a Black Drongo sitting on a wire. Let them enjoy the association with their surrounding. You can tell them all about the fork-tailed black bird when you get back to school. Learn to keep your enthusiasm in check. Kids relish information they can associate with.

Start attending drama classes. Mimickry and buffoonery sometimes play an important role in reaching out to shy and introvert kids.