Have we taken away the joy of learning from children?

Have we taken away the joy of learning from children?

But is all that changing? Has the modern, fast track, globalised world sniffed out the very essence of childhood? Is growing up becoming more traumatic? How else can one explain the recent horrific reports?

Unable to bear the shame of poor performance in examination, a boy committed suicide by hanging; nothing new one would say. Only the age of the boy was 10 years. It defies reason that a mere child could take such a drastic adult-like step.

In another spine chilling incident, two girls were poisoned by a friend of the unsuspecting victims who apparently saw them as rivals in the approaching examination. The perpetrator was all of nine years. Shocking indeed!

It is not that children do not experience negative emotions like fear, anger or jealousy, but it would normally revolve around seemingly innocuous things like fear of darkness, sad at losing a game, anger at denial of a toy, but rarely are they known to take such violent forms.

Although both are far apart in the nature of case, several commonalities emerge in addition to both involving children. For one, both homicide and suicide is an expression of prolonged and complex negative emotions including aggression, while the former is turned towards others, the latter is aimed towards self. Therefore, it is evident that both the children had been in the grip of these emotions for quite some time, and they would surely have shown tell-tale signs. If only their parents and teachers had recognised it, timely intervention could have helped.

Another common factor is the ever dreaded and despised school routine — examination. In both the cases it was the acute fear of underachievement that became their nemesis. Examination time takes a heavy toll on the mental health of students. Since some years now, much to the concern of all there has been a steady increase in the rate of suicide among youth, where academic performance is found to be the single largest cause.

But nothing prepared one for the severity of the examination angst that failed to spare even children. It is intriguing to find the age of the victims of exam stress slowly dipping. This perhaps is a topic of research for psychologists, sociologists and educationists but it can safely be predicted that they are unlikely to find one single determining factor.

Ever so often efforts are put to revamp our education system by changing syllabi and examination patterns. Yet hardly anything has changed for children in classrooms, they remain as repressive and burdensome as before, rather more so. Competition and motivation in education have been taken rather too far, wringing the joy out of learning.

Comparison

Every child is goaded to perform better and unfavourably compared with the other by most adults, giving way to resentment, low self worth and stress. In this formal, mass education set up we fail to respect the individual learner who might have a differential learning pace; the system is cruel to slow and nonconformist learners. Our penchant for success makes us remember Albert Einstein for instance, only as a celebrated scientist and conveniently forget that he was a slow learner and had almost been written off by his teachers.

Since there is no parameter in use yet to judge a student’s overall worth, it makes little sense to constantly make a child go through the rigours of evaluation that is largely based on the mindset of a regressive system and then branding for life as poor, average or bright.

Perceiving education as a mere means of livelihood has succeeded in commodifying it, where failure has no place. It puts immense pressure on children by focusing more on the distant adult life rather than on their present childhood forcing them to grow up all too soon. The years between childhood and adulthood are as though on a fast-forward mode.

Finally, whatever is left of childhood after the extensive damage by education is usurped by the ubiquitous TV that acts as baby sitter in majority of homes. Children are inadvertently exposed to unlimited peep into adult lives that is far from innocent. The spectrum of negative emotions that a child is witness to albeit virtually are emulated without neither comprehending them totally nor having the means to restrain or the power to control.

Today’s children therefore do not grow up gradually and naturally as did the earlier generations, they enter adult life while still in their childhood losing out on the pleasures and privileges of the latter, much like the artificially ripened fruits that lose the natural fragrance and sweetness in the process.

The blame squarely lies on all of us for we have collectively robbed childhood. “Children are living messages we send to a time we will never see”, said Neil Postman rightly. We owe it to our children that we engage in serious introspection.

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