Coronavirus Lockdown: Why Children Parks Remain Shut?

India’s coronavirus lockdowns have had several iterations. From Lockdown 1.0 to Lockdown 4.0, as cases rise, so have the relaxations. However, as far as children are concerned, two aspects have remained constant. The first aspect is the push, rather the shove for online education/learning. The second is the continued closure of parks – open green spaces to play for children.

When I refer to parks, I neither mean the places with rides nor the places with slides/swings. The park might as well have these things. However, I mean parks as a place where children can chase squirrels, collect twigs, leaves, seedpods etc, roll and slide over the grass, snoop on the centipedes, and more. All these activities happen under the shade of trees accompanied by the light wind to ensure that there is no sweat even in this weather.

I fully respect the lockdown measures imposed by the Government. At the same time, I also feel that the easing of relaxations pertaining to children is not getting the importance it deserves.

A plethora of relaxations, but not one for the parks

The industries have resumed. All sorts of offices have started functioning. Trains, flights, buses, taxis, autos have started. All the shops are open. Resumption of liquor outlets grabbed the national headlines. However, the parks remained shut and continue to remain shut till day.

For reasons beyond my understanding, parks are spoken about by Government in the same breath as malls, theatres, religious places, restaurants, educational institutions (barring conducting of examinations) etc. All these places are closed and congested. Majority of them are air-conditioned. All of them require disinfectants to get rid of the coronavirus and all the other organisms.

In comparison, the park is open to air place. It gets sufficient sun-light as a natural disinfectant. There is enough and more place to maintain social distancing norms. Even then, a park is nowhere getting mentioned as a candidate for immediate re-opening.

A multitude of options for other relaxations, but not one for the parks

The Government has come up with social distancing norms for offices, factories, shops, public and private transport etc. In some states/cities, shops follow odd-even dates for opening. There is a safety SOP/protocol for almost everything. However, none exists for parks.

Similar to other relaxations, the parks could have also had their recommencement protocols. The park could have different time-slots for children of different ages. A time-slot of 6-8 am for children below 8 years, time-slot of 8-10 am for children from 8-10 years and likewise. The parks could have odd-even dates, odd for children with parents, and even for the elderly.

I mean, if there is a will, there could be a way for re-opening of parks. Just that, the Government does not seem to consider a park as an essential service.

The push for online learning, but not one for the parks

The Honourable Minister for Human Resources Development, Ramesh Pokhriyal, has been unequivocally prescribing online learning for children of all ages so that they do miss out on their valuable education. Every private educational institution has logged on to virtual classrooms for their students.

However, not one of them has advocated/spoken up even once for opening up of the parks. Seemingly, for them, the learning for the students happens only in the confines of the classroom, physical or virtual. They would not even consider parks as a recreational option for their students; else even for that the Cabinet Minister/educational institutions would stand up for its re-opening.

To be honest, even in the best of times, hands-on experiential learning in the lap of nature for children below 8 years was never an option in Indian educational context and it is not even now. Similarly, for children above 8 years, reinforcement of their classroom learning never happened in the outdoor context and it continues to remain so.

In nutshell, well-fed online education has many parents, promoters and care-takers. In comparison, a park is a mal-nourished orphan and continues to remain so.

Parental decision

The detractors of opening up of parks can say that children can contact the coronavirus in the park and pass on to their parents/grandparents. Why should they be put at risk? Spot on. For that matter, why should an adult go out for work, contact the coronavirus and put their children/parents at risk? Well, the adult has to work, everybody agrees. Well, the children have to play in open green spaces, nobody agrees.

There is every probability of things to go wrong, which anyways are going wrong, even without opening up the parks. Moreover, it has to be parents who have to decide whether it is safe for their children and them to go to a park. Why a nanny state is needlessly getting into these minute details and deciding on behalf of parents? This has lesser risk vis-a-vis much other stuff that the state has already opened up and put the entire nation at risk.

Summing Up

Coronavirus lockdown could have been an opportunity to resurrect the importance of parks in the growing up years for children.

Just that, there is no entrenched lobby to speak up on behalf of the children or the parks.

Language Policy In Indian Education: Pile It Up On The Children

I figured out how the Indian educational system initiates rote learning for students by turning upside down the LSRW approach in acquiring languages. However, I could not understand the reason, then.

I know that Indian students are taught multiple languages; I was a student myself, long back. However, I was taken aback when I read that currently, NCERT recommends that students learn a minimum of five (5) languages in their schooling years.

The quote from NCERT website: We strongly believe that all children should leave school with CALP (Cognitive Advance Language Proficiency) in at least three languages; they should of course know a couple of others at least at the level of BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills).

Now, I think I can connect the dots. The Indian education system has no option but to upturn the LSRW approach for teaching languages. They have to torture the child with so many languages and ensure that there is some resemblance of learning at the end of it. There is no time for the conventional time-taking methodical LSRW approach. What has to be done? Pile it up on the children. Bash on regardless. Focus on Writing, Reading might follow later. The student is left on her/his own for Speaking and Listening.

This brings us to the larger picture of what is the language policy in Indian Education and what purpose it serves?

The Language Policy

The Constitution, adopted in 1950, necessitated that English and Hindi be utilized for conducting the Union’s official business for a time of fifteen years [s. 343(2) and 343(3)]. After that time, Hindi should turn into the sole official dialect of the Union. This did not happen. What to do now?

  • Education policymakers knew that Hindi cannot be disrespected, so teach Hindi.
  • They recognized that English is not going to leave the Indian shores, so teach English.
  • Now, they became conscious that except for the northern states, Hindi is not the mother tongue for the rest of the citizens of the country. So, teach the third language.
  • Sanskrit is practically not used anywhere in the country. But we cannot forget the glorious past of the country. So, teach the fourth language.
  • Now, with so many commissions and omissions, we are bound to step on the toes of some of the communities and religions. To respect their feelings, teach the fifth language.

I know I made the above explanation up. However, there is no other practical way of explaining this silly obsession of teaching five languages to students.

The language policy takes into account the reality of multilingualism, the push and pulls of regionalism, the political need to carry every religion and community together and the inevitability of English. The hotchpotch ragtag mishmash jumble of teaching five languages is the incorrigible output.

Just that, it fails to take into account the audience for this folly of a policy. The children pay the price for this craziness and bear the brunt of taking the load of studying five languages.

The Purpose

NCERT dutifully mentions “We should also note that several recent studies have effectively demonstrated the positive relationship of multilingualism with cognitive growth, social tolerance, divergent thinking and scholastic achievement.” NCERT does not give a link to any of these studies.

I am not aware of any other country in the world that is teaching five languages to their children. Would other countries not be aware of what their children are missing out on by not studying five languages? This seems to be a well-guarded secret by Indian educationists.

Indian society is as much an inequitable and discriminatory as it can be. When it comes to social ills and leaving the marginal and vulnerable sections unprotected, benefits of multilingualism, as quoted by NCERT, seems to have bypassed India.

Rather, I feel that by making a child focus on so many languages simultaneously, Indian education system ensures that the child does not master any. Leave aside becoming a master of languages, s/he would abhor the languages. Do you need proof? Check the number of students opting for JEE/NEET and those opting for humanities at +2 level.

I agree that bilingualism is helpful for the child, but it is about two languages. Why is the third language getting added to the conundrum? The further addition of the fourth and fifth language is a sheer torment of young minds.

Would NCERT be conducting alternative studies that limiting the languages for school children to a maximum of two would lead to a better academic outcome? Apart from letting children enjoy their childhood, seemingly an objective that is long forgotten.

Apart from increasing the weight of school bags, I see no purpose of the language policy in Indian education.

What would be your views about the language policy in Indian education and the purpose it serves?

PS: I do not think, though, five languages are being taught to children anywhere in the country. It is another silly government rule that no school cares to follow. Even though the children are burdened with 3/4 languages, and that itself is too many.

LSRW: Where And How Rote Learning Starts In Indian Educational System

LSRW is considered a natural way of acquiring a language. A child is expected to go through the four stages of LSRW in sequential order. A child would first listen to the mother tongue spoken around her/him. At the second stage, the child learns to speak – makes sounds, moves on to alphabets, small words and gradually, the sentences. The third stage would be reading – picture books and tactile material, establishing a relationship with letters and words. The last stage would be writing.

The above is how LSRW (Listen Speak Read Write) is expected to function for a child when s/he acquires a new language. However, the Indian educational system has turned this principle upside down and come up with an opposite version for the language learning of Indian students.

Disclaimer: I am a stay-at-home father, since the last three years, to my now five and a half-year-old twin daughters. My wife and I are also trying to develop a sort of home-schooling for the girls. In the process, I try to figure out how the Indian education system of curriculum, schools, books, NCERT, methodology etc work. This is how I stumbled upon LSRW and the below are my views on its utter disregard in the Indian educational system.

Writing as a rote skill

Have you ever considered what is taught to children in the play-school/school? Invariably, in the majority of the schools, writing will be an integral part of whatever the child is exposed to. And that too, it will be in English.

Have you ever wondered why the reading does not precede writing in Indian schools? I guess that reading cannot be dictated, reading cannot be forced, reading cannot be made to order. After all, reading is an age-appropriate skill. The child will learn to read, only when s/he is ready to read. However, writing is a flexible skill and amenable to manipulation.

The schools make the child write alphabets, words and short sentences, even though the child in the natural course of things has not encountered them. Ideally, the child should be able to read and comprehend what s/he is writing, but here the child is made to write irrespectively.

In short, Indian schools force-teach writing, preceding reading and in many instances, even before the speaking and listening happen. After all, the probability of English as a mother tongue for us, Indians, is fairly remote.

The rot starts with NCERT

I was wondering how schools could turn the LSRW on its head and get away with it. Unsurprisingly, they have been given a go-ahead by NCERT, itself. The below two quotes are from NCERT website.

“For a very long time now, we have been talking in terms of LSRW skills as the objectives of languages teaching. This exclusive focus on discrete skills has had fairly adverse consequences.”

NCERT does not bother to list even one of what these adverse consequences are.

“We now plead for a more holistic perspective on language proficiency. After all, when we are Speaking, we are also simultaneously Listening and when we are Writing, we are also Reading in a variety of ways.”

Yes, NCERT is right. When we speak, we also listen, for listening precedes speaking. When we write, we also read, for reading precedes writing. NCERT uses the correct order of LSRW and then reverses the interpretation when it comes to actual implementation. NCERT maintains stoic silence on the holistic perspective on language proficiency and does not go beyond bashing up LSRW.

Thus, NCERT gives its blessing to schools to take up Writing as the first step in language teaching. In the process, NCERT does not cite any study/argument/logic to arrive at its convoluted inference.

The above two points are at actuals. You can see them in execution in schools and read in NCERT’s website, in letter and spirit. The third point is my interpretation of the first two points.

Schools and parents lap up writing

Formal environment for kids in India is big business. They charge a bomb. So, they have to also deliver, something. Unfortunately for them, reading as a skill cannot be delivered. Speaking as a skill takes time. In a short period, what is possible is writing. So, the child writes.

Education and learning are tangible, as well as intangible. We, Indian parents, understand and believe what we see a child doing. We do not tend to bother much about what is indeterminate. A child writing is a perceptible occurrence and it makes us happy that our child is learning. So, the child writes.

Summing Up

The educationists, the parents, everyone bemoans that the Indian educational system promotes rote learning. Basis of my interpretation of LSRW, I believe that rote learning starts early, very early in the Indian educational system.

It starts with the un-natural preference for writing, a skill that should come last in the natural order of skills to be learnt for a child to acquire a language and we teach it first before any other language skill is picked up by the child. I did not find a single article on this on the internet, neither for nor against. Seemingly, it is not a topic of discussion.

We are trying to follow LSRW with our twin daughters. Let us see how it unfolds.

What are your views on LSRW and the Indian educational system?

Why A Girl Is Never A Hero? Why Only A Boy Is A Hero?

“Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero?” These are the perpetual questions raised by both of our twin daughters. Be it fiction, non-fiction, storybooks, mythology, cartoons, newspapers – whatever and wherever, both the girls keep raising the above questions.

To be honest, if it would not have been for my daughters’ raising these questions persistently, I would not have even realized it. It has become so obvious in popular culture and so ingrained into my mind that I was oblivious to have myself become synonymous with it. What is it?

Every child would raise these questions

My twin daughters are no wonder kids. If they can raise these questions “Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero”, I am certain that most of the other girls of their age would also ask similar questions. Why limit only to girls? I am sure that boys would also raise the same questions.

Why limit to girls and boys of the current generation? I suppose, my wife and our mothers too, when they were kids, would have raised these questions, as well. I do not remember if I asked these questions. Do you remember asking these questions in your childhood?

That is precisely the point. Only the children ask these questions. When they go on to become adults, somehow somewhere these questions stop existing to them. Along with their childhood, they leave it behind. What is it?

Every adult would not raise these questions

When the adults read the storybooks to their kids, why would they not be alarmed by the pronoun “He” staring at them all around? When the adults see the cartoons and movies with their kids, why would they not be perturbed by a boy/man saving the day and the world, all the time? At the time of narrating a mythological tale, why would adults not be concerned that it is always adventures and heroics of a God – invariably a man.

An adult takes it for granted that is how things have been, things are and things ought to be (Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero?) It becomes a norm, it gets accepted as a fait accompli, it becomes a part of life. What is it?

Is it the market or the psychology or something else or everything put together

There is a big market for kids’ story-telling material. It is all about imagination, they say, and is limitless / knows no boundaries. Majority of these kids’ stuff, if not all, is dominated by male heroes. Why is this, so-called, imagination only getting limited about the little specific around the gender and nothing else?  Why cannot writers and artists centre their imagination around a girl? Is there no market for a female hero? Would parents not buy such stuff?

Or is it something that is even more deeply ingrained into our psyche? We do not think that women are worth it and can do good stuff on their own. They always have to play second fiddle – a Sita to a Ram and a Chutki to a Chhota Bheem. Imagination, an extension of our thought process, cannot exist in isolation and is a reflection of the story-teller / the society. These story-tellers, irrespective of gender, do not seem to think highly about the female gender, apart from being a side-kick.

I do not seem to get it. Is it the market that won’t accept the girls in the spotlight as the central characters? Is it our (man’s) interpretation of the women and their role in society and life, at large, and women being a party to man’s version of themselves? Or is it something else? Or everything of it? What is it?

Exceptions are not the norm

I know that the situation is not as bleak as I have made it out to be. We have exceptions. There is a Jhansi Ki Rani and there is a Kalpana Chawla. There is an Ela Bhatt and there is a Hima Das. But, that is all. These are the exceptions and not the norm. List down 20 notable women in public life in India, (no, the Bollywood examples do not count), and you will yourself know the status of affairs.

If you choose to live in denial and say that a situation is improving gradually, looking at things optimistically, I have nothing much to say. Just that, coronavirus came and turned our version of normal and acceptable life upside down. It is a forced change, though. Why cannot there be a similar and swift change in our outlook towards girl/women? What is stopping us?

A hero is now considered to be a gender-neutral word and is also increasingly used to refer to a woman (source: https://www.dictionary.com/). A lip-service. In real life, we are far from the notion, nowhere closer, not even started.

I continue to have no answer to my daughters’ questions – Why a girl is never a hero? Why only a boy is a hero? I don’t want them to forget the question as they grow older, unlike their mother and grand-mothers.

What would be your answer? What is it?

PS: Please do not bring the sham of International Women’s Day into the discussion to say that the situation is changing for good. I find it for the worse. I am referring to a change for my daughters’ generation, and not for the nth generation, down the line.