Factors To Consider When Buying A Kids Bicycle

We bought bicycles for our twin daughters, B +ve and O +ve. Based on our first-hand experience as parents, below are the factors to consider when buying a kids bicycle. Few of these reasons may seem counter-intuitive. Believe me, they will help the child and you in the long run.

Child’s feet should touch the ground

The innumerable charts on the net shall depict age, height and in-seam of the kids and accordingly, will recommend the size of the wheels for the kids’ bicycle. This gets confusing. To keep it simple, I suggest taking the kid to the bicycle shop and making her/him sit on each available model.

Now comes the tricky part. We are bound to think that the height of the kid will increase in a not-so-distant future. Hence, we might as well buy a bicycle that s/he can use for 2-3 years or even more. This will mean that, when the bicycle is being bought, the child’s feet will not touch the ground while sitting on the seat of the bicycle. This will necessitate the side/support wheels.

All the cycles in the shop would already be fitted with side/support wheels. If you look up on  Amazon, all the kids’ bicycle images will also show side/support wheels. If you happen to look around in the apartment/colony, the majority of the kids’ bicycles, if not all, wherein the kid is learning to cycle will have side/support wheels. My suggestion – Please do NOT buy a bicycle with side/support wheels.

The reason is simple. The child has to majorly learn two things when learning to cycle. Balance and Pedal. With the side/support wheels on, the child will surely learn to pedal but will not learn to balance. The day these side/support wheels are removed, the kid will have to re-learn cycling from a scratch. The only benefit of having them is that the child will not fall and the parent does not have to run behind the child.

We decided that we would want our daughters to learn how to balance, as a first task. They have had enough of pedalling experience with their tri-cycles. It is also time that we do some running around and get much-needed exercise. So, no side/support wheels for them. Yes, we spoke to our daughters in advance and kept explaining to them, why their bicycles will be different from their play-mates.

This also means that we will have to buy new bicycles for them within a year. That’s fine. The first bicycle is meant for learning and not lasting 2-3 years or more.

The accessories

As the bicycle does not have side/support wheels, the kid is bound to fall once-twice even after the best of the parent’s efforts. Moreover, all the bicycles around with side/support wheels will lead to suspicions in the child’s mind about her/his safety.

Hence, it is advisable to buy the accessories of the helmet, knee guards, elbow guards along with the bicycle. This may look like a needless additional expense. However, apart from keeping the child safe, this will go a long way in instilling the aspects of safety and precautions in the child’s young and impressionable mind.

Remove the paraphernalia

Predominantly, kids’ bicycles will come in two variants. Adventure and Regular. Adventure version will be light-weight and heavy on pocket. Remember that this first bicycle is being bought with the sole purpose of learning to cycle, so the adventure version will not make sense.

The regular version will come with all sorts of unnecessary paraphernalia which only increases the weight of the bicycle. Without the side/support wheels, the child is going to find it difficult to manoeuvre and this additional weight will make her/his life miserable. So, please remove the back-seat, basket and other such stuff, after buying the bicycle.

Keep the back-support

I would have removed the back-support to the kid’s seat on the bicycle to further reduce the weight but for my back. Without the back-support, I would have had to hold the seat from below when my daughters pedal and that would have meant bending quite low. My back did not permit it, hence I am continuing with the back-support to the seat.

If you are game for bending low while running behind your kid’s bicycle, removal of back-support will help her/him with a further reduction in the bicycle’s weight.

Factors not to consider when buying a kids bicycle

Remember the purpose of the first bicycle for the kids is to learn how to cycle and not to make it last longer. So, the brand of the cycle should not matter.

The kid is going to bang the bicycle quite a few times. Do not look for resale value.

You can opt for accessories of light, bell, basket once the kid has learnt to cycle. Not before that.

Don’t get into the detailing of frames – steel/aluminium/carbon/plastic. It is not worth it for the bicycle that will last less than a year.

Don’t bother about the maintenance and the spare parts, but after-sales service does matter. Majority of the kids’ bicycles come with tubeless tyres. So, if you buy one of those, the hassle of filling the air in the tyres will also be taken care of.

There is no separate bicycle for boys and girls when you buy them their first. Please do not fall for this needless gender segregation. It is a unisex buy at their age.

In nutshell

Remove those side/support wheels and all the other unneeded stuff. Don’t fall for the dictum of bicycle lasting 2-3 years or more. With all the safety accessories in place, the kid won’t get hurt even if s/he falls. It is fun to run behind the child when s/he is learning to cycle.

Just ensure that her/his feet are touching the ground when stationary and s/he will learn to fly in no time.

5 Important Things To Speak And Do With A Child More Often

This is Part 2 of the article – 5 important things to teach a child, also the things that a parent can speak and do with a child more often. Click here for Part 1.

I don’t know. Let’s explore.

Children ask questions. They ask questions all the time. Expect them to ask unexpected questions at the most inopportune times. Till the time they indulge in their questioning, thank your stars. The innate and profound child in them is still alive. They haven’t yet started on their journey to silly and juvenile adulthood.

No sensible person would expect any adult, even an Einstein, to come up with answers to all the queries that a child comes up with. To a child’s question, the answer is, of course, important. Equally important is the process of handling and managing the question. To the child, her/his query is a matter of life and death. So, unless I know the answer, by trial and error I have ruled out the below responses.

Myself: I know the answer. The girl: So, tell me. The bluff does not work.

Myself: I will tell you later. The girl: When? When? When? Kicking the can does not work.

Myself: Ask me some other question. The girl: No, I want the answer to this question only. Diverting attention does not work.

Myself: You try and tell me. The girl: Um, um, um (thinks). Why are you asking me back (shouts)? It works once in a while, but recurring use backfires.

Myself: Behave as if I haven’t heard the question. The girl: Belittled, stomps out. The communication breaks down if done repetitively, very difficult to revive and get back the trust of the child.

Myself: Give an unconvincing answer, which in all probability is incorrect. The girl: Will keep raising queries, till I admit that I have no clue. To repeat, bluff does not work.

Myself: Shout. The girl: (unsaid) You are killing the curiosity and the child in me.

Suffice it to say, I don’t know. Let’s try doing it/read the book/search Google for the answer together.

Nothing better serves the quest for knowledge than the humility to own up and act in front of your child.

Speak Up

On the face of it, there is nothing more hazardous for a parent to teach a child than this: ‘Speak Up’. Even without teaching, the kids answer back. On top of it, when taught to ‘Speak Up’, the first victims of this newly taught and eagerly learnt skill will be parents. Who in a sane mind would want to increase her/his headache?

Believe me, if there is any learning that is going to hold the children in good stead in future when we are long dead, it is this: ‘Speak Up’. ‘Speak Up’ applies to the moral and ethical values that you would want your children to learn and hold on to. ‘Speak Up’ applies to all the discriminations, biases and injustices that the world will throw at your children and their resolve to face that head-on.

It is, of course, a matter of choice to teach this trait. The attribute to ‘Speak Up’ may not be considered a desirable quality in today’s world, wherein the ability to suck up to the powers-that-be is considered a virtue.

Given the current scenario of hatred and bigotry perpetuated by the right and the left, by the liberals and the radicals. I am convinced that without this quality taught to future generations, there won’t be a future left.

Childhood is the time to sharpen the cub’s claws, though the first blood that will get drawn will be parents’. For you would want your cub to grow up to be a fighter for the right, which may go against the might and the spite, teach them to ‘Speak Up’.

You are Unique

Right from the moment the baby is born, the parents/grandparents/relatives try to search for a bit of their selves in the baby. As the baby grows on to become a child, this search intensifies from the similarity of physical looks to the likeness of emotional and mental connect. The seeker, the adult, rejoices when s/he finds any parallel with the child, no matter how vague/made-up it might be.

As the child goes on to become a teen and an adult, the lurking world would want to co-opt her/him and bracket into already existing factions. The society would not let anyone enter the sanctum unless the norms are adhered to, the customs are followed, the rituals are respected, the rules are abided, all with staunch and unflinching allegiance.

This, again, is a matter of opinion. I get restless when anyone tells me not to raise questions but to follow. What good has ever been done by a person who accepts the status-quo, finds comfort in being a part of the herd and stays contented within the limits set by others?

Unless the boundaries are pushed, how will one ever feel the need to come out of the comfort zone/explore and determine/stand up for one’s self? Raising questions just for the sake of it is, of course, not the purpose.

The ultimate gift that a parent can give to her/his child – Individuality. Teach a kid to discover one’s self and have a unique identity.

These are the five things that we have been doing with our daughters in varying proportions. Hope to build on it further in time to come, speak and do with a child more often.

What would be your views? What would be your points that a parent can speak and do with a child more often?

5 important things to teach a child

Parenting means different things to different parents. As our twin daughters turned six years, my wife and I took stock of what parenting means to us. How we have been going about raising our daughters. Along the way, there has been un-learning and re-learning, going back and forth, sticking to the conventional, trying out the un-tested and a lot more in between.

We asked ourselves what we could have done more/less with our kids as parents. It turned out to be a never-ending list. To keep it simple and do-able, I classified the list into different sections. This article is about one such section of 5 important things to teach a child.

As parents, we want our children to do better than what we have done/are doing. We want our kids to be better human beings than us. In short, we would want our kids to be more than the sum of the parts (parents). If this is to happen, if it is to have any real chance to happen, it surely needs a conscious attempt from the parents. A lot of attempts, lot many times, and on a lot many things.

Below are the 5 important things to teach a child, that we wish we could have done/spoken about more to our twin daughters.

Take/Give No as an answer

Setting rules and indulging kids are two sides of the same coin – parenting. Doing one without the other can have disastrous results. There is absolutely nothing wrong in saying a ‘No’ to a child. Subconsciously we say ‘No’ to our kids quite often. It is just that when we have to mouth a conscious ‘No’ that leads to doubts in our minds if we are doing a correct thing/denying a child.

It is not just about preparing the kids for the external world, wherein they are going to get snubbed and slighted. Even within the four walls of the house, the kids need to get it straight that few things a strict no and few things are a maybe dependent on factors. They better learn to take ‘No’ as an acceptable answer. It is for everyone’s benefit.

Remember that the kids grow and that too, fast. S/he is going to be a teen and an adult, very soon. Imagine the situation if a teen has not been taught to take ‘No’ as an answer in her/his childhood. Of course, the ‘No’ has to be explained to children with logic, reason and clarity. Else, it will serve no purpose other than being a parent’s convenience/ego trip.

Giving and taking ‘No’ as an answer is again the two sides of the same coin – parenting. It is not a one-way wherein only the parent can have the liberty to say ‘No’. One might say that children say ‘No’ all the time, what’s to be taught in this? The real test is to teach a child the reasons and the judgement to exercise the power of ‘No’.

Taking and giving ‘No’ as an answer is what teaches children to give and take respect and also to develop and apply reasoning. An important thing to teach a child.

Get up/Do it yourself

One of my daughters has fallen/tripped. What would be my first reaction as a parent? I stay put where I am, I don’t rush to lift the girl and console her. I know, I get nasty stares from people around who doubt my capability as a parent. At times, even my family members don’t get my response. I tell them and the girl, if she comes to me at all, that she is fine and it is fine to fall, now that she is up.

I strongly believe that children are inherently resilient and brave. Time and again, my daughters have proven this to me, people around and their selves. Just that our fears and worries get the better of us. We panic and rush towards the child when s/he falls and in the process; the child learns fear from the parents and the society.

I too used to rush when my daughters were toddlers. I realized that more often than not the girls interpreted the fall basis my response and not the fall, per se. Hence, I started to hold myself back to see their reaction and it turns out that they are fine taking care of themselves. For every fall, I do take a mental note on the severity of the injury, if any, so that I can rush in future if need be.

Not the same context as above, but imagine the child trying out a new activity. For that matter, even a tried and tested pursuit. It did not work out as the child thought/planned/made it out to be. S/he starts getting fidgety, the murmurs start and a full-fledged howling follows. I again teach myself to hold back and not do the stuff on my girls’ behalf.

Falling and failing is not a chance to wail and wallow. It is an opportunity to rise by self, again get going and try not to repeat what led to the fall/failing.

The child’s learning of independence and self-belief comes at a price, at times blood and sweat of parents and child, too. Another important thing to teach a child.

 Click here, for part two.

Lockdown Friends And Experiences For Our Children

India is in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020. Irrespective of the Government’s lockdown/unlock, one aspect of the response remains steadfastly constant – children remain locked up in their houses, but for entrance tests. In such a scenario, what can be lockdown friends and experiences for children?

The scientific evidence shows that coronavirus spreads predominantly in closed surroundings with poor ventilation. The outdoors has the least risk in spreading infections. The countries that have reopened have done so with outdoor lung spaces i.e. the parks as a first candidate to reopen. However, in India, the children parks remain in shut down mode, they would be the last to open.

The scientific evidence shows that children are at the least risk of COVID-19 infections. Yes, they can spread it to the adults, a risky proposition. In India, the Government lockdown has clubbed the children < 10 years with elderly > 65 years, who are at the maximum risk and have ordered them to remain at home ever since.

The Government refuses to understand that the children not getting fresh air and sunlight, a chance to play, social interaction opportunities also represent a risk in itself. In addition, kids get bombarded with online education, in a like-to-like replica of school time-table but on a screen. It is a tough time to be children these days in India.

Fortunately, for our soon-to-be six-year-old twin daughters, they are saved from the perils of online learning. The simple reason being, they are not enrolled in a school, yet. However, not being allowed to venture outside, an anchor to our lives could have played havoc to their young minds. But it is not to be. Courtesy their lockdown friends and experiences.

A stray cat and her kittens

Within a week of the starting of the lockdown, a stray cat descended on our home. The cat was not at all afraid of us. She kept demanding food, which when given to her, she graciously decided to adopt our family and home.

The girls were excited beyond limits. They suddenly found themselves to be the proud owner of a pet cat. They named her Licky; the reason being she licked the milk. The girls’ day started with Licky and ended with Licky.  They ran around her, patted her, fed her, sang songs for her; Licky basked in the attention.

The girls were over the moon when Licky gave birth to two kittens. Girls gave nonstop commentary on what the kittens were doing, how they were growing, how Licky was tending to her litter. Then, the lightning struck. Licky left the house with her kittens. The girls were crestfallen.

After 3 days, Licky resurfaced, terribly hurt and without her kittens. We got to know that the kittens were on our neighbour’s terrace. Licky had abandoned them, stopped eating food and died. We brought the kittens home, the girls were again over-joyed. We fed the kittens every 3-4 hours, stimulated to pee and poop and kept warm. The girls were learning how to tend to their young pets.

Throughout, the kittens kept looking for their mother. One of them died after a couple of weeks. We realized that a kitten should not be raised single. A kind acquaintance helped us find a foster home for the single kitten and we gave him up for his good. It broke the girls’ hearts, but they understood.

This entire episode lasted for about four months. It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for the girls, the highs of delight to the lows of sorrow. Till this date, they remember Licky and the two kittens with warm fondness. They have also come to learn that in life, nothing is forever. We lose someone close to us, but the remembrance of the time spent together is a joy in itself.

Shiva and Rakesh

Shiva was my wife’s colleague (was, because Dirty Feet has had to temporarily shut down due to COVID-19). He stays in the office. Rakesh is Shiva’s friend, who came for a day to the office on Janta Curfew and then got stuck due to the lockdown. They come to our home daily for meals. Rakesh has since left, Shiva continues to be there.

The girls have become very fond of both the guys. They have become their play-mates for the age-less games and endless talks. It is to the credit of Shiva and Rakesh that though they are in their early 20’s they play with amazing ease with the six-year-olds. They have made the girls so comfortable that they think that it is absolutely normal for kids of their age to play with 20+ year olds.

Yes, the children should play with children. But, that has almost never happened with our daughters. Whenever we go to any outdoor places/parks, children of any age are rarely present. In the neighbourhood even under normal circumstances, children hardly come out for playing. Lockdown has become a blessing that they have actually got play-mates, who have the ability to bring out their innate child when playing.

Plants, bugs and birds

Every walk with the girls is an opportunity for a nature walk. With the lockdown, that is also ruled out. My wife is extremely particular about the exposure to nature for our daughters. We have realized that plants are friends of a lifetime for children. So, she put the ample space in the front yard of the house to good use by getting pots and doing gardening.

The girls have a great time mixing soil with coco-peat, putting seeds, watering and seeing the blossoming of their sweat. The plants (a majority of them veggies) also bring with them a fair share of butterflies and bugs. A bulbul tried making a nest in the gourd creeping around but left mid-way after incessant snooping by the girls.

Hoping that the girls and we further grow our small kitchen garden even after the lockdown ends. It takes a lot of time and efforts to keep up with the gardening, but raising eco-aware children are a just reward. There is no other activity/experience with a bigger multiplier effect than nurturing nature-friendly kids. It does good to them, Mother Earth and everybody’s future.

Street Vendors

We stay on the ground floor of an independent house in the by-lanes of a busy neighbourhood (even now!). Barring the most strict phase of the lockdown (earliest 2 weeks), the area is thronged by 10-12 street vendors during the day. This turned out to be a window to social interaction for our daughters and us.

In the scorching summer of April, May and June, we taught the girls to stop each street vendor on the road and ask, if they wanted water. It might look like a poor cousin to regular social interactions, which lockdown has left no occasion for. But, it did a lot of good to build empathy and caring in our children.

The girls asked the reasons for the vendors to be on the road even during severe heat and lockdown, what happens when they get tired etc. We, of course, did not have answers to all their queries. It is a learning curve for all of us.

Lockdown friends and experiences

The above are the lockdown friends and experiences that helped maintain our sanity during the lockdown.

As I write this, I realize that irrespective of the lockdown, they could have become a part of our lives, and enriched our being. Just that, we may not have allowed it to be.

What have been your lockdown friends and experiences?

One Pot Meals: Highly Recommended For Children

A hard task for each parent is to ensure that their children eat every taste and every vegetable. Kids with fussy eating habits are a parents’ nightmare. A meal-time, at times, transform into a veritable push and pull as the parents have made a certain dish and the kids have their preferences.

We are blessed till now, that our soon-to-be six-year-old twin daughters eat everything served without a bother. I have written about my guess-work about what makes them eat all their vegetables. My wife has her hypothesis, as well. She feels that the girls have been introduced to a certain way of cooking pretty early in their culinary journey and seemingly, this has helped them develop taste buds that accept all the flavours and veggies. Enter the one pot meals.

One pot meals for children is apparently neither an appealing nor an exciting idea. On the face of it, one pot meal goes against the conventional wisdom that a child needs to be introduced to all the various tastes. One pot meal does not fulfil this criterion. Then, how can it serve the task of making children eat all the stuff?

One pot meals introduce each taste and veggies uniquely

Consider a delectable meal spread across various courses/dishes. As a parent, we feel that we have done our task to ensure that a child has options and can have a well-balanced diet. Now, this is an inadvertent pit-fall.

With so much to choose from, the kid would want to have what s/he prefers. That’s the end of the story, as it goes. The parent will keep banging her/his head and the child will also keep replying in a matching fashion. For s/he knows that asking for a dish of preference is very much an option.

More importantly, the child will keep choosing and having food, the taste of which s/he believes s/he likes. The kid would not want to experiment with other flavours on offer.  S/he will stick with the tried and tested much to the parent’s irritation.

Now, consider the one pot meals as the only dish available for serving. The kid does not have an option to choose from. S/he sees the parents eating it and knows intuitively that s/he will also have to eat the same.

More importantly, one pot meals will have a single and unique taste on offer, as per the ingredients used. When the child eats the one pot meals, s/he learns to appreciate the taste and may develop the liking over some time. Though, it is secondary; the child eats is primarily important and it is what counts.

One pot meals have an advantage over every other food dish that it is a meal in itself. And, it does so by using minimal ingredients and staying true to their taste/ flavour. When a child eats a unique flavour without any other flavour simultaneously jostling for taste buds; it helps in developing a taste/liking for the same.

One pot meals are healthy and nutritious

At times, there is a misconception that one pot meals are not healthy and nutritious. Believe me, they are. My wife ensures that without fail, there is a vegetable as a key ingredient. Apart from colour, taste and texture, it also provides vitamins, minerals and natural fiber. The grains/rice fulfils the carbohydrate requirements.  We add beans to complete the protein quota.

Seasonings add to the flavour of foods. Using spices and herbs limit the amount of salt needed in the dish. Moreover, sugar has no relevance. Oil usage is also limited. Ghee can be used as a topping as per the liking and meet the fats requirements.

What can be unhealthy in this? You have the choice to hold back on whatever you feel like; similarly, add whatever you would want to. Yet, the meal will be complete in all regards, unless you skip a complete ingredient in itself.

A child can help in the cooking, too

When a parent is making a meal spread across various dishes/courses, the bandwidth gets occupied in the process. The cooking itself becomes time-consuming and soaks up the energy. There is no way that the parent can involve a child in this process without tearing up her/his hair.

Now, look at the one pot meals. It is simple, requires minimal preparations and leaves enough room to involve the kid in the cooking. When the child gets involved in the process, s/he builds ownership to the cooked dish and makes it easier to have her/him eat the same.

A sure-shot winner

What is more? One pot meals are much more amenable to reduced wastage vis-a-vis ingredients, left-over and prodding the child to eat. It is more peaceful and enjoyable to cook and eat; leaving more calories in the body for everyone in the family at the end of cooking and eating.

One pot meals also give a subtle message to kids that the simple can be fun and enjoyable too. One need not have multiple courses/dishes to cherish the food. Similarly, one also need not have much of paraphernalia to claim a happy and fulfilling life. Life can be as uncomplicated and as undemanding as we can make it to be, ala one pot meals.

The basic reason for us to promote one pot meals for children is that it is about a unique taste and flavour. For a child to be an unfussy/adventurous/accepting eater, it is the taste and the flavour that has to matter; and not the particular dish; per se. One pot meals are not a dish at all. It is what you make it out to be.

Simply put, with one pot meals, it is not the potato curry or the paneer curry or any leafy curry or for that matter, a cheese topping that a child develops liking for, but for the potato, the paneer, the leafy vegetable, the cheese – individually.

Government Says No Zero Academic Year. But What’s And Where’s The Plan To Reopen Schools & Colleges?

India has been in the state of health emergency since March 2020. The Government’s response has lurched from half-baked lockdown to various stages of unlock. However, one aspect has remained constant throughout. The educational institutes of all hues remain shut. The Government has steadfastly maintained that the safety of children is the first priority.

This measure is, of course, very well received by the parents. Now, the next step for parents is to worry about the education of their children. Online education has been going on in various forms, but it cannot be expected to replace the in-person teaching of schools & colleges. The parents are anxious that the children have no learning loss and do not miss out on their study.

To allay this fear, the Government of India has proclaimed “The Centre will not allow this to be a “zero academic year” without any teaching or examinations.” On 10th August 2020, Ramesh Pokhriyal said “A decision on physical reopening of schools & colleges is likely within 10-15 days”. To quote the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Human Resource Development “This is appreciable”.

On 8th June 2020, Union School Education Secretary Anita Karwal said “The Centre was framing guide-lines for safe reopening of schools. Guidelines are likely to include rigorous health screening and quarantine protocols, hygiene measures, and staggered attendance for students allowing for blended learning from classrooms and home”.

What’s and where’s the plan to reopen schools & colleges?

The Government’s announcements are well-intentioned. However, seemingly, they are missing out on the detailing. More than 15 days have passed since the Minister’s remarks, but there is no further discussion on dates to reopen schools & colleges. More than two and half months have passed since the Secretary’s remarks, but no guide-lines have been published by the Government to reopen schools & colleges.

This is baffling. The schools & colleges cannot reopen from the next day of the reopening announcement. They need the time to train the teachers and the support staff, they need the time to improve on the school infrastructure; they need the time to prepare for the reworked academic calendar. All these preparations require resources, time and money.

The diverse universe of schools & colleges operates on different band-widths and capabilities. Some of them may readily be able to make the required changes. Many of them may require hand-holding in various stages of the proposed changes. Few of them may require additional manpower and financial support to help them navigate the changes.

All the above will become clear only when the purported plan by the Government shows up, which continues to be under wraps.

What to do when infections happen?

Once the schools & colleges reopen, the few students/teachers/support staff will inevitably get infected with COVID-19. What’s supposed to be the threshold for the educational institute to continue its operations and when should it shut down? If required to shut down, what should be the contingency plan? When to reopen next? What happens if again the infections soar?

Rather, the first step to reopen schools & colleges would be to define the acceptable level of infections and the rate of spread in the ward/locality/geographical unit. In the Indian context, the students are spread all across the city/state/country and not limited to a neighbourhood. A large number of students stay away from their families to pursue their education. How do deal with the infections and the treatment in such a scenario?

Seemingly unrelated but a relevant aspect of handling infections with the reopening is to decide on the state of other activities. Should the functioning of religious places/restaurants/non-essential travel etc be curbed to reduce the chances of infections for educational institutions? COVID-19 is making us prioritize. Till now, we have prioritized safety of children. Now, to prioritize the education, if something else needs to be stepped down, so be it.

All these will be up for debate only when the Government shows what it has thought on the subject.

The parents, teachers, support staff are all stake-holders

The Government keeps mentioning about the educational institutions as a single entity. The focus on management is vital as they are responsible for the decision-making of their organizations and their buy-in is a must for the reopening. They are the ones who would be ensuring that the Government guide-lines are adhered to. But, they are not the only ones.

None work in isolation in today’s inter-connected world. Depending on the Government guide-lines, every parent needs to make their planning and decisions. Risk acceptance levels vary for different people. Some may perceive the Government’s steps to be unsafe, may want to hold back their wards and they should have equal right to do so.

Teachers and support staff are extremely important stakeholders in the entire process of reopening. Somehow, they lack opinion and seem to be taken for granted. They are the bread-winners for their families and would be worried about what happens to them if they get infected with COVID-19. An insurance and treatment plan for them would give them confidence about resumption.

Again, no clarity for any of the stake-holders. Rather, it does not seem that the Government is even contemplating their participation in the decision-making process.

No Zero Academic Year

No Zero Academic Year is a wish for every parent, student and all the other stakeholders too. The Government is desperate for a No Zero Academic Year, presumably to keep all the constituents happy, but it is not showing equal desperation in coming up with inputs and strategies to achieve the desired output. To repeat, what’s and where’s the plan to reopen schools & colleges?

The seamless transition to the Government guide-lines to reopen schools & colleges is not going to happen over-night. It is going to require lots of preparations, moving back and forth, also to ensure that the weakest of them do not fall through the sieve. The ball will start rolling only when the Government makes its plan public. The sooner, the better.

Wish the Government shows the same urgency for the plan to reopen schools & colleges as conducting JEE/NEET and college final year exams.

COVID-19: A Helpless Parent, JEE/NEET/UGC And An Indifferent Government

I am a parent in India. Like every other parent, I try to keep my children safe and away from danger. This, seemingly an innocuous task, has turned out to be an onerous one beyond my capabilities. I do not know what to blame and how to take corrective measures in this unasked for situation. I just know that this involves my children, the centre of my life. They are at risk for no fault of them and I am just a helpless parent; who cannot do a thing to help them in any manner.

India’s tryst with coronavirus started in March 2020. The Prime Minister ordered a national lockdown in the last week of March 2020. The cases were in three digits, nationally, at that time. We were told to stay home, stay safe. Like every other citizen, I scared my family, children and parents to stay at home for their well-being and safety.

On the education front, the Government shut down all the schools and colleges. The exams were going on at the time of announcing the lockdown; all of them got postponed citing the safety of the students. Later, the board exams, CBSE, ICSE, States, got cancelled. There was a consistency in messaging – the children’s safety is paramount.

And now, suddenly, with the coronavirus cases hovering above 60 k on a daily basis and cumulative cases in excess of 31 lacs, the children are being asked to come out to give entrance tests and final year college exams. The Supreme Court has also ruled that NEET and JEE won’t be postponed. I don’t suppose their judgement will be any different in the UGC case.

No improvement, only deterioration

What has changed from March/April 2020 to August/September 2020 for a complete reversal of stance? In March/April 2020, I told my children that they should stay at home. In August/September 2020, I am expected to tell my children that they can go out to write exams. Leave aside my loss of credibility in front of my children, how do I allay their fears about their own lives?

Please get this straight. The children, no matter their age, are human beings in their own regard. They understand the goings-on around them. They comprehend that adults are fixated on a certain issue and that their parents have deviated from a normal life-style to keep everyone in the family safe. And, now, with the risks increased exponentially, why should they put their lives at risk?

There has to be perceptible progress in the circumstances to warrant a different decision. Here, we have none. Rather, the state of affairs is worsening. 1000+ people are dying daily due to Covid-19. The adults are not able to think beyond their lives and livelihoods, and we expect the children to think nothing beyond their exams!

Live with the virus, not die from the virus

The Government says that we need to learn to live with the coronavirus. The Supreme Court has said “COVID may continue for a year more. Are you going to wait for another year? Do you know what is the loss to the country and the career peril to the students?”

We signed up as parents to raise healthy children and not COVID warriors. The soldiers know that they might have to sacrifice their lives to protect their motherland. The doctors know that they carry a professional risk when they treat their patients with infectious disease. But children? What have they done to deserve a risk to their lives? They are not even adults. On what basis are children expected to put their life on the line? Children are surely not essential service workers.

I do not know whether COVID continues for a year. I know that it is the duty of the Government to keep the country safe. If the Government is not able to rid the country of the virus, how can it be the responsibility of the children to return to so-called normalcy? How have they failed that to pass the exams they have to put their lives at risk?

57000+ people have died due to COVID to date. And, more will die. Is this not a loss to the country? Who is going to claim this blood on their hands? Does the Government guarantee a career to the students who venture out to give exams in this scenario? If no, how can it ask the students to vie for an illusory career in exchange for a real-life?

 A helpless parent and the lonely angst

The Government knows that it is coming from a position of power, a position of unbridled brute dominance. The Government knows that in the dog eat dog world of the Indian education sector, where the elite medical and engineering seats are at a premium, there is no option for parents or the students to not give entrance exams if ordered to. They will have to fall in line, and they will.

In the Indian political landscape, each caste, each industry, each interest has a lobbying group to influence the decision-making process. But parents? The most-widely disseminated group has no unifying force that can speak in a single voice to get heard. The net result – The Government rams its way through with no opposition and the Supreme Court of India as a lead cheer-leader. Why should anyone bother for a helpless parent and her/his children?

Go ahead, my children. Give the exams. Though it is my duty as a parent, I cannot guarantee your safety anymore. Some of you may die, some of you may suffer from the disease, some of you may carry the scars for the rest of your life.

I am sorry for letting you down in the face of the Indian Government’s indifferent and inept handling of the pandemic. I am sorry.

A Helpless Parent

PS: The Government considers opening of children’s parks as a threat to life, but not giving exams. New Education Policy gets released and advertised, but we cannot look beyond the 3 hour rote fest.