Zero Academic Year: It Is Time Government, Schools, Parents Agree And Act

Coronavirus has been raging in India. The cases are spiking daily. The Government’s strategy is to ease restrictions, as infections rise. However, a certain category of institutions remains shut and is expected to remain so in the foreseeable future – The Educational Institutions.

There is no opposition to the Government’s measures to lift the lockdown. Seemingly, the adults are fine when it comes to putting their lives at risk. But when it comes to the children, the parents are clear that they are going to remain at home. The Government also knows this and has stayed clear of opening up the schools and colleges; even the children parks.

Simultaneously, the parents also want to ensure that their wards do not miss out on education. The schools, too, would not want to be seen losing their supremacy on shaping up children’s future. The Government does not want to be considered behind the curve. As a result, online education has been lapped up by everybody concerned as a panacea to coronavirus induced lockdown of educational institutions.

However, the time has come to question the efficacy and the value of online education for children.

Education as Equalizer, and not Differentiator

Apart from many other roles, education is expected to play an extremely important function in providing equal opportunities to realize a child’s potential. Under the Right to Education Act, every child has a right to education of equitable quality.

With online education becoming a norm, it is anybody’s guess what would be happening to children in lower-income group families, rural and non-Metro households, Government schools etc. India’s programme to universalize primary education is “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” meaning “Education for All Movement”. Needless to say, “Sarva”, that is “All” would surely not be covered by online learning.

It is up to Governments, Centre and States, private schools and parents of children participating in online education to take the initiative for Zero Academic Year. Would they want to perpetuate the privilege of already entitled students or be seen as promoting universal access and equal opportunity for children from vulnerable sections of the society, that are being left behind in these times?

Education as Learning, and not Grades

The Indian education system faces accusations that it promotes rote learning and puts a detrimental focus on grades, above everything else. The shove for online learning further accentuates this long-held notion.

The children are being told to sit in front of the screen, listen to a monologue and that is it. Is this how real learning, for that matter any kind of learning, supposed to happen?  I am sure this is not how private schools would want to show-case the learning environment in their schools.

The educators and Government need to raise the question if the children, across age-groups, are benefitting by online education. Are the children learning? Would they want to perpetuate the perception that it is only the examination at the end of the term that matters? And what happens during class-room teaching is just a needless distraction/pretence that online learning has successfully replaced?

Blended learning/Alternate attendance/Self-study

Several options are being floated to complete the syllabus, as and when the schools open. The most-talked option is 50% of the students present in the school on any given day. There is a jargon of blended learning, a combination of online and offline, doing the rounds. Some topics seem to be a contender for self-study by students.

June has ended. It does not look like coronavirus is going to wither away in two months. Meaning, the schools are not going to open before September, at best. With schools closed from last week of March, the teaching of the new term would have hardly started. This means that students would just get about six months in school to complete the syllabus. It is just not enough.

The teachers might run through the chapters, but the students cannot be expected to absorb so much of learning in so short a time. Would schools and parents want the foundation of the children to be strong or find them shaky in years to come?

Zero Academic Year

The parents having access to online education for their children might feel why should their children miss out on a year? The answer would be that this would be their contribution to a fair and equal society. No parent would want their children to be a part of society that promotes inequality for children. It is about “No Child Left Behind”.

Anyways, the efficacy of online education is highly debatable. There is no validity of what the children are gaining by sitting like a zombie in front of a screen.

Let the online education happen for those who want and who can, but not the promotion to the next grade. Lest we shall violate the principles of a just nation and the rights of the children to quality education.

Given the coronavirus, in the larger context of life ahead, a Zero Academic Year might be the best bet for children.

My Daughter is Dark Skinned. I Fear for Her in Fair & Lovely Obsessed India

We have twin daughters – B +ve and O +ve, they are non-identical. It so happens that one of them is dark skinned and one of them has a lighter complexion.

The girl who is dark is getting darker by the day and I fear for her, fear for her self-belief, fear for her confidence, fear for her capacity to stand for what she is / will be, fear for her own self. I fear for her for I know the obsession with Fair & Lovely in India.

The first attention

I have seen this happening. I have seen this happening time and again. And, I know that I will keep seeing this happening time and again.

Be it family members or strangers, not all though, the attention first goes to the girl with a fair complexion. This cannot be an occurrence of chance. Of course, the girl with a dark complexion also gets noticed and gets spoken to, but with a time lag vis-a-vis her sister.

Both the girls are equally active, energetic and talkative. Yet the perceptible difference in getting the first attention from people around. It is something similar to gender stereotypes, intrinsic to us.

Both the girls are unaware of this at their age. I dread the moment when they will understand who is getting noticed and spoken to first.

The story books, toys, TV

My wife and I used to be big fans of Amar Chitra Katha. While reading the mythological stories, one of the daughters raised a query – Why are demons all dark skinned? Why are devas all fair skinned?

My wife and I never liked any dolls and the perception that girls play with dolls. Our daughters have been a gifted number of Barbie and other dolls, all fair. I read that Barbie also happens to be dark, never saw it in real life, though.

The protagonists in Indian TV serials and series are all fair skinned – women, men and children. Additionally, we never know when the advertisement for Fair & Lovely will pop up.

The result – the story books which differentiate between the skin colour, the toys which are not skin colour agnostic and the TV have been banished from our home.

The formal environment

Our daughters do not go to any formal environment of learning – not yet. There are a host of reasons why they do not go. One of the most inconsequential reasons on why they do not go is that one of my daughters has dark skin.

This is an utterly crazy reason and I know it. For, I know that once the girls start going to a formal setting, someone, somewhere, somehow, is going to say that one of the girls is dark – “kali” and I dread this moment.

Even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes how I am going to face my daughter who has been commented on about her dark skin.

The positive advice

I am in doldrums on how to deal with this myself. So, I was searching on the internet about self-help. I found advice like – place images of beautiful dark-skinned women prominently in one’s home, buy black dolls, for 3 to 6-year-olds: Make frequent remarks, such as “my beautiful baby,” and create stories about beautiful dark children who are smart, kind, etc. (These points are from this site).

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with any of these suggestions. They are well-meaning. I should actually be doing it myself.

Just that I am not able to. It is my inability to accept that I need to mention/get into a discussion with my daughter who is four and a-half-year-old about her skin colour.

I am a coward

I have never been able to call any family member, friend, acquaintance, stranger who I feel is differentiating between my daughters basis their skin colour.

I am running away from the reality of the need to tell my daughter that she is dark skinned and that she will be biased against.

I am unable to prepare my daughter for the country she is going to face even after knowing that I need to do it.

I hate the society which discriminates and I know that I have been and am a part of the same society.

I do not know how to deal with this. I am failing my daughter.