India’s coronavirus lockdown has had many relaxations. Currently, in the Unlock 1.0, exemptions far outnumber the activities not allowed. The Indian Government has come up with several options to restore “normalcy”. However, all the Government orders, Central and State, are unanimous in one aspect: The lockdown for children below the age of 10 years continues, i.e. they will stay at home.
Coronavirus is particularly lethal for the elderly. Hence, the Government advisory that persons above 65 years of age shall stay at home is logical and understandable. However, how and why the children below the age of 10 years are getting lumped together with the elderly. What is the rationale for the children to remain confined indoors?
I wrote why children parks remain shut in coronavirus lockdown when they should be the first ones to resume. As I thought more, I realized that it is not just about the parks. The issues and reasons are far more deeply entrenched, systemically and psychologically, that the Government keeps advising children below the age of 10 years to remain indoors without hardly any opposition to this hare-brained suggestion.
Infrastructure for children below the age of 10 years
Have you ever been to a public park with a children play area? Did you notice the size of the play area? Or, the number of slides, swings, see-saws, monkey bars, jungle gyms? I will tell you. We, my five-year-old twin daughters and myself, are frequent visitors to public parks. Children play area will have 2-4 slides, 2-4 swings, 1-2 see-saws, 1 monkey bar and 1 jungle gym irrespective of the catchment. These numbers are on the higher side, with a majority of them broken and non-functional.
Have you ever been to a Government Anganwadi in a city? Did you notice the size of the room and the number of children crammed into it? The same goes for Government schools. Poorly ventilated tiny rooms, dimly-lit or worse with no electricity, the unwanted saving grace being full attendance only at the time of meals; else minimal children.
Even the private schools, except for the top 10%, are plagued with limited space being jostled by a far higher number of children. This issue of apparatus not able to cope with the number of users, children, is chronically present in all the fields – zoo, museum, play-grounds etc.
Manpower for children below the age of 10 years
Children below the age of 10 years require supervision and monitoring. This requires trained and motivated manpower to be present all the time a facility is open for children. This is conspicuous by its absence in India, the numbers as well as the quality, in public as well as a private domain.
There are, of course, teachers, support staff, resource persons etc truly interested in the well-being of children. However, they are few and far in between. The institutional bandwidth devoted to their training and happiness is fairly limited and barely invested in.
Simply put, the manpower required to implement the coronavirus do’s and don’ts in public places for children below the age of 10 years is not present in India.
Mindset for children below the age of 10 years
The malaise runs far deeper. The infrastructure and the manpower can only be the manifestations. The driving factor is that children below the age of 10 years lack the consideration and attention they deserve.
For us adults, a child is seen only from the lens of school-induced existence. Rote learning and crammed lessons get accepted as education in our society. A carefree and playful childhood gets swapped with rat-race for grades and marks.
We cannot foresee children having fun and being themselves. A child has the right to be outdoors with nature is a completely neglected notion. An idea of learning for children when they interact with each other in a non-formal natural environment bereft of instructions does not appeal.
The underlying mindset: What is there to invest in children apart from preparing them for JEE/NEET?
During regular times, the creaking infrastructure make did with jam-packed children. The manpower managed the show with middling results. Now, suddenly the coronavirus has laid threadbare the limitations of the Indian set-up.
India is not designed and prepared to keep the children safe and happy. The Government knows this, so the lockdown for children below the age of 10 years. The parents also know this, so no opposition to the Government.
Anyways, the coronavirus is not going to change our mindset. The Government is busy preparing for JEE/NEET. The Cabinet Minister for HRD and the private schools are busy with online education charade. Who cares if children below the age of 10 years cannot play outside? They were not supposed to, in the first place, in the Indian scenario.