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Monday, June 27, 2022

The school must enable children to be resilient and adaptable in uncertain times

As a part of the curriculum, children should be sensitively exposed to a variety of aesthetic experiences — listening to music and appreciating other art forms. They should be helped to develop an affinity with nature and to appreciate its myriad and layered manifestations. Reading is another indispensable activity.

Written by Sanjay Dhotre |
Updated: June 25, 2020 9:01:44 am
India lockdown, coronavirus lockdown, coronavirus impact on schools, india schools reopen, Students, children mental health, Children today are quite vulnerable to mental and emotional stress.

The virus has been keeping humanity on its toes for the last few months. Given the situation in many other developed countries, we have shown much success in containing the wrath of this deadly sub-microscopic being. Even so, the world around us is not what it used to be. The uncertainty due to the disease constantly lurking around may lead to fear, anxiety and emotional distress. One of the most vulnerable population groups is our students, especially school students.

Children today are quite vulnerable to mental and emotional stress. This may be due to many factors such as small nuclear families, lack of siblings in many cases, restricted community space, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy dietary habits, the pressure to become aggressively competitive and exhibit precocity, parental attention deficits, bullying, exposure to violent images and so forth.

We need to organise our school spaces in such a way that these issues are understood with deep empathy and every child’s capacity to learn is appreciated and nurtured. It is important that every child is enabled to grow into a self-reliant individual. Yet, mutual interdependence too must be emphatically nurtured. School spaces are to be all-inclusive. Each pupil should feel equally included irrespective of gender, socio-economic class, ethnicity, home-language, disability, parental education, etc. Diversity must be celebrated and used as a site for children’s engagement with the wider world. Collaborative learning and exploration are to be encouraged and the idea of mutually exclusive competition must be actively discarded. Excellence need not be synonymous with being the best, as “best” connotes the exclusion of others. Our schools, and parents too, must work towards achieving a fine balance between self-reliance and interdependence for the children.

As a part of the curriculum, children should be sensitively exposed to a variety of aesthetic experiences — listening to music and appreciating other art forms. They should be helped to develop an affinity with nature and to appreciate its myriad and layered manifestations. Reading is another indispensable activity. The relative solitude of reading enables children to traverse multiple worlds and gain access to a variety of human experiences across time and space. Without a doubt, it nurtures imagination and creativity. Yoga and sports are an essential part of the school curriculum. These should be given a renewed focus as they play a crucial role in physical, mental and emotional well-being. Yoga plays a distinctive role in spiritual rejuvenation, the unleashing of latent energies and their positive channelisation. All the above-mentioned pursuits nurture essential traits — perseverance, resilience, equanimity of mind, quick decision-making, team spirit, ability to accept failures.

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To supplement these curricular activities, we must have remedial measures in place. Counselling, foremost among these, must be treated as an important part of school life. Counselling is essential to discern signs of depression and isolation at an early stage. Remedial measures can then be taken to restore the child’s mental health. Counselling for adolescence issues and for careers is also necessary.

We all realise that the use of technology in education has gained more traction and salience during the pandemic. There is no doubt that education technology and digital resources have been put to vigorous use to keep the teaching-learning process on. Some may be led to believe that technology can even replace brick-and-mortar classrooms. But that does not seem to be the case. The stress among students learning in virtual mode during the pandemic has been a matter of concern. Such stress may also partly be due to the overall changed circumstances caused by the disease. But shifting completely to the virtual learning has also curtailed some of the essential features of a wholesome pedagogy, and seems to have contributed to the stress among children. Sooner or later, the collective human will to survive shall prevail and the pestilence will be defeated. Then, we will shift to a blended mode of learning, in which actual classroom and technology will work in tandem.

We must take this opportunity to understand that technology is a great enabler but it is not an alternative for the wholesome ecosystem called school. During the pandemic, the use of technology in education has been put to test on an unprecedented scale. We need to draw lessons from this period and shape the evolution of educational technology in a manner that it is organically adaptive to our educational philosophy of collaborative and child-centred learning.

Our policy documents are quite eloquent on all the issues discussed above. Yet, ground realities are far less inspiring. If we want holistic development of our children, if we aspire to have a capable and robust future citizenry, then all stakeholders will have to work with renewed vigour and in unison towards these goals. We must also understand that the pandemic or other such crises may not follow a fixed pattern. We can’t fathom the uncertainties of the future. Hence, our children should be psycho-emotionally nurtured to show resilience and adaptability. We can achieve a truly sustainable and cohesive society only if our children can grow into fraternal communities of self-reliant and happy individuals.

This article first appeared in the print edition on June 25 under the title “A nurturing place”. The writer is Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Communications and Electronics & IT, Government of India.

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