Stress hatao bachpan bachao

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Please read on and sign the petition if you believe the primary school education, specifically in public schools, in our country is churning out more stress and its time to revisit strategies to ease it. Children have a right to a stress-free childhood, to be able to laugh and play with family and friends and to be able to spend once-in-a-lifetime carefree childhood while they are at it.

  

Ease Education-Related Stress in Primary Schools

This petition is being raised to address education-related stress among primary school children, specifically for children aged 3-11 years and specifically in public schools.

While it may sound logical that the younger they start the better is the learning process, the situation around us speaks differently. Look around... small children are burdened by homework, tuition, tests, long school hours (often as long as 8 hours) and lots of writing work. They play lesser than we did at our age, and are bound by a routine more rigorous than they should be. In metro cities an average school going child spends close to 8 hours, including commute, outside the home....this is similar to an office-going adult’s routine!! Childhood or bachpan has taken a beating, a backseat while a rat-race of ranking and grading mocks at it. Private schools add to the quantum to stay ahead in the competition. Educationists often speak of holistic education but a lack of mandatory regulations or set of instructions, leaves loopholes and gaps in the implementation. Like me, many of you also may have at least once wanted to go back in time and change what mattered most to us in our education system and shaped our careers the way it did or more importantly, designed our thought process. Be it choices of subjects, duration of school hours, school infrastructure, curriculums, education policies, pedagogy, stress associated with learning or lack of technology. Of course, while wishing to go back is futile, hoping for a better education system for our children is certainly a choice and a plausible one.

Formal schooling should begin at the age of five. Yes, five! It used to be four but currently we admit children to formal schools in nursery at the age of three....at an age when most of them are not even potty-trained, we send them to big schools among a flock of 30-40 students to learn a structured curriculum, away from the home for almost 6 hours!!! We need to let children be children, to learn through playing and exploring rather than formally dressing up and lined up in a classroom. But don’t they fall behind?  No!  They don’t. Simply because they actually start learning only when they are developmentally ready to learn and focus. By advancing their admission age we gain nothing but stressed out children losing out on their once-in-a-lifetime precious bachpan. For pre-schoolers schools should be breezy, enjoyable and fun places compliant to their EQs. They shouldn't have to carry any books/bag and their timings shouldn't be more than 3hours.

School timings and duration should allow school children to be well rested as well as well nourished. Presently most students across India typically start school between 7:00-8:00am looking like zombies!! I have personally seen kids falling asleep in school buses while going to school in the morning. Most school children are able to sleep only by 11pm...add to it working adults who return home by 7-8pm entangles less family time with a good night's rest. How about actually creating a law stating that schools cannot begin before 8:00 am because research has consistently proved that children need quality sleep in the morning! 6 hours of active school time for all primary school children  (5 hours for age 5-8years) with at least two breaks/recesses/snack times during the school hours should also be made mandatory by law. The 15-20 minute breaks refreshes the children and pulls them out from saturation. Further, what is the need to make Saturdays working in schools? Why can’t we allow relaxing family time over weekends? In metro cities, Sundays are clobbered...they end up being more stressful than weekdays. And so, Monday blues are more a fact than a fad! To strike a balance between rest, play and work Saturday-Sundays need to completely off with no exception. Weather-friendly school infrastructure, timings and vacations is another dimension that needs to be delved into. Longer winter vacations in cold climes, longer summer breaks in hot and humid regions as well as keeping national festivals in mind may end up giving up families more bonding and learning time than we actually may apprehend. Of course there will be variability according to geographical regions, but in principle, there should be standardization of school functioning. This will go a long way in ensuring that education is a purpose and not an obligation more so in private schools which in India are very rigorous and authoritarian.

Class size is overwhelming in many private schools. A usual of 45-50children per classroom and per teacher is an appalling fact. What are we gaining by it? How is it possible for a teacher teaching such a large class to give individual attention to a child? Its a parallel to herding sheep together and letting them feed themselves on their own! Every primary school child needs individual attention...it makes sense to fix an upper ceiling of 25 children per classroom, per teacher

Instead of learning by subject, it should be learning by topic. Rote learning needs to be done away with. Age 3-11 is an age where no tests, no exams, no evaluation should be held to judge children who are still tender. Ranking/Grading in primary sections should be passé, learning by rote, curriculum by number of chapters and evaluations by a term-end exam are detrimental to the natural process of learning. Instead, there should be only three subjects, languages, mathematics and value education, for classes Nursery thru class 2. Focus should be on reading skills, value education, culture, social skills, communication skills, self-expression and self-esteem or in short personality development and grooming and special-needs. Fine arts, sports, dramatics, handwriting should make up as the curriculum. We should outdo our old-fashioned way of teaching where rows of students sit passively in front of their teacher, listening to lessons or waiting to be questioned. Instead there should be a more collaborative approach, with students working in smaller groups to solve problems while improving their communication skills. Teacher based assessments should provide feedback to parents and these shouldn’t be graded, scored or compared. Outdoor, practical learning opportunities and healthy related physical activity sessions should become a regular feature in the curriculum: helping to maintain a healthy body and mind. Value education should become a part of every book, every chapter, every subject rather than a stand-alone subject. By strengthening value education, we may be building an emphatic nation with more compassionate and less selfish individuals. A civilization that compromises on its basics actually mocks at its evolution!

Concepts of science, environmental studies and social studies should be taken up from class 3 and taught in a more practical and interactive way. Again, value education should be a part of every book, every chapter, every subject rather than a stand-alone subject. Evaluation shouldn't have to exist till class 6. From classes 6-8 is when children should be introduced to an organized and structured curriculum and importantly, community service. Compulsory community service with credits or grades may be needed to graduate from middle school to high school. Classes 9-12 are when a rigorous evaluation should happen. Even then, children should be able to opt for individual subjects and make their own combinations e.g. physics and math with economics and English or biology and chemistry with sociology and French! The need of the hour is free thinking and choice-based grading system, conventional and rigid streams of science, humanities or commerce often leaves students in a lurch need to go...of course, this may need coordination with our institutes and universities of higher learning but it’s definitely thinkable, feasible to have a seamless integration of schools with Universities. Instead of herding them into a tsunami of academics which leaves them bewildered and exhausted by the time they are ready to enrol for higher education, we need to guide our children gently but firmly into confident adolescents. Before our kids mature into struggling adults, let’s make them happy children. They should be able to look behind them with pride and look ahead with confidence.

Curriculum should be less 'academic'. LESS IS MORE...should be the mantra at least, for primary education...number of classroom hours and number of school days should not become defining for a holistic education.  We are a nation completely obsessed with marks and percentages. Presently, the drive to do more and More and MORE is a state of existence for most schools and teachers ...it is engrained in us from day one.  There is a constant pressure to push our students to the next level to have them do bigger and better things.  The lessons have to be more exciting, more engaging and cover more content. The teachers too are constantly driven up the wall to not fall behind. And if they do, they enter the panic mode. This phenomenon is driven by our work-centric society where we gauge our success as a human being by how busy we are.  We measure our worth with completed lists and we criminalize down time.  We teach this “work till you drop” mentality to our students who either simply give up somewhere along the way or become as burnt out as we find ourselves at the end of the day. This mentality of “more is more” creeps into all areas of our lives and stifles our education system. We can’t even stick to ONE philosophy of education long enough to see if it actually works.  We are constantly trying new methods, ideas and initiatives.  We keep adding more and more to our plates without removing any of the past ideas.  Currently we believe “more” is the answer to all of our education problems— everything can be solved with MORE classes, longer days, MORE homework, MORE assignments, MORE pressure, MORE content, MORE meetings, MORE after school tutors, and of course MORE testing! All this is doing is creating MORE burnt out teachers, MORE stressed out students and MORE frustration all the way till we give up! 

Look the other side: SMALLER class size means more attention, LESS testing means more learning. LESSER school hours means more planning and rest, LESSER classes means more breaks, LESSER curriculum means clarity of concepts, LESS homework means more participation!! 

We really need a rethinking of education and a redesigning of our system, so it prepares our children for the future with the skills that are needed for today and tomorrow. We need a change of mindset...we need to change the way we teach and are taught...it may look difficult but once we get going there won’t be any looking back. Standardization of pedagogy is urgently required to walk the huge divide in way we are taught in between urban, semi-urban and rural areas. While writing this petition I have the conviction that it’s feasible, together we can do it and it should be done. We need extensive co-operation between all relevant stakeholders, including local authorities and schools and the citizens. We owe to our children, to a better tomorrow. Haven’t we learnt it by rote that happy children make happy adults and a Happy Nation? Well, it’s now time to walk the talk!!

 



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