Schools in the recent times have overshadowed all other factors that could influence a child; especially, the most visible one – the parents. Earlier, parents or the family would play an important role in their child’s life. They exerted control over a large portion of their child’s daily routine. Those were the days when children were dressed like adults. The only clothes that were available were the miniature versions of the adult clothing like a ‘sari’ or a ‘dhoti’. Not just the fashion style, but their lifestyles were also very similar to that of the adults. They were brought up into the ‘adult world of work’ at a tender age. Also, the children were in touch with their heritage and no need of protecting them from the ‘big bad world’ was felt either by the parents or the state; although this system has changed gradually.
Presently, we believe that school is the educational flag bearer in a child’s life. This means that a school is the only institution that can help a child to acquire formal education. A school is further recognized as the savior that can liberate the vulnerable children from the clutches of child labour.
But do schools really bring out the best in all students? Do they even aim for it? This may not be the case. In 1991, the IMF and the World Bank were forced India to implement the Structural Adjustment Programmes, which led to the privatization of education. The impact of such programmes can now be seen in the entire schooling system. Education has been reduced to merely literacy. Grades are glorified; children’s personal experiences are trivialized and overpowered by textual learning. Children are uprooted from their social surrounding, and their individuality suffers a major setback. In other words, schooling does not yield the results we had initially expected.
No matter whether the schools are able to provide what they endorse, the societal view remains unchanged – each child should be protected from the ‘exploits of the adult world’, further keeping their innocence unblemished. What we don’t consider is that children, at times, are capable of juggling studies with earning. Working might teach children things that cannot be taught at schools. It can hone their personalities better than a school can, it can help a child gain relevant work experience. Any kind of work done by children does not always have to be exploitative in nature. It might do more good than bad in a child’s life.
Why does this opinion remain constant? It is the textbook writers of child developmental psychology, policy makers dealing with issues related to education and everybody else in general who propagates and strengthens this idea or opinion. It is they who emphasize on the importance of saving the child’s innocence by sending him/her to school and restricting him/her from working (with wages or without). They are to be blamed for neglecting the existence of multiple childhoods and for being oblivious of the variations that exist.
In the end, we must ponder on certain questions- Should something as diverse as childhood be generalized? Should children be oblivious of the outside world and kept cocooned by their parents, the schools or the state? Is every child in need of the state’s protection? Is our method of protecting them by sending them to schools really effective?
This could only be understood when schools get to semi-autonomously decide their own curriculum, when parents spend quality time with their children and when the state’s representative- the government creates flexible education policies.
Charlotte Massey is a B.EL.ED student from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University.