It?s admission, not child?s play | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

It?s admission, not child?s play

None | ByGuest column | Lina Ashar
May 14, 2006 12:16 AM IST

Barring interviews for preschool kids is a step in the right direction: children shouldn?t be made to feel that they have to ?perform?, writes Lina Ashar.

The Delhi High Court ruling barring interviews for preschool children has come as a relief for parents of children who are of the eligible age of entering what should be the magical world of preschool. It should also come as a relief to all school stakeholders — teachers and educators and should be embraced by our society. If there was a specific constitution written for the rights of our children in India it should include: “The fundamental right of every child to receive quality education in a safe a supportive environment.”

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The process of interviewing children at such a tender age and/or parents are stressful and discriminatory. The mistaken objective is to seek to select the potential high achievers. For children who are barraged, coached and trained for the interviews this can also be highly damaging as they are being exposed to this at the risk and cost of other essential developmental experiences. There are critical periods in the development of brain systems in children — a term defined as ‘windows of opportunity’ by early childhood researchers. Movement is essential to normal development and cannot be left to chance. While we spend our time ‘training children’ for the entrance test, children are being deprived of a wide variety of movement experiences, especially through natural play opportunities. These children run the risk of perceptual and motor impairment.

Many think of reading and writing as “the basics”. They are, in fact, extremely complex tasks requiring the senses, muscles, nerves, and brain to all work together. To learn effectively children must have well-developed motor sensory processes. If this does not occur, learning problems may result.

The question to be posed by society to schools that believe in a discriminatory selection process is: “What great role do you as a school play in imparting education if you are only to a select the intellectually elite with the aim of posting good results?” Schools that exist and operate programmes for the gifted and high flyers are not enough. Schools should exist and operate programmes for all individual learners and allow all children opportunities to reach their potential. This includes children with special needs.

The right to education is embedded in our Constitution and this is violated every time a child is denied admission. It is a dichotomy that till Grade 4 there are no end point examinations (final) and yet to enter a school a child has to face an exam! In most cases an exam, which does not test the skills of a child but tests rote memory. An exam conducted solely with the objective to sort out children, to accept some and reject others. Educational institutions across the country take recourse to this system of selection because demand is far greater than the supply. As educators we are forced to stop and consider the effect it has on the child and the message we are giving parents; children need to be ‘educable’ to educate them. We therefore need to interview them before they join school.

The infant child is incapable of understanding the process of the interview but can sense the anxiety the parents face. The pressure to perform builds up. Children are often bribed before the interview and then berated afterwards if they do not ‘perform’. We have just exposed our children to the very opposite of what we should have as educators; a fear of trying, of attempting, of experiencing ‘learning’. All teachers will tell you that if students have positive initial experiences in education they will not be afraid to undertake learning later in life.

As a young teacher fresh out of university experiencing the Indian education system in 1991, I was appalled and was determined to find alternatives. I found that there existed many other passionate teachers who felt the same way. We came together to form Kangaroo Kids Education Ltd. Our mission since then to create learning environments that accommodate all individual learners providing them opportunities to maximise their inherent potential, foster talent, nurture aptitudes and thus ensure holistic development. We were also determined to make ‘fashionable’ best school practices such as ‘inclusion’ of children with special needs. Our inclusive education policy also embraces students from the marginalised sections of society. As a part of best school practice our pre schools adopt an open entry system. Admission at entry point is on first-come-first-serve basis.

We have found creative alternatives to the assessment systems that tested limited academic intelligences — linguistic and mathematical — to include ‘testing’ or performance procedures that include the others: visual, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal intelligences. In reality, each of us has a preferred learning style and a preferred working style as well. Given an opportunity and the right environment, even apparent failures in schools, may be potential success stories waiting to unfold. After all, even the most renowned personalities, Newton, Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci were school dropouts.

The focus is not on changing ‘what’ children should learn i.e. the content. The focus is on ‘how’ they should learn, ‘absorb knowledge’ and how to create innovative ways of ‘transferring’ this knowledge i.e. the process. The goal is to ensure maximum children in our system taste success.

Ten years of fighting for the right of children to a stress-free childhood, we have shown that education can be a happy medium to gain knowledge. Our curriculum development team is constantly involved in research with the goal to provide exciting activity-based curriculum. Programme materials created by our team include curriculum frame works; daily lesson plans for teachers, and operation manuals for teachers and Centre Directors. 

The future of India must be shaped from its greatest asset — the children of today. This calls for strategies that are child-centered, forward looking and collaborative. The country that believes in its future values its children. All children should have the opportunity to live a responsible life in a free society, in a spirit of understanding, peace, dignity, tolerance, equality and solidarity.

Indeed, without access to basic education for all children, poverty reduction efforts are likely to falter. We need a vision to ensure that children in India have the best possible start in life and the necessary opportunities to realise their full potential. This vision should include four goals, for children to be: healthy (physically and emotionally); safe and secure; successful at learning; and socially engaged and responsible.

(The author is Founder & Chairperson of the Mumbai-based Kangaroo Kids Education Limited)

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