I’m a humble educationist and I’m very honoured to talk about early childhood education and be an advocate for all that the things that should happen in early childhood education. I represent that branch of education which is always happy. So it would really help if you smile because we are used to only seeing happy children and that’s why we love to see happiness around us. I’m here to talk about five things that we must do in early childhood education if we want our country to become a global education powerhouse. I love the tagline that Ravi has given to this session - Beginning at the roots - that’s where everything begins. A question we need to ask ourselves as an education community is: do we want our future citizens to be literate or educated? Because that question will answer and be a solution for all the choices we make in our schools and our colleges. Somewhere, a lot of schools have lost their vision, maybe by listening too much to parents because of competition and they have been focussing more on literacy and not on education and both are not the same.
What I’m going to talk about today is the early years. And this is a quote that I love. It’s by Dr Maria Montessori and she says that the most important period of life is not that age of university studies but the first one - the period from birth to the age of 6 years. Prince Lakshyaraj Mewar said that there should be a course in parenting in the press conference yesterday and I was so happy because, in the ECA, we say that there should be a licence for parenting. A lot of people laugh but some of the things that I’m going to show you today may help you understand why it is important for the teacher and the parent to be educated about childhood education.
Look at the torture that the child is going through. I was appalled when educators forwarded this video, when mothers laughed at the state of this child, the apathy that the child has been put through and if you notice in this video, the child has learnt nothing. The child is just trying to please the mother so that the torture ends. This is because the focus of the school and the mother is to make the child “learn” the numbers.
If you notice this video, a child is bargaining with the mother to help him with his homework and the mother has actually helped the child also - she has done half the pages. So what is this education that our schools are churning out, just to fill workbooks and please the publishers' lobby? What is this education that we are talking about?
How and not what to learn
This is why our children are not learning in schools. If their emotions are free, the intellect will look after itself. So the role of kindergarten schools, pre-primary schools and anganwadis is to ensure that children are happy and they get the necessary livespace. Emotional development should be happening in those years. But what is happening? Children are stressed out, they are crying, they are tortured and their emotions are not free and that’s why the intellect is not there.
We are a nation obsessed with writing. We are now trying to bring in mammoth changes in our High schools and universities but God forbid, you tell a preschool “Yeh writing mat karo”. Oh my God! They cannot even think of it. God forbid we will change for the 0-6 years age group. Not at all! We want them to be stuck in our age-old traditional practices. We want them to write. For what goal? These children who are right now in the preschool and when they grow up, writing is not something that is going to help them. The most important skill that is going to help them is reading. You all read WhatsApp messages. Reading is something that needs to be in place. Your emotional development, your social development needs to be in place. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of our Nation, also said the same thing. He said “What is writing? It is just a drawing.” So focus on making children draw. When children draw, they understand patterns and letters are nothing but patterns. Let’s change the way our classrooms teach. That is my number one goal at the ECA. Focus on teaching the brain how to learn and not what to learn. So when you are selecting practices for your schools, ask yourself, is this going to teach the children how to learn or what to learn? Children learn how to learn only when they play.
Do you know the difference between a scientist and a child? A scientist is paid to play in his laboratory and a child is pulled up for playing for that same exploration. Children are little scientists and if you allow them to play the way they want, they can come out with many things.
Children learn that the end is more important than the process and they learn that from us. Children look for instant gratification and that is what is ruining our country and our world. I want it now and I want it my way. If teaching has to be effective with young children, we must assist them to enhance their thinking. Independent learning means independent thinking. Maybe they won’t be able to fill up books but they will be able to think and solve problems. They won’t look around for solutions.
Let me ask you a question: Why is the sky blue in colour? I’ve got a range of answers from adults including “reflection of water.”
Even 50 percent won’t be able to give the right answer. Science did not teach us this. Our schools taught us that the sky is blue in colour. But today’s child will say that the sky is red in colour, the sky is yellow in colour because that is what sometimes the colour of the sky is.
Imitation not instruction
Children learn by imitation and not instruction. We are the people children imitate. We are the people who need to dress properly, behave properly, talk properly and react properly. You need to respond to children and not react but so many parents, teachers react to a child’s comment or behaviour. So number two: how children learn is what we need to understand and also why children fail. They fail because of our choices. We don’t encourage different perspectives in education. There’s only one perspective of that age on the stage. The chalk talk. We need to come out of that. I’m glad that there are many principals sitting in the audience because it is the principals who can bring about this change. Teachers are not that empowered to bring out this change. We make worksheets without thinking from the perspective of the child.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has to be followed. If you’re sending me to school hungry and thirsty, I’m just doing things for the heck of it. The school assembly is more important than ensuring that children and fed before they come to schools. Some school timings are so horrendous. They start so early in the morning and the children go by bus which takes them an hour. I know children who wake up at 4.30 in the morning to attend a 7.30 school. I think children are saints because parents and teachers keep nudging them “Thank you bolo”, “Sorry bolo”, “Good morning bolo”. If it were me, I would snap and say “Tum bolo!”
We did a campaign among principals to start cursive writing if they wanted to after 6 years of age. Cursive is called running handwriting. You learn to walk first but no! Schools don’t want to give up cursive. How many of you here can take a pledge that after the ScooNews conference that “Yes, I will stop cursive in my school”?
Even if one school stops, it will be a great boon. Start from primary onwards, if you really want cursive.
I don’t know why teachers are armed with a red pen to do their corrections. Do you know how emotionally harmful it is for children to see red marks on their paper? Red scares. Red is used in a signal to tell you “Stop”. If I use a red pen and mark the book of a little child who is taking baby steps into education, can’t we just change it to a blue pen? Is that so difficult?
We need differentiated learning. You cannot give the same worksheet to a child who is 6 months younger and a child who is 8 months older. You have to teach teachers about differentiated learning. When I explain this to the teachers, a lot of them ask me, how do we explain this to parents? Well, if you are an educationist, you will explain it. It’s your job to influence the parents and not the other way round. Let’s teach children to learn for life and not for test scores. I don’t know why, as a country, we are so obsessed with 10th standard results. It’s flashed on all the media papers, in all the news channels. If something is ruining the youth of the country, it is the pressure of the Board exams and that has to stop.
A lot of fake news is being forwarded on WhatsApp. I’m sorry to see educated people still forward fake news on WhatsApp without verifying it. What we need to teach our children are life skills. We need to teach them the difference between right and wrong.
We need to develop their learner profiles, develop their attitudes. Emotional development is what most corporate houses look for rather than IQ. The foundation of emotional development happens in the first 6 years (Eric Erickson's work). Every mother, every father and every teacher should read his work. Then they will know why children behave the way they do.
I’m not talking about those who go abroad and work. We have good private schools but only 20 percent of our population study there. 80 percent of our population is in anganwadis or in balwadis or in none. So these are the citizens of our country who have not got the right foundation in the first six years. They won’t be good thinkers, they will not have tolerance, they won’t have curiosity. The gap between the 20 percent and the 80 percent will never ever be filled. That’s why it is our goal as educators to work for these people also. Let us have a public-private partnership. Every school should adopt an anganwadi or a balwadi and try to give them the same material that you have in your school because these are the people who are going to vote. They are going to build our country along with the 20 percent. When your emotional needs are not met, you get violent and fairness is the most important emotional need.
The Heckman equation is what all the countries of the world are following. I request schools to please train your teachers and please pay them good wages. Do away with the redundant practices. Please listen to research only and not to parents. Children don’t need fancy toys. Children need what I spoke about in this presentation.
Dr Swati Popat Vats is President of Early Childhood Association-India
Video Source - YouTube
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