Monday, January 14, 2008

So that the alternatives become the rule

Kudos to Amol Gupte and Aamir Khan for scripting and producing a first of its kind film in Bollywood. Taare Zameen Par is a remarkable view into the world of a child who faces difficulties in the contemporary education system. The deft handling of the subject demonstrates a new maturity in Indian cinema. The responses that the film is evoking from the viewers perhaps also indicates that there might be a change in the way we understand children and their growing-up needs in the near future.
Growing social dependence on schools as the major providers of education has resulted in schools becoming increasingly closed in the way they deliver and assess educational progress. Driven by an output-obsessed culture, progress of all children in most schools is measured in terms of narrowly defined learning outcomes and examination results. Most educators and parents seem to be unaware that children go through a range of processes as they grow and learn. They also seem to be equally unaware that there is a method in both understanding and facilitating these processes.
Taare Zameen Par is not a film about a dyslexic child alone. It is a film about how schools and parents are unable to understand children and their needs and fail to recognise differences among children. Education is about knowing children, about designing and facilitating learning experiences that children would enjoy and through which they would construct meaning about this world. In short, it is about curriculum development and its transaction. In the dominant behaviourist mode of education, with its prescribed syllabi, emphasis on conformity and marking system, where is the scope for curriculum development? The matrix provided to teachers is about policing, teaching and testing. It is not about creative ways of helping children make connections with language, numbers, people, events and themselves.
With increasing awareness and early identification, a relatively large number of children are being diagnosed with a range of learning difficulties. However, our educational institutions also need to be examined for their role in abetting the rise of such difficulties. The practice of testing and repudiating has become so deeply entrenched in our attitudes and expectations that we have become increasingly intolerant of differences in the way children learn. The result is the creation of disturbing gaps within classrooms. Those who think or seek to express themselves differently are marginalised early. Further, because our understanding of learning differences is so blinkered, we invariably club a wide range of children who are different as special - little realising that the word special means to recognise strengths and not to simply label as inadequate.
Taare Zameen Par highlights the plight of a child who can learn but learns differently, who wants to learn but is not being understood. The story passionately tells us to question our roles as educators, planners, teacher trainers, curriculum developers and parents. Research could perhaps reveal the connection with the loss of self-worth of many children because of our educational institutions and their inclination to vent their inner unhappiness with themselves and the world through hatred and crime. Of the criminals arrested in urban India in 2005 and 2006, about half were between 18 and 30 years of age. Many amongst these are young people who may have dropped out of school in the middle or senior classes.
A wide range of market-driven, media and social influences make parenting today a challenging experience for many. The frustrations of young people growing up in a family with less than adequate means together with the fear of competition and the obsession for success often manifest themselves in ways that one cannot foresee. As adults, we have failed our children. We will need several thousand films, books, exhibitions and plays to sensitise people about children’s lives. Simultaneously, we will need serious soul-searching on the part of school heads, teachers and parents to work towards viable alternatives in the way we teach and assess so that the alternatives become the rule. (The writer works as director of education, Shikshantar, Gurgaon.)

No comments:

Post a Comment