‘We go to school to learn!’ This is one of the most obvious statements that schools are associated with. However, every toddler, setting foot into a school building for the first time, has already acquired and even mastered at times one of the most complicated, difficult and abstract of skills—‘Language’. She / He has found ways to communicate with the world around (in the mother tongue, which would be seen as an achievement only if their educators could decolonize their mind.) She / He is more curious, more confident, eager, persistent, independent, better at analyzing and asking questions than she / he would ever be later. Do children only learn at school? Or do they also begin to ‘unlearn’ something as soon as their schooling begins?
Schools must build upon rather than curb, or even kill, a child’s innate abilities to learn, imbibe, acquire and adapt. Each time a teacher does not answer, ignores or trivializes a query, a child’s curiosity and confidence are smothered. Each time a child is declared a winner, it is at the cost of many other children who are declared losers. Under the mean logic of competition, aren’t we teaching children to see every other child as a potential rival, or worse still, an enemy? Each time a little one recounts to the teacher, ‘Ma’am, she just said a bad word…’, it is a testimony to this fact. Each time a child faces disapproval of family and teachers alike affected by poor marks, his / her persistence and innate ability to bounce back is stifled. Each time children are told to sit quietly with no fidgeting; to listen, note and learn facts as dictated; to follow rules without the opportunity to appreciate their purpose; to write exams without understanding the meaning associated with the ideas written to impress the examining teacher, we thwart a child’s ability to analyse, judge, identify and in turn, to take independent decisions. We train them for dependence in fear of formidable authority that schools have unwittingly enunciated over the years.
It is not difficult to create schools where each query is answered with respect and approval; where children are naturally attentive, as they find their interaction with their teacher interesting and useful; where curiosity is appreciated and often transformed into a skill. In truly progressive schools, the contentment of approval, rather than fear of authority, creates an environment of respect for other’s freedom. No child needs to be beaten with the physical or verbal stick of ‘discipline’ either for maintaining ‘order’ or for showcasing performance. Each child can be an equal participant in the center-stage, an ‘exemplary performer’ forever capable of re-skilling, rather than being an envied lone ‘winner’.
Learning in a progressive institution becomes a group activity where each one collaborates, creates, independently enquires and tries to decipher meaning and associated meanings while contributing constructively to the learning process of the whole group. A school can help organize the learning process in the early stage. Real learning and further association of meanings to what are called ‘concepts’ is a continuous life-long process.
Progressive schools become a creative space of trust, understanding, of appreciation, guided exploration, social approval, freedom of expression, self-regulation and guilt-free living. They are a free space where each child is free to be!
Aren’t we all looking for such a school for our children?