I happened to attend my daughter’s open house in school last week, and was impressed by how the overall functioning of schools have changed over the years. In my entire schooling life, I do not remember a single occasion when my parents attended an “open-house”. Our teachers distributed the answer sheets in the classroom and the first thing we did (even before we checked the answers) was to compare our scores with our friends. The gratification of scoring even half a mark more than our contemporaries was unequalled.
The teacher was extremely professional, with enlightening presentations and graphs to elucidate the academic performance of her class. She then went on to provide tips and suggestions on how parents can provide a helping hand in the tutelage of their wards. The trepidation of getting up early on Saturday morning was put to rest after interacting with the teacher – our mavourneen daughter’s scholastic feats also helped. I personally am very happy with the current grading system, which actually looks at the overall performance of the student, rather than creating schisms by categorizing them in ranks. The overall proficiency and effectiveness of education has improved, though teaching still remains a thankless profession – being the offspring of a teacher, I know this for a fact. From the inordinate fees that we pay for our child, I assume salaries of teachers must have gone up, but the amount of consternation that teachers go through during their working hours handling jackanapes is tiring, to say the least. Add to it the disquiet of setting question papers and correcting answer papers – all put together is no child’s play (pun intended)! The world that our children are citizens of, is dramatically different from what we resided in, just as ours was different from that of our parents before us. Every generation experiences changes in the milieu around them, and considers it better than the previous one. But one thing is for sure – the speed of transformation today is surely more rapid than the erstwhile generations. Technology today has gone ballistic and has brought information to our fingertips, which in itself is a boon and a bane at the same time. The click of a mouse button can, in a second, create a make-believe world or alternately decimate the very same world. Kids today are more open about their needs and do not hesitate to speak their heart out. Peer pressure is now more superficial, as kids are more interested in doing their own thing rather than peering over the shoulder of their mates.
But there are still some things where we score a march over our kids. For example, they will never know the joys of watching Aamchi Maati Aamchi Mansa or Kilbil on our good ole Doordarshan! Jokes apart, whatever the ills, Doordarshan had some of the best content ever witnessed on Indian television. Serials like Hum Log, Buniyaad, Yeh Joh Hain Zindagi, Chayaageet, Chitrahaar, Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan, Tamas, et al were light years ahead of the present lot of pitiful TV shows. Another path-breaking serial I clearly remember is Karamchand, which my father strangely banned in our house (never been able to figure out the reason why). Even the international imports beamed (though a few centuries too late) had entertaining content – Giant Robot, Wonder Years, He-Man, Fawlty Towers, Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em, Sherlock Holmes, Yes Minister, come to mind instantly. I used to skip my coaching classes on Sunday mornings to watch Star Trek, which infuriated my father no end, and was also the harbinger of my 1857-like rebellion at home! Our children will never experience the pleasures of watching TV shows on a black and white set, and the Sunday evening movie viewing, which was a mandated family event. Waiting to read the latest adventures of Phantom, Mandrake and the other Indrajal heroes is a feeling that can never be recreated today. The moralistic stories of Chandamama, the hagiographies in Amar Chitra Katha and the slapstick comedy of Tinkle, taught us more about life than we learned in classrooms. Eating a vegetable sandwich, bhelpuri or even a golaa, standing at the vendor’s ramshackle hand-cart was a memorable experience, irrespective of the quality of the epicure, were some of our guilty pleasures. I can go on… but the need to maintain brevity coerces me to put paid to my musings.
The one lesson from my daughter’s open house was the plea from the teacher that parents should encourage children to read at least a few pages every day, and write about their experiences regularly, and I cannot but agree. We need to be like the stream that adds to the might of a river, rather than the river itself that floods their minds. So the time to become their BFF is now. I end with this endearing quote by Neil Postman which sums up my feelings – “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see”.