Monday, 14 November 2011

The March To Utopia

The March To Utopia
Should school vacations be regimented?

Come March, the build up of examination pressure ahead of the annual feature and its subsequent exodus at the submission of the last answer sheet brings forth a kaleidoscope of visions in a student’s mind. Hours of unhindered playtime, a family vacation, or an annual visit to grandparents at their hometown are just some of them.

Many moons ago, children chugging into this station of Utopia were a common sight. Throwing all caution to the wind, they lived the good life, their worries and troubles a distant two months away. Friends ganged up, games were created, teams were made, rules were tweaked and heroes of the day decided on the itinerary for the next. Breakfast happened at eleven in the morning instead of nine, lunch at four in the afternoon instead of two and cell phones- they were blissfully non existent. All mom knew, or bothered to ask, was your whereabouts and expected time of return, which she knew would stretch by at least an hour. The scene was no different at granny’s or at the holiday resort. The odd film or a visit to the circus and the annual fair, were but add-ons to the jolly good times. After months of restrictions, regimentation and rigour these were days of gay abandon well earned, giving the little minds sufficient time to reboot for the vagaries of another demanding year ahead.

Children, then, having a cursory interest in any field sometimes used these holidays to develop the interest into a hobby. This was only a small feature of the holidays and there was no compulsion to take part or pressure to perform. Cut to the turn of the millennium and slowly but surely, the way economic progress brought in the mall culture, so has it the corporatisation and commercialisation of the summer vacation. Different companies with varied areas of interest now put in their might to give children a ‘structured and purposeful’ vacation with their holiday programmes. Their quick fix assurances and projected turnarounds by the end of the vacation are the crowd pullers. They are attractively packaged, aggressively marketed and priced fashionably high. In exactly the way a walk around a mall and a survey of all that is on sale can give one a sense of inadequacy even after an expensive purchase, the media bombardment of the innumerable ‘avenues’ now available for children can give parents the feeling of not doing enough for their child or worse still, the belief that the child does not want to get exposed to more streams. This feeling of inadequacy is further fuelled by the competitive streak in people, who want to be one up on the Jones’s and the Joshi’s in this race to nowhere. Busy or working parents justify their child’s inclusion in these camps because of their disposition and still other’s because of a herd mentality. Then there are those, who, with the inability to spend quality time with their children, find gratification in big spends as compensation.

Whatever reasoning they adapt, it’s from the children they extract their pound of flesh. Disciplinary orders, cosy mornings deprived of sleep, long hours away from visiting relatives, missed games with friends, unending hours in schools which come in the garb of holiday camps, the pressure to excel and become a trophy the parents can proudly display, all these come at a time originally meant to be the child’s own.

The picture though is not all black. One cannot grudge the organisers of these programmes as most of them do a pretty decent job of creating modules for children and ensuring the children get the best out of it. Learning a craft, picking a hobby, exposure to a sport or an art form like dance are definitely not harmful indulgences. What does mar the prospects of these trials are pressures of over ambitious coaches or over zealous parents probably expecting every such outing of their ward to be a milestone en route the ulterior motive of being a coach or parents of a reality show child prodigy.

According to Mrs. Maitreyi Satyadev, Principal of Sindhi High School, Kumara Krupa Road, Bangalore, one cannot discount the benefits of summer camps and holiday courses as they are a safe haven for children whose parents are indisposed. With play areas shrinking and playgrounds vanishing there are not too many places where children are safe outdoors. These are also avenues for meeting peers and making friends. But it is also true that with these structured holiday programmes there is a definite loss of randomness and spontaneity. Kids then begin to behave like teenagers and teenagers like adults. The victim here is the kid, the child, and innocence seems to be the casualty.

Her views are seconded by Dr. Mythili. M. Sarma, a child psychologist, practicing at Aadhihara Clinic in Bangalore. She is of the strong opinion that it is better to let the child bloom on its own and that creativity blooms when the child is ‘doing’ nothing. One cannot justify gunning a summer camp down a child’s throat just because of one’s disposition. Time management here is the key. Parents wanting to feel good about themselves or those with a competitive streak, in the process, tend to forget the child in their son or daughter, making him see much ahead of his age. What is of prime importance is to show that you are interested in your child, paying close attention to see what the child shows a desire to learn. It is here that the true benefits of these camps can be felt. Lonely children may be prone to maladaptive behaviours, so meeting their peers in a pressure free and genial atmosphere will definitely aid their growth. A holistic approach is the need of the hour. Treks and nature camps, where children are close to nature and with a lot of adventure, give them a booster dose of self esteem and a sense of achievement. So these are definitely advisable.

Restrictions, regimentation and rigour. These words come into play when the child feels he is being made to do what is expected of him and not what he believes in or expects. Let us not get blinded and understand that the child and his interests are paramount.

The ides of March have come and gone and the train to Utopia awaits its little passengers. We need to quickly take a pick. The organised chaos of a structured vacation or the disorganised harmony of a vacation of self discovery.
(Word Count-1081)

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