Monday, March 29, 2021

School bells to ring again (Published in TOI Lko edition 01/03/2021 )

 School bells to ring again

Whenever I saw my sons settling themselves before the computers for their lessons with a listless ‘present Ma’am’, that ritual chant of the whole class in unison of ‘good morning, teacher’ would echo from the recesses of my memory. Yes, in unison. Not only in wishing teachers, but also, in accepting punishments. Even when we stood in the assembly condoling a death!

I still don’t understand why, as the command was given to stand in attention for two minutes, did a smile begin somewhere, turned into a giggle as it travelled from row to row, and by the time the two minutes ended, made someone or the other burst into laughter. All of it was inexplicably spontaneous and linked everyone together.

School sure was fun time. It was formed of friendships, games, pranks and, a bond with teachers in spite of punishments at their hands- corporal ones at that! And, at this age, when we are completing half a century in our lives, we can proudly say that all the relationships have lasted so long.

The fun began as soon as we stepped out of our homes for our schools.

Games like ‘raja-mantra-chor-sipahi’, antakshri, giving a push together to the rickshaw on steep slopes and, unending chats marked our rickshaw-rides to school.

Cycling to school was more exciting. It gave us a sense of freedom and inculcated confidence. Pedaling in groups, we raced against each other, rode double (even triple at times) if someone didn’t have a bicycle and, lent a hand or money if a friend’s cycle developed a snag.

Help was always at hand if one forgot to wear his belt or tie to school during uniform inspections. As one stood in queue, the particular item would reach him when his turn came from someone who had had got himself checked by then, or one whose turn was to come a wee later.

Such was the bond in the class that even the threat of mass punishments could never make us spill out the names of the pranksters when the mischief got discovered.

Pilfering of food from others’ lunch-boxes was another fun-filled activity! Whatsoever goodies were packed by our moms in our tiffins, it was always the others’ that one went after.

The reverie can go on and on…And I am sure that all school-lives must’ve been similar to ours, until this school session began in April 2020.

The ‘class monitor’ gave place to the ‘computer monitor’. Pens and copies became redundant. The discipline of schedules went for a toss and snoozing in class lost its charm.

The change was troubling. School uniforms and the classrooms are a great leveler. The online classes aren’t. Besides the issues of availability of laptops, smart-phones and, internet connectivity, a grave issue is the exposure of the child’s home-environment to all.

Arnold’s lines- ‘in the sea of life enisled…/ We mortal millions live alone’ reverberate when I see the keyboard-monitor education. It can create automatons but cannot inculcate life-skills and develop a child into an emotionally mature human being.

Schools are meant to make us realize that we are social animals with traits of empathy and a sense of community. We are made to learn unconsciously the skills of working as a team whether playing a sport or working on a project. As we resolve a fight during a break, we learn the skills of conflict resolution. We develop fellowships that help us sail the crests and troughs of life.

Thankfully, the schools are opening their gates by and by to welcome back the students, and this generation of students shall also grow with its own memories and relationships.

--Dr. Skand Shukla