Wednesday, December 14, 2011

(Very) Early Childhood Education

Yesterday, I came across 2 of my daughter's playmates - one in the LKG and another in the UKG , different schools but both affiliated to the CBSE. The LKG kid had just finished with learning strokes and now has moved to writing letters of the alphabet.
The UKG kid's "syllabus" includes writing numerals 1-100, numbers in words from one to fifty and writing 3 letter words! This boy's mother tells me the school gives him so much homework that his tiny hands start aching.
I spoke to another parent whose child is in Standard I (again CBSE). This child could write sentences last year itself and now follows the question/answer pattern.
Another child studying in LKG in a State Board school also can write letters of the alphabet in Tamil and English, apart from numerals up to 20.

What I understood from the mothers of all these children is that LKG is comparatively easy, in the sense that they start with strokes and move on to writing the letters of the alphabet and a few numbers by the end of the year. However, UKG seems to be a giant leap from there. The learning seems to speed up by this level.

The 3 Rs have now become - Rapid - Rigorous - Rote Learning!!

My question: Is there a regulatory body that takes a check on the kindergarten/nursery school syllabus followed by different schools?
There are as many different syllabi as the number of schools in town. Isn't there anyone to monitor this? There seems to be no common pattern at all.
I'm not even talking about 'alternative education' like Montessori and Waldorf that ideally integrates play, nature, day-to-day life and education. I am just talking about the regular mainstream education that city schools offer.
Adding to the confusion is the age factor for admission. Each school follows a different age bracket for admissions into the LKG level. In this mix, a three and a half year old and a child who is 4+ years old will learn the same thing in spite of a world of difference in their 'readiness' to grasp a concept.

I did some research on the Internet and I understand that in India, schools come under the ambit of any Board of Education only starting from Standard I. Anything that happens before that, is totally up to the discretion of the individual school. The school is free to either let the children sing and play all day or cram them up with heavy writing work. The Department of Education, Government of India has a jargon-filled website that indicates that there is a body to look after Elementary Education but they seem have other albeit well-meaning priorities like getting to children to come to school in the first place! I am sure there is already some structure and regulation in place that I am not aware of. If not, I feel there should definitely be some laws based on a modern look at toddlers/pre-schoolers, their developmental needs and milestones.

My point is that children are like sponges. They will learn anything you teach them - be it 100 Thirukkural verses or names of 100 countries with their capital cities. It is another topic of discussion if gifted children are 'born' or 'made'. But where early education is concerned, I think we need to draw a line somewhere - not how much a child can learn but how much a child needs to learn.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Grandpas, cell phones and back-up plans

The other day I saw a cute, elderly couple holding hands and crossing the road. The thatha (pls note: nothing derogatory but only endearing) had this little bag slung on his shoulder and I could guess what its contents could be.
1. A bottle of water
2. Spectacle case (he will never remove his specs but will still carry the case)
3. A hand towel
4. A cell phone
5. And his most prized possession, his pocket sized telephone/address book

I find it extremely cute... Though many of our darling grandpas have finally started using cell phones, they still haven't got the heart to dump their pocket-sized telephone books. And I don't think its about being techno-savvy. I guess unlike us, they don't trust technology more than themselves. Its a good idea actually.
We youngsters save every little detail on our phones and get awfully stuck when our phones don't work or worse, when we lose our phones. We end up making 10 calls to find someone's phone number, whereas the grandpa coolly refers to his address book.

I must say, grandpas are totally "back-up gurus" . I see 2 classic cases in my family - my dad and dad-in-law. The address book is the back-up for the cell phone. There is a 500 rupee note folded several times over, hidden in a secret pouch of the wallet - that's back-up cash. A well-stocked, well-labelled medicine box apart from the box they use everyday...the list goes on. My dad-in-law often jokes about having a back-up wife somewhere!!

On a second thought, I won't be surprised if the gentleman I mentioned earlier had an extra bottle of water in his bag, just in case!!!