For each one of us, our time in school was what shaped us into who we are today as adults. We all have our favorite and memorable stories of school life, our special teachers, lunch time tales, secrets with friends, scraping through classes of some of our less liked subjects etc. School life was special. School friends stay some of our closest friends through life. The bonds we forge at the tender ages of 8 and 10, stay stronger than the ones made later. When I was in school three decades ago, the primary education landscape was rather simple and straightforward. Parents enrolled kids to school, teachers taught from books in classroom, kids learnt (many times by rote), appeared for exams and moved on to the next class. The times were simpler, the teaching methods and tools too.
However the world of today is totally different. Technology and telecommunications have enabled easy and quick access to information. Parents are more aware and so are children. Many pedagogies are emerging, presenting innumerable opportunities to choose from. Children of today have to navigate a bombardment of stimuli from TV, internet, social media, video games and more. Expectations from children are sky high and pressures on them, too many.
As educators, it is our responsibility to provide children an atmosphere conducive to their age, personalities, aspirations and hopes, so that they are inspired to learn in a stress free, joyful way.
This World Environment Day, while we reaffirm our responsibility towards our natural environment, let’s talk about the Environment we provide in Education today. Educational institutions, schools – urban and rural, teachers and staff have the onus to uphold 6 key responsibilities in creating an environment that is truly conducive to value based, holistic, happy learning.
- Creating a Safe Space:
For young children, going to school can spell many fears, as they leave the safety net of their homes to enter non familiar terrains. Classrooms and schools too should seem like a safe space to children, where they feel heard and are able to freely express themselves without the fear of being admonished. Reducing the teacher- student ratio can be of great help, as teachers would be better equipped to give their time and personal attention to every student. With increasing number of working parents, this attention becomes vital in making children feel safe and cared for. Schools have a fundamental responsibility to ensure all mandatory checks are fulfilled on in-school, peripheral staff members and care-takers, to ensure complete mental, physical safety and security of children.
Attention should also be paid to the infrastructure lay out, hygiene and accessibility of facilities to children. Important details like ease of navigation to the classroom, washrooms, play-grounds are critical in making children feel at home in school too.
- Creating an Environment of Curiosity and Wonderment:
Children’s minds are like clay – they can be moulded into any shape. They are untainted, fresh and pure. A teacher is the architect of a child’s mind. How a teacher teaches can make a huge difference in the way a child learns for the rest of his life. If the teacher only dumps information, the child’s mind will get conditioned to always be spoon-fed. It’s important for teachers to create an environment of Curiosity and Wonderment amongst children. For instance in many Sri Sri Vidya Mandir Schools (www.ssrvm.org), teachers encourage students to first share their understanding of any topic before teaching. They ask questions to students, rather than only giving answers. This cultures the critical thinking and analytical skills in young kids. It prevents education from being a one-way monologue, while also planting the seeds of imagination and curiosity in students.
In order to cultivate an environment of curiosity, teachers need to be able to put children at ease, work at building a congenial relationship with them, so that they are encouraged to have a conversation in the classroom, rather than simply being recipients of information. This can make learning more holistic and engaging. Addition of nature time in curricula can help in the process immensely – giving children the chance to explore and engage all their sensory powers and learn by doing, with a spirit of enquiry.
- Creating an Environment of Inclusiveness:
Children are born with a clean slate, and it is only as they grow older that their mind can get influenced by biases and prejudice. There was a time when children were protected from prejudices of any kind until their early teens, but with technology, they are maturing into this state faster. As the times we live in are more fraught with conflict and divide globally, schools need to play a vital role in fostering an Environment of Inclusiveness for children to imbibe from a tender age. Students must be taught to respect diversity in all forms through a variety of cultural celebrations and festivities. It is important children are taught a little about all religions and cultures, so they grow up with a healthy appreciation for all diverse aspects of life. In fact, it is important for teachers to be free of biases too. Regular practice of meditation along with breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya, pranayama, yoga can help make the mind stress-free and fresh. When our mind is at peace, it is more attuned to accepting people and situations in a calm, non-judgemental way.
- Creating an Environment of Kindness:
Teachers have a huge impact on the way students behave. Most of the time students can be found emulating behaviour of teachers. In such a scenario, teachers must pay extra attention to the way they deal with students and colleagues. Their tone and tenor is key, along with their patience. Students will learn universal values such as sharing, forgiveness, togetherness, respect and empathy faster if they see teachers role-modelling it. In the olden days, it was cool to be kind. If anyone was too aggressive, it was looked down upon by others. The time has come to make kindness and compassion cool again. Training in non-violent communication and peace education is key. Petty aggression and physical fights in classrooms need to be watched and checked carefully, so they don’t develop into bigger instances of violence. Sports and physical activity needs to be encouraged in schools to channelize the physical energy of the children in the right direction. Pujya Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankarji (www.srisri.org), in his speech at the WFEB (www.wfeb.org) conference on Ethics in Sports at the FIFA headquarters had urged the world community to ensure we have footballs and cricket bats in the hands of children & youth instead of guns. This is the path to a peaceful, non-violent world. The first step to this begins in schools. Teachers need to demonstrate the importance of kindness by walking the talk. By integrating techniques like random acts of kindness every day, expressing kindness to animals and plants, children can be gently nourished to imbibe this important quality.
- Creating an Environment of Caring:
Nowadays mobile phones and gaming apps have taken over the mandatory play time for children. Parents too feel compelled to give in to demands of children, and do not push them enough to step out of the house. But schools can ensure children have adequate exposure to the world around, through social expeditions and community service projects. Here children can be encouraged to contribute to the needy in the society; in the bargain learning to appreciate what they have. Many schools today in India are doing well on this count – taking children to old age homes, orphanages, inner city communities etc. This experience can be critical in their development as responsible future citizens. Understanding and responding to the needs of all stakeholders is a critical skill expected of all leaders today. Integrating with society and caring for needs of different sections of the community can help build a very strong foundation of caring for others among children.
- Creating an Environment of Inner Peace:
We must inculcate values of conserving the Earth and its resources in kids from an early age. Every child should be encouraged to plant trees, save water and be conscious of how to honour nature .But along with the outside environment we must also look inwards, because it is our inner environment that radiates our outer expression. Every year, thousands of children from across the world come to the Art of Living Centre in Bangalore during summer and winter breaks to participate in special programs – which include harmony building sessions, challenging tasks to boost confidence, meditation, team building exercises and concentration techniques amongst others. The Utkarsh Yoga and Medha Yoga programs of the Art of Living (www.artofliving.org), enhance the intuitive, innovative and intelligence quotients in children. They also help children overcome fear and deal with traumas associated with examinations and performance pressures. More needs to be done here, because according to a recent research, in India alone, 6 students commit suicide every day due to inability to handle the pressures of student life.
Education is a huge social responsibility – it is shaping the future of our world. Let’s come together today to provide such an educational environment to our children, that the world will thank us for it tomorrow.