Back to school
It’s not an exaggeration when I tell you that I hated school with a passion. I met someone last week though who made me wish I could experience what school could be like now. Arun has been an educator for over four decades and was in Muscat on a whirlwind visit in connection with a new school he’s an advisor to. Listening to his ideas on what education should be all about both depressed me (because such concepts didn’t exist in my time and aren’t too common even now) and also made me very happy (because I felt vindicated in my decision to detest school).
I wasn’t one of those kids who got up every morning all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited at the prospect of going to school and excelling at something. Nor was I a
social butterfly (an apathetic moose would be a more accurate descriptor), so what else was there at school to get excited about?
Studies, some more studies, and a few dire extra-curricular activities, which at my school in Kolkata, meant baseball and tennikoit. Neither of these seemed like much fun to me. The first, I was just miserable at for I couldn’t connect the round bat to the round ball. The second, I was good at, but always thought that hurling hard rubber rings across the net at each other was a massive waste of time.
That’s it. That was the extent of our extra-curricular fun.
'Extra-curricular’ in Arun’s book is almost a bad word. Asked by a radio show host here as to what extra-curricular activities the new school would have, his answer was simple: None. His explanation was simpler. The minute you put in the word ‘extra’, you’ve already given it second, third or fourth place. It implies that curriculum is the main thing and if you have time and energy to spare, then you do the ‘extra’ bits. In this school, football, music and drama, for instance, would be as much a part of the curriculum as would maths, physics and social sciences, he said.
Imagine that. In my time, our outlet for creativity was so limited, so managed, that it was almost non-existent. If you were good at maths and the sciences, you were a superstar. If you were good at languages, you were acceptable. But no one really cared whether you showed signs of becoming a brilliant painter or singer.
My poor carrot cake that collapsed the minute it came out of the oven in my Home Economics class led Mrs Luthra, the teacher, to gaze at me pitifully for the rest of the term worrying what would become of me. Of course, those were the days when all of us women were going to grow up and cook and bake for the rest of our lives, and I guess if there were boys at my school, they would have been hammering nails into something and doing one-handed push-ups.
In those days, being different was frowned upon. If you didn’t fit in, it meant there was something wrong with you, and no one would dream of questioning the system or the teachers. You are still encouraged to conform to what is the acceptable norm in every way, and the one size fits all policy continues to be in vogue to this day.
Things are slowly moving in the right direction thanks to thoughtful and ambitious educators like Arun and a growing number of schools that understand that each child has different learning styles and abilities, and adapt accordingly to get the best out of them. Schools that understand that memorizing 1,000 lines of text and blindly regurgitating it isn’t necessarily a harbinger of success, much like being unable to bake a carrot cake isn’t necessarily a harbinger of failure.