When education should be child’s play

Children are blessed with enormous potential and intuitive awareness. There is a certain sense of wonder when we watch children. They play with their toys, express themselves and take baby steps towards knowledge. Yet, we are constantly trying to impose existing frameworks of education on children. Instead of focusing on the vernacular or their mother tongue, we impose English on them. This is a bit like trying o fit a square peg in a round hole.

Across the world, there is increasing awareness of the importance of play in children’s education. Some countries in the West have taken it upon themselves to research this area so that it can be adopted in their schools. Unfortunately, India is yet to see the power of play and we are still trying to thrust concepts of shapes, colours and food onto small children when all they want to do is play.

They say that you can learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversations. Such is the power of play and yet we choose to neglect it. The only reason for this is that it is difficult to quantify play. Where do you draw the line between play based learning and simply play for the purpose of enjoyment. Teaching through play requires an intuitive understanding of children and their psyche.

There is no doubt that higher concepts of learning are important but there is a way and purpose to introduce them to children. Learning can be so much fun if we put our minds to it. However, parents are wary of play based learning because admissions in the best schools require children to have a basic understanding of shapes, colours and other concepts. The rich stories which children narrate through play have little importance when it comes to school admissions.

Alternative education as a concept is present in India through a handful of schools. The schools established through J Krishnamurthy are particularly well known and regarded. However, here too certain hesitation prevails. Parents are unsure whether their children will be able to cope with the highly competitive world if they were to go through an alternative framework of education.

We need to move away from text book based learning which prioritizes complicated concepts in maths and sciences which have little or no relevance in the real world. The focus should be on allowing children to express themselves through play and give flight to their imagination. As children get older, they should be introduced to the arts such as painting, music, writing, singing etc.

The problem with society today is that we look at work through the prism of a nine to five job which pays the bills. However, when we were children we never dreamt of working at a desk job. We thought of being sportsmen, scientists, artists and maybe even teachers. Undoubtedly, there are some children who aspire to be doctors or engineers and they should be encouraged to pursue their dreams.

If we were to pursue play based learning in our schools, we will definitely realize the boost it gives to innovation and progress. Unlike traditional education, play is not limited to lectures or text books. Play allows children to be comfortable with ideas and gives them the space to express themselves easily. If play were to be analyzed, the inner desires of children can be uncovered and this will help give direction to them in their adult lives.

There is no doubt that the existing education system is in dire need of reforms. The focus on theory and complex ideas means that children have to resort to tuition classes which leave them with little time to play. Further, the education system rarely arms graduates with the skills to succeed in the real world. Hence, companies have to design training programs so that new employees can be absorbed into the system. This is further proof of the problems that weigh down our education system.

The argument against play based education is that it is difficult to assign metrics to it. For instance, how would examinations take place in such a system? We need to move away from an examination based system which tests students at the end of every year to a model of continuous evaluation. It should not be too difficult to design such a system where children’s creativity and actual learning is tested rather than their memory and power of rote learning.

We need to simulate the real world as much as possible in our education system. While it is true that companies have an annual appraisal system, every day is a test of your skills and creativity. Powers of memory and knowledge retention have very little relevance in a world where everything is a click away. The most successful employees are those that are most adaptable and skilled enough to arm themselves with professional skills and powers of people management. It is very difficult to teach these skills; all the more reason that graduates should be able to adapt and have the ability to skill themselves.

If you were to visit any school, the periods that children look forward to the most are physical education and library. These classes allow them to express themselves freely and explore the world. Ironically, these are also the classes where there is minimal involvement of teachers and children are allowed to simply be. If teachers were to pay more attention to children in these classes then they may have a better understanding of what drives the children and what their hidden ambitions may be.

The current education system is designed to create obedient employees who do as they are told without really having a voice of their own. While this doesn’t rock the boat, it also creates a society which lacks innovation and creativity. The hidden desires of being sportspeople and artists remain just that: hidden. However, the mind has a funny way of allowing these desires to come out in the open every once a while. The tragedy is that by then it may very well be too late to pursue them.

If our schools will not adopt play based learning then it is up to the parents and students themselves to prioritize play. While this does not mean that children should flit from one hobby class to another, it does mean that children should be given the opportunity to express themselves through play and the arts. It would stand them in good stead in their life. If our institutes don’t look at play seriously, it doesn’t mean that we should disregard it.

Originally published at http://ridingvaves.wordpress.com on February 3, 2021.

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Harsh Maskara

Runner, Tennis enthusiast, idea hunter, people analyst, qualitative researcher, wordsmith, traveler, dreamer, listener, connecting dots, theater goer