A few months ago I was watching a seven-year-old girl entertain herself on the train by playing games on her mother’s iPad. She was far more deft than her mother who tried playing with her but flew into a blazing rage when the equipment was taken from her for the night. The tantrum was so remarkable for its ferocity that the rest of us feared it would end in a fit.Both parents looked embarrassed and helpless: they could hardly recognise their beloved one.
The scene on the train haunted me for a long while, leaving me wondering if it had become impossible to teach children how to express themselves peacefully rather than aggressively.Anyone who has observed children will know that “play” is rehearsal for real life and that children take themselves very very seriously.
It’s easy to note how some children give in humorously, others with some resentment and yet others not at all. A rare child will defend or stand up for a wronged companion. All these instincts are present in all of us and should be (variously) encouraged or trained to be kept under control. The culture of getting ahead or success at any cost turns everyone else in class into a rival. Since this is not very different from how the youngest, speediest and most powerful animal gets the most food or the best mate, how far have we travelled from the jungle? If one of the stated goals of Indian education is the removal of prejudices and the instilling of co-operation and understanding in young children who are growing up in a country where structured violence is becoming increasingly common, a philosophy of education for India should reflect this and include a programme for peace and life skills education which works for inner growth
This plan should have no place for exclusivity of any sort. It would be best to have children from different religious and cultural backgrounds grow up and study together—an idea that militates against the practice of gated colonies and exclusive neighbourhoods. Rather, let them all breathe the same air, share the same troubles, the same difficulties, solve the same problems. That is how they will best understand, appreciate each other, become comrades and companions, and not rivals and opponents.
Whatever technology we develop, whatever laws we put in place, whatever rare species we save and protect, we ourselves are in danger if we do not see the emotional intelligence of children as one of the most vital factors of our future. What use a nuclear scientist who sees no good in his colleagues nor learnt to like himself?