Archive for November, 2010

From one parent to another —-

We are All In It Together !


Have you ever felt —–

Joy                  Anger               Frustration                  Amazement                   Scared

Elation              Irritated           Wonder                      Confusion                     Contentment

Petrified             Concerned            Rage                  Pride           Tenderness                Tired

Sometimes all at once ???

You must be a parent !!!

Just about every one of us is a parent; and by that I do not mean that we have in some way been responsible for the birth of a child. We are however, involved in the care of children in many different yet meaningful ways and that is what makes us parents. So biologically, or by adoption, or because of our concern for children we are all parents. By this token the term `parent’ includes not only grandparents, and older siblings; but also the next door `Kaku”. It also includes, the schoolteacher, and the pediatrician. Let us for a moment restrict ourselves to those of us who are involved in the daily care of a child.

What does it mean to be a parent? How do we make this a more rewarding experience? Well, lets find out.

I’m biased; but I really do think that being a parent is one of the most enriching experiences. Whether or not we want to; it helps us look beyond ourselves; to the needs, concerns and delights of another person, to that of a child who is to a large extent dependent on us for their wellbeing.

That is a very powerful position to be in. Perhaps that is why it is so important that we consider what we want for our children. A key question to ask oneself is – “What am I hoping for my child when she/he grows up?” “Am I wanting for him or her to be a doctor, an engineer, the best designer, artiste, executive —- OR

Just plain HAPPY ?”

This might sound radical and perhaps even a `little bit crazy’ given the competitive world we all live in, nowadays. But I think it is up to us to join the rat race or not. That one drop in the ocean does make a difference. It is for us to reduce the pressures our children experience by not placing unrealistic demands of achievement. Undue pressure is usually detrimental to development of the child’s personality as a whole. We need to ask ourselves – “What are we really achieving by sending (sometimes even pushing) our children from school to hobby class and then to tuitions; and then to the ground for that all too important physical activity”. And on and on and on. From one activity to another; with no time to reflect on what it means to us or to our child to be doing all those things. Perhaps we need to stop a while and ask ourselves “Is that what life is all about?” Certainly it is wonderful to be an all rounder, and it most certainly brings great joy when we or our children achieve great heights.

But the moot point is do all children need to achieve the same height, and climb the same mountain? And who should decide which mountain — my child or me? And what if my child can’t or doesn’t seem to want to pursue the goals I think are important? Does that make him or her a lesser person?

Don’t get me wrong. We do have a role to play. It is our responsibility to enrich our child’s environment, to expose them to the varied options and choices that exist for them. And when they are so young (they’ve barely begun school) they are that much more impressionable, so much more open to suggestions. We need to use the power of parenthood carefully. We need to use it to achieve not our dreams and our goals; but to help our children reach for theirs.

Exposure is important. We do need to provide varied opportunities, to allow children to test their limits, to find out what really excites them and what makes them happy. But this means learning to walk a rather high tight rope. We need to recognize that there is a difference between providing opportunities, encouraging a child to give it a good try, supporting them so that they don’t give up at the first sight of failure and on the other hand, pushing them beyond reason. It means being alert to their abilities and interests; it means doing things along with them; it also means searching for the `appropriate’ experiences to provide them.

How does one go about doing all this? Fortunately a lot of it comes naturally; because of the concern and love we have for our children. But it is also means a lot of hard work with a large measure of patience added to keep us going! It means going in search of resources, persons, places, ideas that can help. It means talking with that child and answering their never-ending stream of questions.

If we are hoping that they will develop a scientific approach then we need to encourage their curiosity, if we are hoping that they will appreciate beauty, then we need to expose them to it. And we need to do all this with a sense of enjoyment ourselves, with them; not as a task, not as a routine chore that is part of being a parent.

What this really boils down to are three key words:-



And most important of all




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The initiative ‘SOMEs’ [Self Organized Mediation Environments] grew out of the SOLEs [Self Organized learning Environments]. Many of you may already be familiar with Sugata Mitra’s work. We began this particular initiative in May 2009 and faced many challenges along the way. Ask any of the eMediators and they could give you a long list. But what most of them would also share with you are the ‘highs’. The thrill we experience each time we make contact is beyond description… because we go just that bit forward toward reaching our objectives. And what I’d like to share with you is a bit about one of those objectives. The experience we had at today’s SOME at KHELGHAR, Pune that manifests the movement in that direction….

The SOMEs were initiated to facilitate contact between children in remote, disadvantaged settings in rural and urban areas. When we began, we were not sure where it would lead…. Every day brings new surprises! What began as a primarily story telling / story reading activity rapidly expanded to include puzzles, quizzes, sharing pictures, free flowing conversation, and even craft activities. The starting objective was that children would become confident and pick up English fluency and, in the process, be able to make more effective use of the internet for their academic development.

Though the media still refers to it as the ‘granny cloud’; that is a misnomer, catchy though the phrase might be. We have in our group not only grannies, but also grandpas, as well as uncles and aunts and elder ‘siblings’ too. What we are emphasizing in all these relationships is the ‘grandmother’ approach [if you want to call it that, as it operates in India and most parts of the world]. It means that the children get to interact with a person who is encouraging, and appreciative of their efforts, irrespective of whether or not they are entirely familiar with what the child is trying out!

A lot has happened since Sugata came up with the idea. Through this period, we became more and more aware of the potential of the SOMEs to enable children achieve objectives even more important than learning English. And this is the objective of opening up new vistas for them, of helping children all over the world gain new perspectives, enabling them to become acquainted with and better understand different ways of living, recognize and appreciate the meaning of traditions and customs in different set ups. Earlier this month we were able to get going, thanks to the children at the SOLE in Shirgaon, Maharashtra and Edna’s school in Melbourne, Australia, direct interaction between the children themselves. And yet other gains opened up….

Interest in the SOMEs and its possibilities for helping children learn English, specially conversational English has begun to spread and even places that do not have regular SOLEs set up are trying to figure out how they can still have the SOMEs, while figuring out how to get the whole SOLE facility.  One such organization is Palakneeti Khelghar in Pune. They provide meaningful ‘out of school’ recreational and academic experiences to children living in a nearby slum area.

So today, again with an interaction set up between children in Australia and those from Pune, we explored what would happen if children from Melbourne attempted to find out about the experiences of the Khelghar children related to ‘water’. The children had all kinds of questions! And they drew many responses, quite a few even after the session was over! Do remember that the children at Khelghar have never used a computer before. [They have seen one in the centre’s office, but that’s about it]. The thought of seeing children from so far away in their own room was exciting, and intimidating all at once. But they caught on to the idea that they could find out about each other using this medium [which, by the way, meant using text on skype, translations from and into English, from and into Marathi and Hindi]. And I was inundated with queries to send to them even after the session was over.

But what really struck me, yet again, was the vast potential for understanding different perspectives and situations. Here are just a few of the questions and related responses:

Q: Where do you get your water from, is it fresh and clean? Do you ever get sick from the water? Do you get water 24 hours in a day?

A: No [in response to availability of water]

Q: When do you get your water?

A: 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the evening

Q:  Do you store water? How? Where do you wash your clothes, Do you use the tap water?

A: yes… in barrels, cans, and tanks in the house and big kitchen utensils

[wash clothes] at home from the stored water

and a little later in the conversation—

Q: Does the government help you in any way?

A: at election time, [some parties] make sure we get water for 2 days at a stretch [Other children added] The Govt puts liquid chlorine in the barrels to purify the water, also potassium permagnate

Q: Do you a have a family?  Is the water enough for your family?

A: Yes it is enough…

I wonder what children with resources would make of this ‘satisfaction’ / ‘contentment’ with what little they have and what other questions might arise in their minds. I do know what questions came up at Khelghar following this conversation… They wanted to know SO much about these children… [what they saw through their webcam certainly looked different from what they are used to, but their questions were not about what these ‘other’ children have… the questions were about the system!   These are just a few of the queries:

  • Do you have tuitions other than school?
  • What do you study in history?
  • Do your parents send a lunch box with you to school?
  • How many days of the year do you have school?
  • Do you have a teacher’s day and a children’s day?
  • Do you get punished if you don’t study?
  • Do you bunk school?
  • If someone finds out that you have bunked, what happens?
  • Do you have a school uniform? Do you have to tie braids?
  • Do you have a centre that you can go to outside of school, like we come to Khelghar?
  • Are you forced to study?
  • Do you like to study? How do you feel about coming to school?

And then there were questions about families, and food, and God, and festivals, housing facilities and much more. But more about that another time….

As I listened to the questions from the children at Khelghar, I realized that through the questions they were sharing a lot of their own experiences and hope they have a chance to talk about these in more depth. It would show them a world that has many possibilities….. and perhaps they will be enabled to do something about it!

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