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The sorrows in between

The story of a mother and a child to see how the debate plays out in the realm of our education system

The sorrows in between

This is definitely going to move away from the much-discussed, rather strained relationship between creativity and structure. It will look at life which is much larger and defined by a lot more than these two arbitrary formulations. Or maybe it will look at two lives, a mother’s and a child’s.

The life of the child must take precedence as it did in their lives. The child was not prepared for a normal school and the mother did not know of a life for her child outside a normal ‘structured’ school. The school turned out to be everything it was not supposed to, for the child. It tried to teach him in a way he wasn’t prepared for. The school came to the conclusion he was under-performing. It convinced the child he was under-performing.

The mother too stayed concerned why the child could not perform. What no one realised was that the child was unhappy at school and the way they were all dealing with him was making him unhappier. They did not know how this labelling of underperformance in academics would shape the personality of this child for the next many many years.

In his early years, the child would come home and ask his mother why a period in school lasted for thirty minutes and why couldn’t it be forty-minute long instead. If he had ten more minutes, he tried to convince his mother, he would be able to copy the lesson on board and do all other chores that were expected of him.

Truth was that he preferred to watch out of the window than listen to what was being taught. Time did not mean a thing for him.

At home-time, the child stood alone, friendless, telling his parents to move quickly to the car and be away from school as fast as they could. At home, the mother and child struggled with books and copies, Math and Science. English was an exception and the English teachers were somehow special. The child was a spelling wizard. And perhaps Geography too where he could fill the maps with closed eyes. At least one Geography teacher was convinced this child needed special attention and he would sparkle. She could not bypass the system, the so-called structure.

It is really difficult trying to contain one whole life, where each day is a huge load, in a certain number of words. Time passed.

At the parent-teacher meetings, the teachers would tell the mother how well-behaved the child was. In an all-boys school, that apparently was their only concern. No teacher understood the anomaly that a disciplined child represented.

There were rare moments too; the child could transform once he was on the school stage to perform. The lines that were hard to comprehend in a classroom were memorised with ease in the form of a script. But the burden of underperformance in the class remained too heavy to bear. He did not let anything distract him or make him happy, not even dramatics. He chose sadness and sadness chose him.

The structure crushed him. The school that showed a bit of flexibility in smaller classes became a brute force in O-levels, refusing to accommodate children who could not bring good grades and earn a big name for it. It ruthlessly kicked out children who failed as it routinely did. The child could not have been happier than being pulled out of school.

The struggle of the mother and the child, in fact of the entire family, is on. Try selling the structure versus creativity debate to this mother and many others like her and they’ll tell you what a load of crap we are talking about.

Meanwhile, this mother who is in the habit of thinking is forced to recall her own growing up years, in public schools, colleges and universities; of a system structured to produce unquestioning minds and how difficult it was to unlearn those lessons and discover and bring some meaning into one’s own lives. Creativity was a far cry.

But for now, she wants to stay focused on the child. She would not squander this chance to talk about it more because it allows her to speak for all the other children whose abilities are put in question by the rigidity of structures. Diagnoses like attention deficit disorders and the attendant medicines (them too for the privileged few), the huge dropout ratio and the incapacity of society to absorb these hundreds and thousands of kids are all problems that keep bothering the mother.

She is convinced the schools ought to change. They must all rest on one foundation — make and keep the children happy. Once they are happy, learning will automatically follow, the mother thinks.

She also wants to share what ultimately worked for her own child — immense amounts of confidence-boosting that must begin with one’s immediate family. The sorrows are deep, ingrained. You need to keep trying, with love that is unconditional. There will be good days followed by bad days and may be worse. Healing after all takes time.

Read also: Music of the spheres

As for schools, obsessed with structure as they are, the mother’s advice is to grab those children who fall behind, lift them, cheer them up, tell them they can do it and they will. They must train the teachers for this and the teachers must train themselves, to break the structures at times, to bend the rules at other times. The teachers’ potential in transforming children’s lives must not be underestimated.

So if you ask this mother and her child what these last twenty years have taught them, their answer would probably be: make the structures of your education system creative enough to accommodate diversity, because as of now they’re pretty inflexible.

Farah Zia

One comment

  • Adnan Ashraf Warraich

    The problem lies with the policymakers’ narrow interpretation of education. Every child is not destined to become a doctor, engineer or a civil servant. Education is an overall grooming of the personality.

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