Of Schools and Learning

I grew up in a school where sack-like uniforms of grey and white stripes were the norm. Shoes and socks must and were worn at all hours and all days of summer and winter – and perspiring like crazy, along with itchy socks is a predominant school-day memory.

Hari Shree Vidyalayam in Raja Annamalaipuram, under the management of the Chettinad Vidyashram group, presents a novel sight. Their children wear pavadai chattai (prescribed as such in the prospectus) and jibbas and pyjamas. And they’re mostly barefoot within the school. Something that’s possible because the school boasts polished Chettinad tiles and beautifully glazed work for the floors of its school rooms. I tell you, it’s a delight to simply remove your footwear and walk on them. Oh, and lest you forget, they have little raised platforms outside each classroom, where you can leave your shoes.

The reason for my presence there (and thus, the observation of little kiddies skipping about in colourful dresses) – was a book exhibition held in the school, as part of a Book Reading Week. I had quite a few hours to watch children as they picked and chose their way over a vast range of books by various publishers of children’s fiction.

One thing struck me: the parents (mothers in salwar suits, tight ponytails and usually pained expressions) were dragged along by their eager offspring, and nearly always gravitated towards Maths and puzzles and Word Building and Creative Writing … while their children tried in vain to push them towards the story corners. The parents were adamant, often arguing in hushed voices: “But kanna, I’ve bought you lots of books!” – she usually had two books in her hands, all of which were textbook supplements meant to improve the child’s mind vastly. I watched as the children of these mothers tagged after, looking back wistfully at the magical and mystical stories of adventure which their parents felt “had really so less value.”

And there were some children who’d been vigorously coached by their parents about their budgets – one kid actually counted the number of stories in a collection of short stories. He said he “wanted value for his money.” I freely predict that little kiddo will prove to be some kind of whiz-business-magnate by the time he’s out of his teens.

Some mothers, I grant, were adventurous. They grinned, chatted, spoke at length about definite tastes their children possessed, took the time to consult their sons and daughters about the books they wanted to buy, read painstakingly through blurbs, and invariably ended up buying large tomes that held weird and wonderful stories. Nothing wrong about buying books to help along studies … but I, fiction-junkie that I am, must admit that for every batch of ten mothers who wanted to “increase my son/daughter’s knowledge,” believed that the mothers who bought stories fared a tad better.

At least, if the smiles of the children were anything to go by.

2 Comments so far

  1. david appasamy (unregistered) on November 21st, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

    I completely agree with you Pavithra. I would go so far as to say they fared far better, not just a tad better! We were blessed with a dad and mom who envouraged us all to read by buying us all kinds of books. We practically had an entire library at home by the time we were in high school! We were allowed to but entire series, starting with the Famous Five, The Secret Seven,William, The Tarzan series, The Hardy Boys, Sherlock Holmes…and more! Those days were magical and really made us what we are today. And incidentally, I stood first in school too!

  2. musafir (unregistered) on November 22nd, 2006 @ 11:27 am

    David u just touched a soft corner in my heart.
    Lemme add some from my collectibles.
    Enid Blyton books, Lewis Caroll, (Nancy Drew too – had a crush on her and I hated her beau Ned)
    Not to forget Tintin, Asterix, Amar Chitra Katha, etc.
    @ Pavithra – I get ur point though. I see myself doing the same to my kid, dragging her to the educational and instructional sections when she would rather be hanging around the fantasy comics.
    But it was interesting to read about such a school which advocates something different from the regular schools. Pavadai, jebbas, wow that should be a sight to see. Do they also encourage traditional eco-friendly methods of having lunch and snacks – like having them on plantain leaves, etc. Do they also teach them other traditional stuff like our Pallankuli,etc, in their games period? I am not kidding but am seriouly interested.

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