of pink elephants and green skies

There is little one can say in praise of the education imparted by the majority of state run schools. The least said the better. At best it amounts to getting a low pass percentage in your end exams. More often than not it leads to the child dropping out of school at some point with a rudimentary knowledge of the 3 Rs.

Every child, or let us say a huge majority are born with equal potential. This potential is waiting to be realised and that is what education is meant to do. Education is not just mastering lessons contained in text books. It is above all honing the ability of each and every mind to imbibe and interpret these very lessons and then to apply them in day-to-day activities. Interpreting anything requires many skills and above all our ability to be creative.

Creativity, imagination, innovation, vision are what make individuals winners. These abilities exist in every child's mind. The best proof is the vast repertoire of pretend play that most children display. The ability to turn the most innocuous object into a wondrous one, the skill to engage in monologues or invent an invisible friend are all things that any child does with ease. The confidence to paint an elephant pink and a sky green is also present in every child till the day an adult exclaims in horror: an elephant is never pink, and the sky never green!

These are the first death knells of a budding creative mind. And as time goes on elephants are never pink again and the sky aways blue. Most kids unfortunately cannot retort by saying: my elephant is pink...And as time passes, every burst of creativity is often met with a I guess well meant never, till all skies turn blue even on a grey day.

many years back, when pwhy was still in its infancy, we held a drawing competition. There were children of all ages. We were stunned to see that all school going kids had produced the same painting: mountains, a rising/setting sun, a river, a house, trees. True there were variations on the theme: bolder colours, more confident strokes or an added flower or fish. But the basic scenery was the same. It was the one taught in all schools during what went by the name of an art class.

Yesterday we held another painting workshop on the theme: mother and child. The artists were in all in their teens. We fell of our chairs when we saw the results: we had many mountains/sun/river and only one child drew what could have passed for a mother and child, though the mom looked like something out of a fashion magazine or Bollywood pot boiler. Perhaps the child wanted her mom to look like that. At first everyone was rightly appalled as these drawings were needed for a show, but the initial displeasure was soon replaced by immense sadness as it was not fault of these kids: their creativity had been sacrificed the alter of what goes for education.

It was almost a reflex reaction worthy of Pavlov: drawing = mountain/sun/river. Even coaxing did not get us anywhere. Many kids simply stated their inability to draw from imagination. At best they said they could copy someone else's drawing. A deal was struck. They would bring pictures of their moms and try again.

Our education system does stamp out creativity. I remember an incident when my own child was in class I and was to write an essay titled: My mother. Being a bright kid who had been taught to think for herself, she wrote about her mom: short hair, working woman et al. To her and my dismay she got an F. The reason being that all children had been given a set essay. Now the set essay talked of a woman with long hair, draped in a sari and cooking while the father went to work. That was not what my child's mom looked like. I must confess that my furious barging into the Principal's office was not well taken. And i must further confess that I was unable to get the school to accept my view. I had to deal with my kid and tell her that she had to comply with what teacher said. She was perplexed. Wonder what must have gone through her mind.

She gave it back to me a wile later in her own way. When she was learning the colour of the rainbow she diligently learnt the spelling of violet as v-o-i-l-e-t. When i tried to correct her, she said that was what teacher had written on the board.

Excuse this diversion. The point that one is trying to make is that education as it is imparted to a large number of children across India is one where imagination, creativity and other expressions of individuality are stifled. And whereas in 'educated' homes such skills and abilities are kept alive in some form or the other, in children of illiterate parents they simply die. One may argue that these talents are not needed to lead a successful life. I beg to differ. It is these very qualities that allow us to deal with life's most demanding moments. It is these that help us solves crises, handle tricky situations and lead healthy lives. Lack or absence of imagination or vision deprives us of humour and the ability to laugh at situations and thus deflate them. It enables us to find appropriate solutions and deflect possible trouble. They are an integral part of any self respecting learning system. And they are kept alive in pink elephants and green skies.