Failing our kids by taking them for granted

When it comes to school students, community events can be powerful learning experiences.

Last month I was invited to one such event in a prominent Tier 2 city of India – a students’ bicycle rally to promote the use of bicycle as an environmentally friendly means of transportation. A sucker for such engagements, I asked the school administrators if my 4-year old son could also participate; a request that they very kindly acceded to. The rally was to be flagged off at 4 pm and like responsible and punctual citizens we landed at the venue at 3:45 pm.

By 4 pm, all the participating children from across grades were lined-up at their designated spots; the volunteers posted along the routes; and the school staff at ease after the efforts that they had put into the preparation of the event.

There was enthusiasm and expectancy in the air. Soon the clock struck 4, and then 4:15 and then 4:30 and counting. Although everything/everyone seemed to be ready, yet there was no sign of the flag off.  The children were getting restless and cycled away to nearby areas, the enthusiasm on the face of most was replaced by dull despondency and resignation. On inquiring, I was told that the Chief Guest, a state level bureaucrat, who was to flag off the rally, was running late.

Slowly the clock struck 4:45 and then 5 pm.  At 5:15 pm we were relieved to hear the car sirens blaring and a flurry of activity.  The Chief Guest had finally arrived.  This was followed by a long photo session with the local who’s who; while the staff and students, the real protagonists of the event were conveniently sidelined, for whom the waiting ordeal continued.  It was only around 5:30 pm that the rally teed off and children being who they are, found their enthusiasm. I was swept by their laughter and exuberance, not to forget their zeal in participating and promoting the cause. It was only later when I had time to reflect, I realized that once again, adults had failed the children.

Again in our thoughtlessness and warped adult world, some of the lessons that we may have inadvertently, unconsciously and implicitly passed on to these children are:

  1. It’s not just acceptable but also revered to be late. If you are more important than the others, lesser mortals can wait! Time management, punctuality and prioritization are passé.
  2. One person, by virtue of his office and designation, is more important than any cause or event or collective effort of the school community.
  3. If you are an influential person, you need not be accountable. If you are late, you do not have to explain or apologize for your delay. For everyone else, delay needs to be dealt with reprimand and punitive action.
  4. Participation of the students in a cause is secondary to press coverage and promotional/ marketing benefits for the school brand.

What a shame that such a powerful event, where the school could have channelized students’ enthusiasm and interest in a community based, real-life issue was deliberately allowed to be hijacked by meaningless, sycophantic and shallow trappings of a school, political and the local business community seeking this as a platform for its narrow publicity and appeasing motives.

I wonder why schools in India invite chief guests that have nothing to do with education, who are not very credible role models, to preside over school events and proceedings.  We could have done much better by inviting someone relevant, passionate about the cause and who could rub off some of his passion and experience onto the children. But then I am a creature of limited intellect!