Holiday blues

I had first published this post in 2010.  I thought I should share it again, especially since there are many readers who might have missed it earlier, but also because it is very relevant. Like many other issues, sensible parents can take up and fight for the case against unreasonable homework which are meant more as a showcase for parents and teachers. 

*********

Summer holidays are over and the new school year has started, some in June, the others this month. And summer holidays mean homework – more for the parents than the students.

When I was growing up, this meant that you had a whole two months of doing nothing but playing, reading books (not the school books) and going on holidays to your grandparents’ or other places of interest.

That was because when the exams ended and you got promoted to the next class, the new session did not start before the holidays. That meant that you had a real holiday. Though the parents scolded you to study the books of the next class — which they would have borrowed from their friends’ children — lest you forget how to read and write, you could have a blast. Also this was done in such a mild manner that you could get away with saying, ‘Yes, ma/pa,’ and then roam the neighbourhood and do all the other things listed earlier and some, with not a care in the world. Mandatory visits to relatives in the native places apart, most middle-class families didn’t have all those fabulous holidays that they today.

Today though, the school session starts within a week or ten days of the annual exams and the NEW books for the next class are bought, covered and labeled, lessons are begun, and homework is given. Teachers take fiendish glee in setting loads of homework assignments for the kids during the holidays. Don’t they have kids, I wonder? While some are imaginative in setting the tasks, others just set tasks from the school text books. One of the favourite homeworks in lower classes is to copy a paragraph or page from the English or Hindi books, ostensibly to improve one’s handwriting. While this may be a sound of way of actually accomplishing that purpose if done diligently, how many kids do it? Or more importantly, how relevant is it today when computers have taken over everything?

I remember my younger son in his middle school, sitting on the penultimate day of the holidays and scribbling away late into the night wailing about inhuman teachers and his worn fingers! Hey, don’t look at me like that! Honestly, I reminded him a couple of times that he had homework to complete. But, not being one of those conscientious mothers who ensured their wards’ compliance with the school diktat, I followed my parents’ method. They had never bothered about our homework, assuming it to be our responsibility.

Today however, in addition to normal homework, they are asked prepare charts depicting all kinds of things from the plants in your garden, (how many flats have gardens, by the way?) to man’s space odyssey maybe, to science projects — making working models and stuff. The idea is to keep the children engaged in an educative way, right? Wrong!

My next point will tell you why:

Some schools hold an exhibition of these models and projects once school reopens and the best ones get selected for awards, naturally. The charts are exhibited in the classes and hallways and only those that are really eye-catching are selected, you understand.

So kids (read parents) get into the act, trying to outdo each other (?) while ensuring that the projects of their wards are selected for this great honour. I have seen many such projects being entirely done by them, while their kids are happily switching channel or some such thing! Given this, how educative do you think this whole exercise is?

As said earlier, I am one of the non-competitive, pathetic mothers who heartlessly make their kids do the projects by themselves.  Now don’t give me those dirty looks. Don’t I buy them the chart paper and other stuff? So my younger son — in the first standard at that time — prepared a chart on creatures living in water, peppering the chart with his own childish and cute artwork and pasting pictures cut from magazines. He then wrote the heading in his five-year-old hand, a few letters askew, and proudly took the chart to present to his teacher.

He came home that day, cheeks streaked with dried tears and a crumpled chart paper in his hand. Alarmed, I asked what had happened and got out the facts: His teacher had selected some charts for putting up in the class, and his had not been one of them. His voice trembled, tears threatening to spill over afresh. I consoled him as best as I could. ‘But that’s ok, she can’t put up all of them, can she?’ I reasoned. I had guessed the facts. The pathetic mom, of course!

“No, she put them up because they were very beautiful. Why didn’t you make my chart for me? Then mine would have been put up too!” The tears started flowing now. There! It was out.

If this is the ‘education’ that is imparted by the myriad projects and homework given by the teachers, to what avail is it? Are we teaching kids to succeed, no matter what the means? And worse, schools are abetting the deed. They don’t care as long as their section in the exhibition has the best exhibits, projects and models. So who cares who made them?

The methods have been refined further these days. We have enterprising businessmen and women offering to do all these for a fee. And knowing that people are more than happy to ‘buy’ such projects and save themselves and their wards the trouble of making them, it goes without saying that they do thriving business. Talk of  ‘professional’ homework!

And lastly, why can’t school sessions end in April (as they do now) after the completion of one academic year, instead of restarting a session and making lives miserable for the kids and their parents? If the exercise is meant in the cause of parent-child bonding, I can still understand it. But when all it does is create tension and complexes in kids, are they worth it?

44 comments

  1. Yes……i agree kids should be allowed to enjoy not only their holidays but even school days. its a race now even during the year more for parents than the kids as to how many classes the child goes to.drawing, skating, dance etc etc…….do parents really bother to find out if child is ready? 3 year old 4 year old made to skate with helmet and knee caps and what not.. on the classes issue i feel children should cultivate extra curricular activities that they like enjoy and are interested in at the age of 3, 4 and 5 guess child is too young to make these choices, are parents not imposing their views on child by forcing him from one class to another??

    Like

  2. I feel bad for kids nowadays – it’s not just holidays even their play time has to be utilized well – tennis classes, this that and they can’t waste it playing hide and seek and the like.

    I almost fainted when my husband’s 8 year old nephew didn’t know what dark room is… 😦

    We survived and did pretty ok for yourselves despite spending our holidays doing nothing productive- why does today’s world demand so much more of new kids…and i dont see things changing with parents being so competitive about their children!

    Like

    1. I see parents in a frenzy of organising activities for their kids as the summer approaches. Even stay-at-home mothers are eager to pack off their kids to some camp or the other, never mind if the organiser is just making money and had no idea about kids. The more outrageous the outfit, the more exorbitant the fees, the happier the parents are. It is really sad.

      Like

  3. Delhizen · · Reply

    My parents never pushed or forced me into books, but they had a few unwritten yet unbendable rules, no cheating, no escaping home-work, and no requests ‘but my friends mama helps her, they get projects from the market.

    I loved making projects so much better than writing 10 pages of cursive writing or other such holiday home-work. When ever our projects were not selected my mom used to proudly put them up in our room, esp posters.

    I have 12 yr old for a neighbour who comes to me every summer in hope that I will make his projects. No way, I say! I help with research, ideas but thats about it….

    But schools too need to be more responsible I don’t think its too hard to sport a project created by a student and bought from the market?

    Like

    1. Good for you that you don’t help the neighbour’s kid with his projects. some of them are so lazy that they don’t even want to research material for their projects. I guess these are the ones that ‘buy’ their assignments. As for teachers finding the difference between a bought one and one made by the kids themselves, they do know, but choose the best looking ones for exhibition.

      Like

  4. Thankfully my daughter’s school made sure that only the projects that were made by students were selected. And Tee always loved doing her projects on her own.

    Sadly, most students do a copy-paste job for their projects. And once they are in senior classes, holiday homework seems like one big joke for them.

    Like

    1. That’s the best way to encourage students to do their assignments by themselves. As for the second part of the comment, that’s precisely why I say that the projects serve no purpose — except perhaps to keep the kids (parents) busy for some time. Most of the assignments are turned in shoddy shape and the others are professionally completed defeating the purpose of the entire exercise. It is only a handful of sincere students who do them properly and those are the ones who have little time to have fun!

      Like

  5. Holidays are for fun.Who ever invented this idea of having projects for summer vacation? Academic year you study and holidays to enjoy.I’ll take any school which says otherwise,tooth and nail!!!
    Akka,you made me bristle…No one has the right to ask a kid to do projects during summer vacations..But then these days kids spend more time in front of the TV than playing outdoors..Mango trees too hate summers these days..What is summer without kids on trees?

    Like

    1. You have said it all in your comment Blue Lotus. Holidays are for enjoyment, but the kids these days don’t play much outdoor games,especially the kind of games that kids a generation earlier played. But all the same, the unimaginative assignments take away the enjoyment of the holidays.

      Like

  6. Well, being an elementary school teacher myself till recently, I couldn’t agree with you more on piles of ‘holiday home work’ being given come summer break. And the teachers competed with each other in giving the most challenging work(be it projects of making models, charts, art work…)to the kids! The L&M always showed his displeasure when I racked my brains to come up with of some difficult and challenging projects ! He felt we teachers were out to torture the kids instead of letting them enjoy the vacation ! Of course he had a point there, but we were bound by our duties….so heaps of ‘holiday home work’ it was !
    My first born did enjoy doing challenging projects……And though he did spend lot of time researching and completing it, he did not pay much attention to beautifying his work – no stencil writing, no decorating with ‘jigna’ pens or colorful stickers for him ! When I told him to take little more trouble to present it better, he said, ‘Mom, for me doing the project allowed me to learn a lot, which was what the project aimed to do. I’m happy with the effort.’ ! I couldn’t say anything to that !

    Like

    1. That is typical of Adit, isn’t it? Good for our kids, we let them labour over their homework. Vinni liked to jazz it up with his charts and stuff, right from the beginning which was why he had been upset. I can well imagine someone like you falling in line of your teacherly (if there is a word like that !!) duties 🙂

      Like

  7. Zephyr, starting the next session immediately after the previous one is a huge conspiracy. It nets unfortunate parents like us every time we are transferred to a different city as we end up paying at least a significant chunk of fee for the session our children will never attend. And if that were not all, we are made to cough up for the missed sessions at the new place too! And I have not even started to talk about the miseries that poor kids face in the process.

    Another dimension of the conspiracy has been succinctly described by you as you rake up the ‘homework’ and the ‘projects’ that the kids are saddled with. I wouldn’t be surprised if the commercialized project-makers are part of the kickback racket along with the uniforms et al.

    Can’t we please start a movement like the recent Lokpal thing to restore the old and golden system of starting the new sessions after the holidays?

    Like

    1. That is a terrible fact I completely overlooked in the post. Thanks for pointing it out. It must be such a huge drain on the resources of parents with kids. There is no system of refunding tuition or any other fees that the child was not going to use. Kendriya Vidyalaya used to be the refuge for parents like you in the past, but they have lost their sheen and today are just a notch above apathetic government schools.

      Come to think of it, the commercial project makers could very well be part of the huge business that schools have become. If you met some of the promoters of these educational trusts, you would know. for many of them it is ‘kale akshar bhains barabar.’ Who cares as long as the school has a swanky building, tosh buses, and a ‘computer lab’?

      Like

  8. Vacations for me was always a fun time, bonding with cousins, playing with my bro… It was great fun and we never really bothered about the next session! This change has been kind of rapid one and its steadily moving for the worse! There is no education today just competition, i feel, amongst parents, amongst teachers…and the poor kids just get ground in the entire melee!
    You have so beautifully written it all and this post definitely rings a bell 🙂

    Like

    1. My sincere Apologies, Zephyr..You had to take the trouble of typing the comment on my blog all over again, i am really sorry, please excuse me for that.

      Like

    2. Competition has deteriorated to such an extent that it doesn’t bear to see or tolerate it any more. I felt the heat all those years ago and the kids suffered because of the unjust methods adopted by other kids and their parents. Today it is all technology and no education. Kids are learning less and less.

      Like

  9. Yippie… I am out of school bus, tut ions, summer vacations and PTA meetings..Yet it all came back after reading the post.

    Like

    1. Oh yes, I feel so liberated too! But when I look at the younger set of parents going through the grind, which has become tougher I feel sorry for them.

      Like

  10. I am yet to take this journey as a mother but I remeber my own school days and how parents used tohelp out their kids and I was devastated that my parents never did help other than guiding me. But then I know it helped me evolve into a strong individual and have been able to stand up to the toughest situations. Many of my classmates have not.
    When I was in 6h I won a national award for an essay competition. I was the youngest and was a bit upset that my rank was 25 among the 50 chosen. When we came to know that most of the participants had their parents write for them ( most of the winners were college going), my father proudly proclaimed that my daughter wrote her own entry and I didn’t even know that she sent an entry. That was a bigger award for me than the other one 🙂

    Like

    1. BTW many a times it is the parents who demand that homework be given. Mostly so that they can keep the kids engaged for some time.

      Like

      1. Parents used to demand that before. Not anymore, I am sure — when they have to either do it or pay for it 😛

        Like

    2. That must have been such sweet victory! imagine coming so high in the placings while competing with college students! No wonder your father was so proud of you. 🙂 Like Vinni has commented, my being a ‘callous’ mother has made them better able to face situations, just as you have said.

      Like

  11. Came here from Ratzz…Post valid even after an year 🙂 Honestly my parents never helped me with any of the chart work except buying the stuff and perhaps giving us an idea that we could do something like this and that…rest was our own work…whats the use of giving such work to children when you are going to select the one which is the most beautiful (read made by the parents or outsourced) instead of the one which shows that its been done by the child! Loved the post

    Like

    1. I was shocked to see ads posted in public places offering to complete homework projects for a fee. Isn’t there a limit to cheating? Of what use is such homework when the kids don’t do it themselves. worse, they learn early that money can buy anything. Wise parents still do what your parents did with you all and what I did with my boys and I am sure, you will do the same with your kid too.

      Like

  12. The state of education in India has been worsening steadily for a while now and sometimes it makes one wonder if it is now about making kids smarter or dumber. And yes the parents had joined the fray long ago…some people can never stop competing…if it’s not with their peers they’ll chose their kid’s friends parents.

    Really nice post aunty…loved it

    Like

    1. Hi Anupama, nice to see you here and thanks for the comment. You are right. Whether it making kids any smarter or not, it making them a lot tenser for sure!

      Like

  13. I have always balked at the way things are done at schools, the way guys used to turn up with their projects and models. I was probably lucky, coz, my mum would help me or tell me how to do things, provide a feedback, show me the right way but never do it for me. So, if I made a model for water cycle, I did all by myself with mum providing all the necessary input.
    It helped in the long run and still I actually feel awkward asking someone to things for me. 🙂

    Beyond that, I saw how things got worse with my sister and then brother. Made me question things. Once had to face the principal for being too vocal about the class tests being absolutely stupid and nothing but needless strain when they are never able to provide a true measure of a person’s intelligence, how things were not interesting enough or how we didn’t have enough practicals. Apart from a rap on my knuckles and a prolonged lecture nothing happened.

    And then engg. that’s were I my earlier doubts proved true.

    We are not educated!! Most schools, universities they don’t educate us – they train us how to conform to the established rules and win.

    4 years of electronics engineering, I still can’t explain the electron flow in a npn transistor, or how the mobile antennas really work. It was part of my course. I graduated with a distinction. I earned a degree – but no knowledge. So petrified I was of my understanding I avoided a technical job and went for programming for which I discovered I had a knack.

    Who was fault? Me? Yes!! The prevalent norms? Yes!! How to rectify I don’t know.

    Like

    1. Sumit, That was a revealing comment. I am gratified at the responses this post has evoked and makes me take heart in the hope that you have the power to change things if you put your heart and minds to them. experience is the greatest teacher they say. so let’s learn to be easy with the coming generations of kids! but your closing lines sound helpless. please don’t give up so easily, will you?

      Like

  14. Quite honestly, the summer holidays back then were playing literally from dawn to midnight while waiting with apprehension for the results of the exam gone by to come by post till midschool. I remember later being bogged down by the asinine homework you are talking about..some crazy essays we had to right for the English class..and I put in putting several hours of my precious playtime for those and guess what, the teachers never even bothered to look at the essays which lay in a neglected heap in the staffroom..I even remember bugging the teacher in question for a good semester to please read those essays that I had so toiled over!

    Like

    1. you are right. often, homework is given for the sake of it, without any thought to its usefulness or increasing the knowledge of the students.

      do come back for more Richa

      Like

  15. achillesatpeace · · Reply

    Really well written and amazingly thoughtful ma’m. I really appreciate your approach towards parenting.

    And yea, very right put – education today is making the poor children (of no matter what age they are) understand that they have to succeed in life by doing whatever they can and not whatever is the right way. And we as parents/friends/older siblings (in my case) can just be observers to the whole thing and wonder where does it all end.

    On the hindsight, I guess we somehow have ourselves to blame as well; at least to an extent. We live in a society wherein if our son/daughter/child doesn’t do well in a measly class test then hell breaks lose for the kid and a practical show cause notice is served to him/her. I guess, the parents also have to be a wee bit understanding that after all a kid is a kid and more importantly a human and NOT a machine. More than anything else, we need to support the younger lot.

    Like

    1. thanks for the comment. keep visiting for more such ‘nagging’! it really cheers me to know that the younger generation feels so strongly about the injustice of the school system as it exists in our country. the secret is not to forget one’s childhood and adolescence and taking steps to see that our kids are spared those heartaches. i am sure every drop counts and every step to correct the anomalies is a giant one. go and do it!

      Like

  16. Excellent post Ma’am! I wonder how many parents think like you do? My mom too would be apathetic about my homework. However the teachers would pester her instead of dealing with me. Can you believe I had a teacher in my Kindergarten who refused to accept that I’m a left hander? She would criticize me for writing with my left hand and forcibly made me write with my right hand while I couldn’t. This is what caused me to dislike school.

    When I got a fantastic class teacher in my 3rd grade (Mrs. Celine Ishwar) this all changed. She made learning fun and never put pressure. I always remember she would think before giving the homework and ensure that we could do it ourselves. She would pay attention to weaker/naughty students like myself and make us not feel left out. That’s all that I needed, attention and some love.

    Today, I see my cousin sister slogging over my niece’s home work. It’s pathetic. Doing homework takes a higher precedence than making food even when I’m invited as a guest to her house. She literally spoon feeds my 13 year old niece for everything. When I ask her why she does all this, she says the teacher will not allow her to attend class, competition blah blah. Why do we need to tutor kids at home? What is all this competition about? Where it came from?

    So here lies the entire contradiction: do parents work hard and pay huge sums of money for their children to attend a school only to get them tutored after school and do more of their abstruse and useless homework or should the child be taught in school how to solve the problems and the school ensures that the child enjoys learning?

    The problem with education now is there is too much competition. Marks matter more than knowledge. When there is no knowledge there is no fun. If there is no fun, the kids haven’t learnt. I hope someone brings the fun back.

    Like

    1. one of the main reasons for the state of affairs today is that teaching has become a job, not even a profession, leave alone a vocation! often teachers take to teaching as a stop-gap arrangement before landing a corporate/bank/government job. worse, the same teachers who only half teach in the class are more than willing to put in extra efforts for the same set of pupils in the tuition classes they hold after school hours!

      but there are still good teachers like yours who continue shaping characters and even careers. as i said in my reply to siddharth, you have the power to change things. so go ahead and do it.

      Like

  17. Siddharth · · Reply

    Ma’am your every post touches a new thread of thought in my mind. I too believe that the age is past when children could just be children – have fun without a care in the world type I mean. However I feel that even if schools were to go back to the traditional “we start after the summer vacation” schedule it won’t help since parents will still force their kids to go to summer classes and camps that promise to teach them anything and everything – right from cricket and dancing to cooking and computers.
    What needs to change is the attitude that parents have towards their kids – looking at them as their own personal achievement. Sure you were involved in the kid existing in the first place but give them a chance to be kids. Its almost like the kids have become the new age phallus which decides the alpha male!

    Like

    1. sometimes, we cannot change people’s attitudes since they are in turn influenced by their peers and the society at large. how can you allow someone to say that your child is not as good as theirs? so the pressure tactics.

      but there is one thing this generation, which has gone through the grind can do: not repeat the things that had hurt them in any way while they were growing up. just imagine what this would do to the society, if a whole generation stood up for the right to give ITS children the right to be themselves!

      Like

    2. Pratibha · · Reply

      Are you sure you never had fun during summer vacation? Yes, I used to wake you up early in the morning. Firstly ‘in those days’ you could not sleep after 6 in the morning and then you and your sister wanted some exercise in the morning so that you could eat all those home made goodies through out the day. I dont think I ever ‘wasted’ your holidays by enrolling either of you in any of those ‘classes’.
      I’ll be honest and admit that I made both of you study also but I am sure you will agree that the three of us used to devise new means to make learning a fun. Although I would like to put the records straight, if ever I forced you to study, it was not because of peer pressure. But yes, every time either of you does well in any sphere of life, I feel to have grown taller.
      And yes, if I was after your lives during examination days, blame it to my parents. They actually let me grow at my pace. I wish I was scolded if I didnt do well. Then I would have tried my best to do well. Yes, my good results were always applauded.

      Like

      1. Oh I miss these mother-son nok-jhok in my comments section, what with Siddharth being so busy. But I am glad you picked up the gauntlet, albeit a year late. Waiting for his reply now 😀

        Like

  18. Was I really all that upset? But, to be honest and I am admitting this in public those things you did not do then is what makes us able to stand up on our feet today.

    It was all about good parenting, that we were left on our own to do things the way we thought was right. We fell and might have failed, but you were always there to guide us back and maybe we fell again. But it only made us get up again and go for the kill.

    Don’t you remember how in 8th class I had all the posters I made feature in class. I had made an entire lot of 10 posters. They were on the school walls for the entirety of two weeks.

    Like

    1. correction: “It was all but good parenting,” to “It was good parenting”.

      Like

      1. You caught your own mistake before someone else did 😀 😉

        Smart! 😛

        Like

      2. for a moment i thought it was a grudge comment! especially about falling and getting up…I also remember the titles of ‘world’s baddest mother’ given umpteen times by you and your brother when i steeled myself not to run and pick you up.

        Ha ha. seriously, i never noticed the mistake since the eye wants to see what it wants to see and likes(?)thanks Vinni. you have not only made my day, but also my years…

        Like

        1. I think Vinni’s comment and ur response is the best part of the post Z! 🙂 makes me all teary eyed 🙂

          Like

  19. I so agree with you on this…and am a weebit scared of this myself ‘se soon I’ll have to don this hat of ‘pathetic mom’ who makes her kid do his own work!

    Honestly, what can be achieved by giving kids projects that are ultimately made out by their parents? They’re learning, but only how to delegate work!

    Like

Enter the discussion

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: