When did summer holidays cease to be joy for kids and turn into a pain for both the children and the parents?
Back when I was growing up, summer holidays 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 relatives.
That was because when the exams ended and you got promoted to the next class, you were free! A new session did not start before the holidays as it does today. That meant that you had a real holiday – not one where you had loads of homework and projects to do.
Though 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 just 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 do today.
Today though, the school session starts within a week or ten days of the annual exams. Sometimes unit tests are also held before the holidays, which are not as long as they used to be. Teachers take fiendish glee in setting loads of homework assignments for the kids during the holidays. In effect, the children have just a week of real holidays before the new session starts and even that is filled with shopping for uniforms and books for the upcoming academic year, leaving little time to enjoy the break between one year and the other.
While some teachers are imaginative in setting the tasks, others just give homework from the school text books. Back when my boys were growing up, one of the favourite homework in lower classes used to be was to copy a paragraph or page every day from the English or Hindi books, ostensibly to improve handwriting. While this may be a sound of way of actually accomplishing that purpose if done diligently, how many kids do you think did it? More often than not, they would sit and crib and groan in the last week of the holidays and scribble pages of handwriting, completely defeating the purpose.
I remember my younger son in his middle school, sitting surrounded by assorted chart papers, scissors, glue and other paraphernalia on the penultimate day of the holidays — 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. Come to think of it, why don’t today’s parents make children responsible for their school/homework?
In addition to normal homework, children are asked to prepare charts depicting all kinds of things – a chart to be made from the plants in your garden, (how many flats have gardens, or even an indoor one in their balconies, by the way?) to man’s space odyssey, to science projects of working models and stuff. All very noble, as the idea is to keep the children engaged in an educative way, right?
My next point will tell you why:
Many schools hold an exhibition of these models and projects once the school reopens, and the best ones get selected for display and 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 the parents, while their kids happily switched channels or did some such ‘educative’ thing.
As said earlier, I am one of the non-competitive, pathetic mothers who heartlessly make their kids do the projects by themselves. Oh, save those dirty looks! Don’t I buy them the chart paper, and arrange for other stuff like old magazines, toothpaste tops and such?
So the younger one — 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 reason for his tear streaked face. 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!” There! It was out. The tears started flowing freely now
If this is the end result of the whole exercise of 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 so long as their section in the exhibition has the best exhibits, projects and models. So who cares if it was the parents and not the kids who made them?
I hear from young mothers that the homework menace continues till date. And parents still jump into the fray to help their children come up with the best projects and models to be showcased later. With a savvy PTA, isn’t it possible for parents to work it out with the teachers so that it doesn’t get out of hand?
The methods have got refined further these days. With outsourcing everything from housekeeping to child-rearing having taken over our lives, is there any wonder that we have enterprising businessmen and women who offer their services to complete projects and working models, all 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 May after the completion of one academic year, instead of restarting a new year for a few weeks 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? Perhaps it has a sinister monetary angle to it, with school fees going through the roof.
All I know is that children these days are losing out a big chunk of their childhood because of this mindless homework bogey.
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