The coronavirus pandemic has been taking a massive toll on the emotional, mental and psychic well-being of people across communities but one of the biggest victims of this entire crisis have been school going children. While we have had many discussions on how children in remote corners of the country or those belonging to economically marginalised sections of the population are having difficulties in accessing online education or how in the absence of network connectivity and electronic gadgets they are missing out on crucial academic pursuits, this article tries to look at their wellbeing not from the perspective of educational accessibility alone but from their more basic needs for free movement, interaction with a similar age group and ability to play without restrictions.
Just as much as children need quality education and quality parental intervention to grow up into sensitive, compassionate, creative, intelligent and well-rounded individuals, they also require the freedom to play, engage and rediscover themselves with other children in moments of unconditional play and interaction.
Confined to tiny apartments in our urban centres and being compelled to attend monotonous lectures in the name of online classes, bombarded with bundles of home assignments and the pressures around memorising discrete facts from history, physics and civics- little children are living in a world that they would have dreaded under normal circumstances.
How can a child live without going out to the open fields with his football or cricket bat, how can children live without endlessly laughing on slides, sea-saws and swings or playing hide & seek with friends? What does childhood entail if friends can’t play games together or sit under the splendid sun sharing sweets, imitating teachers or painting the skies with their dreams of growing up?
Children find themselves the happiest and most contented when they are with other children, in their talking and interaction with each other, in their cooperation and conflict, in their games and endless laughters – but the coronavirus pandemic has snatched away their freedom to venture out, interact with fellow playmates and enjoy themselves to the fullest. Today our children spend days in monotonous online classes from morning till night, play games on their phones and Smart TVs and look from their skyscraper balconies into the distant, alienated and unreachable world below.
Parks are empty, open fields waiting for the echoes of children’s laughters, swings and slides desolate and balls, bats and rackets lying around the house, as if they are artefacts from a bygone past.
As someone who has been deeply engaged with the domain of education and as somebody who has worked closely with children, this trend makes me uncomfortable and compels me to ask some very difficult questions that perhaps don’t have easy answers but which remind us that not all is quite well with the way our children are being compelled to lead their lives amid the coronavirus pandemic.
But while educationists, teachers, parents and other stakeholders of the educational landscape speak about their concerns for children amid the coronavirus pandemic and put forward their ideas on educational accessibility, marginality, mental distress, depression and anxiety among children amid the coronavirus pandemic, I thought to myself, that its quite unfair to discuss an issue which is so central to the wellbeing of children, without taking into consideration what they feel, what they think.
It is for this reason that I decided to speak to some children about what their lives look like amid the coronavirus pandemic, how they are spending their weekdays and what they do on weekends, what they are thinking about the effects of the pandemic on their lives and how they look at their own parents’ changed work patterns, what makes them happy, angry or uncomfortable and what they would like to do in such times. I think when we listen to children and consult them in matters that shape their existence, we allow them the much-needed dignity and power to become vocal, articulate and creative agents of their own destinies. Here is the essence of my conversation with some children on how they are looking at life amid the pandemic.
“God is punishing us for our bad deeds through the coronavirus, Says Amaira Shehnawaz
Amaira Shehnawaz who is just seven years old and hails from the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh told me that when the lockdown just started, she felt extremely happy that she wouldn’t have to wake up at 5am and rush to school or do homework, but now she misses her friends and wants to return back to her classroom. She also told me that the coronavirus pandemic had come about as a reminder from god that we we were being too hateful and unfriendly with some members of the society and fighting too much amid ourselves and god wanted to punish us for this. She playfully said that just like her teacher would make her stand outside the class when she acted naughty or fought with a fellow classmate, god too was giving us a punishment for our bad behaviour.
“Playing online games is fun but its nothing matched to playing in the green fields,” Says Rudransh Yadav
Rudransh Yadav who lives in Bihar and is fifteen years old told me that while he was enjoying his online classes and was glad that his parents were working from home, he missed meeting his family and friends who lived outside Bihar. He told me that the pandemic and the prolonged school holidays were very frustrating and there were days when he dreaded to sit throughout the day attending lectures and doing his school work because it was tiresome to live a life where going outdoors was equated to going to the balcony and there was no possibility of meeting up his friends in person.He did play games on his mother’s phone but told me it could never match up to the experience of playing cricket on the field with friends.
“I feel I may lag behind in my studies because we often have no extra money for recharging mobile data,” Says Laxmi
Laxmi who is nine years old and lives in the suburbs of Delhi has an altogether different story to share. Her mother works as a domestic help and her father works as a driver for OLA. The family income saw a rapid fall in the days following the lockdown and financial strains costed the family dearly. Laxmi has been finding it hard to attend her online classes because sometimes there is just no extra money to get a data pack and sometimes even her mother has to take her mobile phone along with her to work. Laxmi has started helping her mother in making arrangements for dinner and cleaning up the house, she also gets to meet her friends in the neighbourhood almost everyday and they do spend sometime together. Laxmi feels bad for her parents but knows that once the virus is over, she will return back to school and study hard to make them proud. Laxmi fondly remembers how she would have ice-cream and samosa on her way back from school with her best friends Kalita and Komal. She tells me that sometimes she feels anxious that she may lag behind academically due to missing out on her online classes.
The interactions with these children have proven fruitful in allowing me to have a glimpse into the minds and lives of kids and understand how they look at their own realities. The pandemic has erected new challenges before us and brought us to a time that we have no clue regarding, children too are finding themselves clueless.
They are waiting to return back to lively classrooms, tempting green fields and endless chats and moments of play with other kids of their age. Let us all hope that the pandemic soon comes to an end and our children can return back to the fields and rediscover themselves in the company and togetherness of their playmates, teachers and well-wishers.