Some children tend to catch a cold very often in a closed environment. Most don’t get enough sunlight and are at risk of vitamin D deficiency

The recent controversy over the directorship of Kalakshetra took me to the institution’s campus a few times in the last couple of months. Once I braved the potholed approach roads, the campus was quite literally another world.

Kalakshetra is one of the few surviving examples of a vast, green campus within the city that aptly alternates sights of pretty cottages and tall trees. Once accustomed to the premises, your eyes will almost automatically look for students clad in cotton saris or kurtas — to complete that arty, pretty picture — but it is hard to miss near the entrance, a group of students seated under a tree and attending class.

The students go to Besant Arundale School started by Rukmini Devi in 1973 on the very same campus. It is perhaps one of the very few schools in the city that can pull off an open classroom convincingly. The perennial shade, mild breeze and silence made possible by the location, together, enable an environment conducive to learning.

Not all schools are so lucky. My school, located in Nungambakkam, was a close witness to the sights and sounds that locations at the heart of any city are notorious for. An open classroom is unthinkable in such a context. Even a few minutes without the fan seemed impossible to bear. A brief power cut was enough for us to throw a tantrum. Some of us would close our notebooks and start fanning ourselves, while others would crib about the glare on the blackboard. One or two characters specialising in drama would ask the teacher’s permission to drink water, as if they would faint any moment due to dehydration. Amidst all this, the poor teacher would be shouting on top of her voice and fretting, trying to “complete the portions” for a bunch that seemed to be waiting for the slightest distraction.

Today, I know of kids who have a new kind of problem — the air-conditioning in their classrooms is just not right. It is either too cold or too warm. Some children tend to catch a cold very often in a closed environment. A paediatrician told me how children’s exposure to sunlight also comes down, posing the risk of a vitamin D deficiency. A few of them don’t drink any water when in school, because they don’t feel thirsty in an AC classroom. Consequently, they don’t use the toilet all day and this, doctors have observed from time to time, may have serious health implications when the child grows up.

When all of us like a cosy cubicle, a cushioned chair and soft, yellow lights in our offices, it is unfair to say children are increasingly demanding luxury. They have every right to, but when was the last time we heard of a child asking for an air-conditioned classroom? While on the playground, no child ever worries about the heat or dust. For them, it is all about beating that “IX-A section” in the game. They have no ‘five-star’ expectations of a classroom. It is parents who decide to put them in those posh schools that bait them with the “smart classrooms” tag. It is parents who fall for those LCD monitors and stylish classrooms with a glass door.

What they perhaps ignore is that in addition to paying a heavy fee — which the private school fee committee is still struggling to regularise in many cases — they also make their children more vulnerable. It is time someone opened the windows.


Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012