Perspective Education

A question of absence

Why should a child go to school every day? Is it because we believe that learning takes place ‘only’ in schools?

Recently, a mother came to our school with her daughter. She conveyed that her family planned to attend a wedding at a distant place. As a result, her daughter would not attend school for 10 days. One of the colleagues urged the mother, on the need to shorten the duration of the trip, so as not to harm her daughter’s academics.

To bring in the context, the school, catering to the lesser privileged, is located in a peri-urban space in north India. The daughter studies in class V. Weddings and festivals are a clear priority over school attendance. Even in a school like ours, where we strive for, and pride on, a ‘happy environment’, days when the school’s attendance hovers around 60 — 65% are not uncommon.

I thanked the mother for informing (not common of parents) and wished the student a wonderful time at the wedding. The colleague was not amused. I wondered if it struck her that the mother had come to inform of the planned trip and not to seek permission.

Neither is the issue unique to our school nor is the colleague the only one to harbour these thoughts. It is also not rare to hear friends and acquaintances — especially those in cities and financially well off — lament that they could not take up trips as their children had to go to school. In other words, the school did not allow their children a few days off.

Whats and whys

Back to our school, the incident left me with more than a few questions: What can go so wrong if a student misses classes for a few days? Why do we not have confidence on what we ‘teach’ at school during the rest of the days? At a time when we are introducing ‘happiness curriculum’ in schools (Delhi government!), why is an average day at school more important than fun time with friends and family? At a time when, in many societies, we worry about diminishing personal contacts (read ‘time with family and friends’) and vanishing cultural mores, why do we want to disrupt the scenario where people appear to be clear of their priorities? Why do we want to discourage people from social festivities? Why is a few days absence directly related to lower performance in examinations? And even if this is the case, what is the problem with scoring a few marks less? Why do we expect children to be perfect? As adults we skip activities we are not keen on — ranging from meals to exercises and a lot else, but we want children to go to school each day as if their life depends on it. What is it that has led us to place schools on such a high pedestal? Why do we overrate — to this extent — the impact they have on our lives? Is this because we believe that learning takes place ‘only’ at schools?

Back home in the evening, I wondered why my mother ensured that I attended school with such regularity that perhaps I did little else during those days. And whether few days lesser at school would have made me different from what I am today...

The writer blogs at http://nimesh-ved.blogspot.com. nimesh.explore@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 8:38:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/a-question-of-absence/article30592618.ece

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