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Eklavya in Chakravayuh

There is a thin line between pressuring a child and encouraging a child to attain the potential.

There is a thin line between pressuring a child and encouraging a child to attain the potential.   | Photo Credit: S. James

We shouldn’t smother a child’s talent by using straitjacket solutions

Schools typically are an expression of mankind’s obsession with standardisation and intolerance of anything that is different. From time immemorial society has been tacitly emphasising and reinforcing the importance of collective existence over individuality, and the latter has been systematically suppressed. What better place to begin the suppression process for a lasting effect, than a nursery school? The saplings can be trimmed until the roses and tulips lose their identity, and what will remain is a bunch of neatly trimmed, indistinguishable plant stems.

Differentiation is covered by uniformity. Any unique or individual intellectual journey of a child is promptly levelled uniformly to that of an expected average child, with sharp shears of "one size fits all" curriculum design to the number of years committed to such education. Children with special needs have been accommodated in the system, but children with exceptional abilities are not entertained in "inclusiveness".

While conducting a study for my dissertation on children with gift or genius, it came out that the present schooling system has no space for them. If a child is capable of learning and clearing the Class 10 examination at the age of nine, he or she is debarred from doing so, till the child reaches 14 years of age. Because, some experts have worked out some theory pairing biological age with mental age, and it is of no consequence to anyone whether it is applicable to the individual or not. A gifted/genius child succumbs to fate, and wastes his or her most productive brain years, drained on mundane and basic content. The data collected and analysed depict that the lack of appropriate intellectual stimuli being given to such children result in their becoming unhappy and perform at sub-optimal level. The apathy, if not antipathy, emerges from the notion that genius or an exceptional child needs no help. He or she will in any case perform well. Contrary to general belief, various studies show that if their talent is not nurtured, gifted children do not attain their potential. In many cases, children camouflage their abilities to gain social acceptability. Therefore, to prevent a gifted/ genius child from performing sub-optimally, provision of accelerated promotions is a necessary tool to include him in the education system.

Many educationists argue that accelerated promotion will expose many children to parental pressure. But in their argument they choose to ignore the fact that parents who desire to pressure their children have ample opportunities in the present system as well, which includes securing first position in the class to winning competitions, including Olympiads. Recognitions such as scholarships in academics, sports and in cultural activities fall under a similar category. There is a thin line between pressuring a child and encouraging a child to attain the potential. If the child can perform on parental guidance, it should not be assessed as pressure. The world would not have an Ohm’s law today but for Georg Ohm’s "pushy" father.

Besides, it will be inhuman to allow the exceptional abilities in a child to diminish or succumb to the system, because another child may not perform at par with him. Allowing systematic stunting of a child’s potential is equally exploitative and will amount to squandering a precious national resource. The present system sacrifices the interests and ability of a child with genius/gift and the same will go on until he/she is allowed to grow at his/her own pace. This can be achieved through a system of accelerated promotions.

However, it is vital that any accelerated promotions should be based on performance and not dependent on any identification criteria. This is an absolutely necessary condition for the success of this proposed system, because the definitions of giftedness are not only fluid but unreliable. Researchers such as Terman, Hollingworth and Birch have used different cut-off points, which ranges from 5-10% of an intelligence quotient test. Hence, depending on a system of percentile cut-offs will be unreliable and can be rigged. The post-1970s period has witnessed the emergence of concepts such as three rings of Renzulli, seven domain-specific intelligence of Howard Gardner and the differential model of F. Gagne. There is thus no consensus even at the idea level. Raven’s progressive matrices and similar tests work on average and percentile concepts which are not objective but relative. Hence, the concept continues to be fluid and evolving.

Since medical science and psychology as disciplines are not yet evolved enough to diagnose mental conditions and the mind’s full capabilities objectively in terms of absolute numbers relating to height and weight, extending their interim findings can be problematic. History has witnessed the use of radium in radium bars and spas, heroin on the chemist’s shelf, administered even to children, and the use of mercury. Therefore, abstaining from identification and incorporating accelerated promotion in the education system based on objective performance is key to inclusive education and respecting the individuality of a child.

Among these "differentiations" lie an ability to trigger human evolution beyond our perception; only if we do not mutilate the abilities of Eklavya to promote an imaginary Arjun.

nidhitripathy@gmail.com  

 

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 9:55:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/eklavya-in-chakravayuh/article18956177.ece

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