24 Nov 2022  |   05:49am IST

Life slowly returning to normal

The lockdown has finally been eased. We are now with relief slowly crawling out of a really extended pandemic. Life is returning to the old normal. Life outdoors has been restored. We are able to freely smell the flowers in the garden, breathe in the fresh air, feel the soil under our feet and taste the sweet water of a nearby stream.

The lockdown had many challenges that we had to face as individuals, families, neighbours, friends, communities. These ranged from isolation, violence, cyber crime, depression and declining mental health. This had the most severe impact on children. It is said that nearly 10 per cent of children across the world were forced into poverty. Moreover children from under privileged back grounds were also pushed into delinquency. A high number of babies were also found abandoned. Young girls were also forced into commercial sexual exploitation. More women with sleeping children have been found in the cities and towns begging on the streets than ever before. More children with separated or divorced parents than before. More children raised by single mothers. And many orphaned children raised by aeging grand parents.

Before the pandemic, children were spending a large part of their time outdoors, playing, engaging in sports, exploring. They were also spending time with other children. In school, at home and in their communities. These interactions with both nature and people aided healthy development. They were possibly spending the least time on gadgets and screens.

During the lockdown, and with schools operating in an online mode, children began to spend most of their time on gadgets and screens. Students were staring at screens not understanding what the teacher was explaining at the other end of the virtual interface. Most were busy exploring the limitless internet and diving deep into the bottomless pits of PubG and Free Fire. With a prolonged lockdown of nearly two years, children had become completely disconnected from nature. Under the guise of either attending online classes or completing assignments or answering worksheets, all online, entailed an entire day spent on the screen. Children had become zombies. Parents had no idea what to do with this malaise of the new normal. Teachers too were helpless. Children’s physical and mental health, education and economic well-being had been put into jeopardy.

With this scenario what kind of a future do we foresee? Are these children equipped with skills to face the future? How will these children cope with the new challenges of the future?

While in cities and urban areas this was the scenario, the children living in rural villages and hinterland villages had a different story to tell.

Going to the stream for a bath, climbing trees to pluck ripe mangoes and guavas, harvesting fresh grown organic vegetables from the fields, wading in the wetlands with storks and ducks, watching birds, feeding on wild berries, walking in the wilderness, getting wet in the rain, these simple pleasures of life was a routine that continued even during the pandemic. 

With poor Internet connectivity in the hinterlands, school teachers were visiting their students to connect with their students and impart teaching in a more tangible way. Children in villages were of course busy with daily routines of household chores and village neighbourhood activities. 

It is evident from the positive outcomes here that the village school children benefited immensely because of their engagement with nature, their families, their community, thereby building values. 

It is rightly said that it takes a village to raise a child.

So what happens to the children who have been traumatised by the prolonged pandemic. And to complicate matters what happens to the impending challenges of climate change, sea level rise, depleting resources, polluted environment, etc that these children will also have to deal with?

These are the same children who will possibly become our future leaders. Leaders who we hope will be sensitive, empathetic, caring, brave, assertive. Leaders who we hope will protect and allow humanity to flourish. If they are compromised, our future will be bleak. What must we do urgently now? These very thoughts were raised and deliberated upon at the recently held generative dialogues of the Golden Door Awards 2022. This one on the Post Covid future of children which was a follow-up on the generative dialogue last year was focussed on education. 

Children need empathy. They need a free environment to learn, grow and flourish. They need love. They also need to feel safe. They need to heal. 

Children learn more from observation. They learn from doing and making. They learn from fun activities. 

So what kind of a learning environment can provide all of this? A school without limitations to learning. A school without walls? A school outdoors? Like a village school.

It is time for school managements to take stock on this new path to take. On new systems to adopt. On engaging children and teachers in a real learning environment. Of creating a new normal. A new world. 

Let's make this happen. And you ready?

(Tallulah D’Silva is an architect and silver awardee of the Golden Door Award 2020 for truth and integrity)


Iddhar Udhar