Can we teach children to love first and compete later?
By A Idhries
ZEENIYA cried a lot yesterday while talking to me on the phone. Not for her doll or her chocolates, but for her studies. Hiccups followed by questions as her mom tried to make sense.
The six-year-old can’t make sense of her world these days. Her school exams have started, and so have her tears. She probably, like others, is struggling with her reading skills. She lost three years of schooling to the COVID-19 pandemic and Article 370 and finds it difficult to read.
She has no difficulty speaking not one but two languages and understanding the third one. But when it comes to the reading, she finds it challenging to add words and make them into sentences.
Her support all these months has been Eshal. “Eshal Saleem”. Zeeniya always corrects me. She is her life. The little ones exchange greeting cards for each other. Each card is done so meticulously that you can only envy their love, trust and faith for each other.
When either of them is absent, their day turns sombre. Zeeniya took tiny crackers to school to show to Eshal. I found out that in the evening when she came from school. “Eshal ko dikhaya bas,” she said non-chalantly.
All these months, Eshal has been Zeeniya’s support in reading those languages. Helping her write and sometimes attempt Zeeniya’s worksheets in the classroom. Zeeniya, in turn, is assisting Esha in speaking and making Eshal understand those English and Urdu lines. Courtesy YouTube, Zeeniya is a pro at speaking languages.
Their bond is beautiful, and they feed on each other’s strengths and insecurities. Love, compassion, empathy, sharing and kindness are virtues of their bond.
Today things changed. It was Zeeniya’s first term exams, and the six-year-olds had to sit according to their roll numbers. Suddenly Zeeniya, after months, was sitting with a stranger she hadn’t interacted with before.
She cried, requested and cajoled her teacher into allowing her to sit next to her beloved Eshal, but they didn’t bend. After all, they are following rules. The system has been laid down out for years.
That stranger had behaved like a snob. All boys are snobs at that age. He had hidden his answer sheet and not showed Zeeniya anything. And Zeeniya wasn’t looking at him because “Mam said. No cheating”. A new world for the little one. She learnt a new behaviour today. ‘Not sharing’
She hadn’t performed well as per her expectations and had come home in a bad mood. She was crying and questioning why she couldn’t t sit next to Eshal.
All evening she was trying to make sense of roll numbers. “Will 15 sit after 16 and 4 after 3, and 12 after 11”. She tried all her permutations, but Eshal still sat very far away. Breaking into tears every time, she tried different numbers only to get disappointed again.
Those tears and questions tore into me. They still are tearing into me as I write this. For parents, daughters are special and seeing them crying isn’t lovely. It isn’t pleasant.
Why couldn’t she sit next to Eshal? I wanted to ask her teacher. She is just six-year-old, and even if a fellow student helped her in her writing, how would that have harmed her or any child’s future in that classroom.
This gets me thinking, and I ask a larger question.
Why do our educational and grading systems initiate competition and not collaboration early on? Why can’t friends or all children sit next to each other and solve problems together? Why can’t we teach children to love, compassion, kindness, and empathy from an early age?
No wonder you have seen so many people in offices around you that don’t think twice to demeaning and be vile to move ahead on the corporate ladder. They don’t think twice because they have been taught to compete, not collaborate. They have been taught to be unkind and not share.
And how will you create a collaborative and kind work atmosphere when you are taught from a young age to slit the throats of the competition for you to move ahead in life.
This schooling system is at complete odds with our present and future work culture, where working together is not a luxury but an absolute must. All this month, in my office, my boss has constantly been talking about working as a team, and we see virtues and results in that. It can never be us versus them, but we work together to find a solution.
This individualistic notion of “I will win at the cost of everyone else” must be old school and should have no place in our work culture.
From the beginning, we must teach children that we must be friends, be kind, have empathy and work together to find a solution.
Competition is essential, but collaboration is paramount. We all have unique special skills, and we can run this engine together. And for that, teachers and schools need to do away with this system which breeds divisions. We need to create a system where everyone is a winner.
The early years are critical, setting the framework for children’s behaviour and determining their worldview. We can always teach them to be competitive later in their lives. To start, teach them to be kind, empathetic and collaborative.
Tomorrow Zeeniya has another paper.
She will cry again. I imagine her looking toward her teacher and saying. Can I sit with Eshal? “Eshal nahin. Eshal Saleem. “
And the teacher wouldn’t even understand the Zeeniya’s plea. She had to follow the archaic system. Zeeniya will learn another behaviour tomorrow. To be unkind.
- Reproduced with permission from author’s post
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