In the olden days it was believed that a child is nothing but an adult in a miniature form.
But with the advent of different branches of science it was proved that like his body a child develops in stages to his full manhood in all aspects. As says Jean Epstein,”…regarding the development of a child it would be easier to speak of development without giving specific quality, for it is admitted that a child as a whole undergoes a slow maturity. Therefore it is not proper to treat a child the same way as an adult.”
The scientific findings naturally forced the educationists to think about child-education in different lines. The reason why for the last fifty years different individuals in different countries have made concentrated effort to develop fruitful systems of education for the very young so that the child may grow as he should: in stages towards his adulthood. Of all the systems that have been tried out in the last century, quite a few have come down to our time and still practiced ones are those that were developed by Montessory, Celestin Freinet, Rudolf Steiner, Decroly to mention only a few. Though each one of them satisfies a certain amount of requirements in educating a child yet one feels that something more needs to be added to these in order to make them an integral system of education for the very young. Because the very first steps in the world of education either makes or breaks an individual’s academic carrier.
Some thirty or forty years back at least in India a child’s very first contact with anything regarding education began at home with the family members. The parents and grand parents took the responsibility to introduce a child to his alphabets and numbers. (R.K. Narayan in one of his novels spoke of a boy who had his initial lessons with his grand mother.) Learning then was not something regimental, rigid, disciplinary obligation for a child. He recited his alphabets and numbers while playing or even while eating. It was a part of his daily life that was free of all rules and discipline. And by the time he knew his letters, he also knew a few simple rhymes, sentences and even simple texts. Along with the numbers he came in contact with some general knowledge too like four stands for the four Vedas, six for seasons, seven for ocean etc. Thus in a very non-academic way a child learnt quite a few things and by the time he entered school he had prepared himself with the rudiments of a language, numbers and thus there was created in him a curiosity to find out what this place was, where he was sent to learn something more.
But due to different reasons this type of education discontinued and we have handed over the child’s education from the very first step to an institution which means an individual’s academic life beginning at the age of two and a half or three in a disciplined manner.
This exposure of a very young child to the outside world has mixed reactions. Let us consider the most important aspect first. At the very tender age of two and a half or three a child feels most secure at home among the family members. We do not have to go far to find out the truth. We see constantly children hugging the knee of the father or the mother while talking to strangers or answering to their questions. His world is his parents, not so much the father as much the mother.
But when he comes to school, in the beginning he feels very insecure. He is lost in the midst of unknown faces. Faces may belong to those who are of his age yet they are not his people and this sense of insecurity makes the child nervous, fretful and even sometimes vicious. The atmosphere is not friendly. He does not have the arms to run into when he is hurt. The outcome is, he does not like to take part in all that happens in the classroom. Now and then he may feel a little curious, but the moment he remembers the absence of his parents he withdraws into himself. It may not be that he is unwilling to play or make some figures with some wooden blocks or whatever the class is engaged into, but what he wants to do must be done in his own corner, at home, having the presence of the known persons. So naturally he wants to get back home: to his own world.
This return to the family fold predominates his subconscious wants, and above that if a child is timid and shy he may shun the nearness of other children as his defence against all assaults, be it physical or mental. Yet in the midst of other children he can’t spend his hours as on a solitary island, thus he has to face different situations. And if by any chance due to certain happening a fear psychosis has developed then the child may refuse to go to school. And in this way the first seed of dislike for school is sown. Nobody can be blamed for it but the fact is that it is happening with very many tiny tots. When there is dislike for a place, there creeps in unwillingness to work which is very natural.
Another point that needs to be taken account is the teacher student relationship on this level. As we have already mentioned that the mother’s nearness is a of utmost necessity at this tender age; because of this need the teachers at Nursery level and at Kinder Garten have often to play the part of a surrogate mother to most of her students. And here comes the difficulty. As it is natural that there is a good number of students in each class and all of them are of the same age therefore their need is also more or less identical. So even if a teacher is willing to do her best, with her children, it is next to impossible due to shear number. Just to keep them under control sometimes becomes quite a job. Thus a certain amount of discipline and disciplinary action become unavoidable. Sometimes a teacher has to even be harsh and strict so that she may be able to teach something. Discipline is a necessity no doubt and even harsh treatment if it becomes unavoidable but then what do we see as consequence?
Children being of different temperament react to these disciplines in different manners. Some who are bold enough may not react the same way as the timid ones. So some may remain quite free and bold, others may shy away for a certain amount of time and again others may withdraw completely into themselves. Because of these diverse reactions among the children, they ultimately divide up into very distinctive groups. As Dominique Mezan in her work with Kinder Garten children found out “….among the very young, children divide primarily into three main groups: that is, the bold ones, timid ones and the indifferent ones.” And then she says, “ …in a large group when the loquacious ones are not allowed to speak, they are bored; when the timid ones are left to themselves, they become indifferent and those who refuse to communicate with the others are left to themselves, just go to sleep.” She concludes saying that it is essential to subdivide a class into small groups as many times as possible during the day so that every child gets personal attention from the teacher or teachers and feel wanted and loved; thus a curiosity and willingness showing up more often to learn.
The question is, what do we want to teach at this level? Is our education to be information orientated or interest and knowledge oriented? If there is interest then knowledge can be acquired even single handedly. It is said that the great reformist of Bengal, Kesav Chandra Sen discontinued his university studies as he was much more interested in having knowledge than information. It is said that he studied all by himself and contemplated for hours on end and we can’t question the depth of his knowledge. But in general, education for us means to learn (this word “learn” has a very vague meaning for most of us) and pass and ultimately go through school and college with good marks so that a good job can be in our hand. Thus study for us means to learn to read, to write to do sums etc,etc.
Everything is planned and a child is to follow meekly all that is put in front of him. But to begin at the beginning we need a vehicle of expression. That naturally is the language.
So we begin with a language and language being the most important of our disciplines, gets the utmost attention and yet it is found that a large number of student remain weak to very weak in this subject. The reason can be diverse: it may be timidity, unwillingness to learn or even a lesser degree of intelligence. As we have already mentioned that the youngs tend to divide themselves into subgroups; the natural outcome is that in a big class a few learn, a few understand somewhat and quite a few don’t learn anything. But if they are separated and given personal attention then something surely can be taught. Otherwise those who begin as weak students at the level of Kinder Garten find the going quite difficult and as time passes, gradually lessons become quite incomprehensible and in Yevette Jenger”s words,” Failures follow failures.” It is but a natural outcome for if I don’t have a proper and solid base of the medium through which I am to learn the other disciplines then how can I understand anything?
We come across identical problems regarding the numbers. Somehow Mathematics are the disciplines which have remained the biggest obstacles in many a students’ academic life. But then are we to understand that the very subjects are difficult for ordinary intelligence?
The Japanese educationist Toru Kuman thinks not. His involvement with education is rather unique. He found that one of his sons was poor in Maths and was getting very low grades. So in order to help his son he began to prepare some worksheets. Later those worksheets developed into a cohesive programme which is followed by millions not only in Japan but also in the United States and some Western countries and are getting exceptional results.
Just for the sake of curiosity let us see what his method is.
“We offer a set of carefully sequenced or graduated worksheets containing math problems. The student must attain a required level of competence in completing each of them within a prescribed time span, or within what we call standard completion time. This is must in our method. Not the matter of whether the students score 1oo%. Only when the students have attained that crucial proficiency are they given the go ahead to move on to the next, slightly more difficult worksheet.”
How do they complete their work?
“The student first learns to add one- and always one to two long rows of figures. The next step is to add two and always two to another two rows of figures. And so it goes. Only when the students have amply mastered the assignment of the first worksheet can he graduate from that stage and advance to the next.”
Educationists all around the world feel that education at the very beginning must be very solid and yet it should be imparted in varied ways and means. Children should get involved frequently in the subject that they are learning through demonstrations and participations.
Let us see what kind of work is expected from a teacher. In France Luce Berenger wanted to teach her students of Kinder Garten the concept of volume. For young children the notion of volume is full, not full and empty. In order to teach different measures in volume the teacher brought in the class a number of glasses of different capacities and filled them up with a drink. She asked her students to take one glass each and drink a specific number of mouthful. Having done as was asked the children found that some of them had empty glasses, some had half filled and others even more. Thus they came to see that volume differs with the size. Similarly another teacher wanted to teach the notion of vapour. So she boiled some colour water and after a while the children saw that the original mark was much above the existing level of water. The water has gone to the atmosphere in the form vapour to change later into dew, frost, cloud etc.
Exposer to advertisement in journals and TV is a powerful means to teach the young ones. Listening to the teacher and at the same time having visual contacts make deep impression. In the west they have access to cameras, cassette players and even computers. These certainly are beyond our means. But we can certainly make concentrated effort to have small groups as classes for Nursery, Kinder Garten and elementary sections so that some personal attention can be given to the need of each child. And this should not be difficult as there are educated young people in our country by millions. But the important factor is that the policy makers in the education field of the country should feel the need for such orientation. We are crying hoarse saying that the standard of education is deteriorating year by year. But then with a weak foundation a strong edifice can’t be built.
Let us begin at the very beginning and this will certainly make a great difference in the future result in the field of education. If we presume that “the child is a jewel needing the greatest care” as says J.A. Comenius, then we have to take some concrete steps to give those cares and sooner the better.