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August 01, 2017 Tuesday 12:22:49 PM IST
The Burden of Learning

Let’s ask ourselves what is burden? Well, the fact is that who I am is the burden. That is to say, what is a burden  depends on me. So, now you understand why every student doesn’t feel the burden of studies to the same extent. Some feel challenged, and the rest crushed, by the same course of study. For the first, the course is a feast; for the rest, it is a curse. So, we must not exaggerate burden. We must, instead, counterbalance it by improving taste-quotient.

 

Millions of our children sit glued to television sets and watch, for hours on end, cricket matches in which nothing meaningful happens. That something great is happening is a fallacy created by those who gain from it. If you reduce cricket to what it involves, it turns out to be a paltry thing. A hard ball is chucked and whacked. Some thirteen people  -- plus two/three umpires -- do all day long what you would, outside the magic framework of cricket; feel stupid, if you do. Thousands of people, many of them looking normal and even marginally intelligent, look wild with excitement!

 

If you have to witness a cricket match, without sharing this make believe, you will be crushed under the  burden of watching; as I do even at the very thought of it. But that was not the way I used to feel. I was irrationally and wildly into cricket. Then match fixing began. And I began to feel cheated, each time I sat in front of the ‘idiot-box’. And I really began to feel I was an idiot to want to watch what is clearly a gigantic swindle. Remember what a Union Minister said about India’s defeat at the hands of Pakistan in the ICC championship? That Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh got the final match fixed in favour of Pakistan? Would he say such a thing, if match-fixing were not rampant?

 

So, now, do you want to rescue your child from the burden in learning? (I make a distinction between  burden in and burden of learning.) Let me assure you, it is eminently doable.


If learning were inherently burdensome, every learner would feel equally burdened: like all of us being equally under the gravitational pull. Or, being equally in darkness at night. That, surely, is not the case  with learning. I can remember moments of ecstasy, learning.

 

So, burden is what we create and thrust on our children. Learning is not our children’s enemies. We are not the enemies of our children, but of their learning. The pathos is that we are so, despite our best intentions.

 

Suppose a whole society believes that watching cricket is stupid. In that case, each time a child misbehaves, he can be punished with a cricket match, to be watched for full duration. Then you will know what a burden it is to watch cricket!

 

If so, the very first thing we have to do for our children is to create a shared outlook, as families and societies that deem learning a privilege. I wonder how it can be otherwise. Is there a greater blessedness than adding to our inner riches? Than staying in communion with the best minds the world has seen? We should not mislead our children into believing that learning is an unnatural and torturous thing into which they are being dragged by the scruffs of their necks! The best investment a parent can make in the long-term intellectual wellbeing of his/her child is to remain a lifelong and joyful learner him/herself. Now, if you think this a burden, leave your child alone! Your child can only be like you. Do not wring out of your child what is not there in yourself. If you do, you exasperate your child and make him rebellious. It doesn’t help. Now the second point. Why is it that no one feels the hard and intense efforts involved in sports and games a burden? P.T. Usha once said that each time she went to the tracks, she died and came back to life. She said that with palpable pride and intense joy! The joy an athlete feels is directly proportionate to the intensity of her efforts. Does this apply to studies?

 

It will; provided the play principle is made the foundation of learning. What is this play principle?

 

Have you seen a good athlete doing anything casually, in a half-hearted manner? I haven’t. Each athlete performs at his/her best. Playing is an experience of fullness. Fullness is the secret of happiness. The joy of fullness makes coercion unnecessary. Why do you think coercion is alien to playing? You don’t have to force children to play. You may have to urge them to stop playing. A wise parent is one who makes learning a play-activity; an intense experience of fullness.

 

That is why distraction doesn’t help. To be distracted is nothing more than to be unable to pay full attention, or to be fully in and with what one is doing. Playing is joyful, not because it is easy, but because it allows a player to express him/herself fully through it. A true athlete is one who seeks, and celebrates, the fullness of his/her potential. We must endeavour to be athletes of life! How wonderful it would be if our children were to be athletes of learning!

 

This should not be misunderstood. I am not advocating cut-throat competition. Being an athlete is not about coming first or last. It is about being at one’s best. That is what training is about. You don’t train against fellow athletes. You train towards reaching the heights of your potential.

 

Parents must sense the treasures hidden in their children. The duty of a parent is to create conditions conducive to the unveiling of these hidden treasures. But there is a problem. Only fire can kindle fire. Lazy parents -- those who are hiding from themselves -- cannot help, much less inspire, their children to discover themselves.

 

My daughter is now thirty-eight. Whenever I visit her in Christian Medical College, Vellore, she insists on our going out for a morning walk each day. It is not walking alone that motivates her. It is discussing things together. Our morning walks are joyful sessions in learning together. The same holds good for everything else we do together. This began a long time ago.

 

Hopefully, it will never end.

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