An event or a process?

Phyllis Farias

The Webster dictionary defines ‘event’ as ‘something that happens’ an occurrence, and the word ‘process’ as ‘something going on’ or proceeding.

A school calendar is packed with activities. The question that needs to be asked is: should the activity be an event or a process?

I would like to consider two such activities – Sports Day and Annual Day.

The Sports Day in almost all schools has a few “musts” – the march past, the drill displays, finals of a few track and field events, etc.

Let’s look at the run up to ‘the day’. A month or so before the actual day the children are herded out to the sports field (if the school has one) on a daily basis and the physical education instructors attempt to coach the children for the march past and drill displays. Children who have two left feet, or lack co-ordination are dropped out and the rest continue to march to the drumbeat and the loud music often in the blazing heat, accompanied by teachers wearing caps or carrying umbrellas.

Perfection is the order of the day; hence the practice must go on.

Sometime during the month, heats for the track and field events are conducted. No warm ups, no skills or techniques taught, no knowledge of the event they are participating in. Just do. Children who are the best on that particular day are short-listed for the finals.

Finally the day arrives. Everything runs like clockwork. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief. Goodbye practice till next year.

I am not a doctor or a sports psychologist; however, I have a few concerns.

What is the impact of a gruelling month of practice on children who perform, without consideration to fitness, stamina, skills and techniques? Could there be possibilities of physical injuries? Are children taught to compete with themselves or against each other? How does this affect their social interactions thereafter, and what of their mental wellbeing?

What is the impact on the self-esteem of the children who have been excluded?

How do school boards approve affiliation to schools that do not have a sports field and lack basic infrastructure for a sports and physical education programme?

What message do we give our children when we show scant concern for the neighbours who bear the brunt of loud drumbeats and music?

There is a need for a well-planned and organized sports programme and a physical education programme that runs throughout the year. Both the programmes have to be independent yet interdependent.

A school sports programme should be developed in a sequence and in increments allowing for children to acquire and develop skills.

It should generate a feeling of wellbeing and happiness that comes from fitness and passion for a physical activity. The programme should be conducted by trained staff creating ongoing interest, giving rise to lifelong involvement and physical pursuits. After all, it is an established fact that regular, consistent physical activity for children is linked to positive self-esteem, skeletal and cardio-vascular health, stamina, skill development and values of discipline, respect, fairness, responsibility and resilience.

The Annual Day is also a matter of concern.

Let us start with the auditions and selection of children for the various roles.

During a workshop, a teacher narrated her personal story. She had a beautiful voice, but according to the selectors, she was not good looking enough. She also could not afford the cost of the costume. Hence a fair and beautiful child was selected for the role, who opened and closed her mouth while our not-so-good looking student did the playback singing. Little wonder that she carried the pain of that experience for about 40 years.

How fair are the auditions?

How do we handle subtle lobbying and favouritism?

Also, it is seen that schools select the same children to participate in major events, year after year. Can this lead to other talented children not even trying as they deem it hopeless?

As for the programme itself, the theme is conceptualized and the execution is outsourced to directors of drama, choreographers, sound and light specialists, dress designers and prop makers.

Do we see the teachers or children anywhere in this scenario?

Children are mere performers, who do as directed, often open to tongue lashings and repetitive practice.

Every school has talented teachers in the performing arts, technology, art and craft. With everything being outsourced these talented teachers looking for opportunities to do what they also love to do are left disappointed and disillusioned.

Parents are important stakeholders in the Annual Day. Parents whose children have been selected for substantial roles are happy and may even brag about it. How do parents of children who have 30-second roles (or no role at all) react? They are angry, upset and pass on the same feelings to their children, making them feel deprived and unhappy.

Are the school managements really concerned about the child in putting up this spectacular, expensive show? They often pride themselves in that every child is given an opportunity to be on stage. I believe the Annual Day is just a marketing event to showcase the school as a “happening” school interested in the all-round development of children. It also makes financial sense to pass the costs on to the parents. Of course there will be parents (sometimes very genuine) who object to the financial burden and refuse to grant permission for the child to participate.

Once again I ask, what is the impact on the child? While some children love to participate and develop and exude confidence, what about the others who are left by the way side?

Instead, the Annual Day should be the culmination of a learning process. Children should be taught the skills of drama, scripting and voice modulation as a regular practice. The curriculum allows for it through literature, history, and for that matter any subject. The day then becomes an opportunity for the students to get involved in every aspect of the production, thus making for a learning process.

Can there be alternatives to an Annual Day? One idea could be class-wise presentations as a culmination of a learning process. This could arise from discussions on contemporary issues or from curriculum topics. Through the discussions a scripting process could begin (this should be age and standard appropriate). The children should be involved in the making of props and even costume designing if possible.

Another idea could be to have meaningful class assemblies to which parents can be invited. This will allow for every child to be on stage in a meaningful role.

Ideas are plenty and given the opportunity, teachers and children will rise to the occasion.

Note: The article talks in generalities and is probably not completely true of all schools. If the cap fits then think about making a change by keeping the wellbeing of every child in focus.

The author is an Educational Management Consultant offering curriculum development, teacher training, parenting workshops and counselling. She can be reached at phyllis.farias@gmail.com.

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