Last month I had the opportunity to visit the pre-primary section of a well-known school in Kochi, Kerala, and watch the morning assembly. The children stood in appropriately messy rows and sang along, swayed, fidgeted and watched as their teachers led the music. Other teachers walked between the lines, gently nudging a child back into place or bending to whisper an encouraging or comforting word. Just before the assembly concluded, three children who had birthdays on that day were invited to take the stage and don party hats while the others chorused the happy birthday song. The children then shuffled into their rooms, picking up their bags and waving to a few parents and others who, like me, stood on the margins wondering when and how adulthood had caught up with us!
There was a lot of warmth and a lot of love. As it should be in early childhood education. In fact, as it should be in any educational space. But this particular school is probably among a very small percentage that has the space, the resources, and the ambience for a pleasant gathering. We’ve all seen kindergartens packed into tiny flats or cramped sheds. We’ve heard classrooms full of whining and crying. We’ve seen children make queues in response to admonishments, shrinking from scale-wielding adults. And we’ve watched as hair is pulled, arms pinched, and shins kicked, trying every tactic possible to distract themselves from the morning ritual.
Teaching at the pre-primary level calls for a special kind of human being. One that is empathetic and patient, observant and responsive, willing to get down on one’s knees and relate to the child at her own level. Each time I see such human beings in action, I wonder at their ability to do this, day in, day out, and mostly, with a smile on their faces. And in most cases, they get very little appreciation and as we well know, grossly inadequate compensation. This is after all the entry point to 12 years (or 14) of formal schooling, and sets up, in the child’s mind, what to expect and how to be. It’s where the child acquires a sense of how to deal with peers, with adults who are not family, and with books, materials, and learning.
Setting up the right kind of atmosphere at this level is crucial for the child’s future development as a social being and a learner. Even in resource-poor settings, it’s not impossible to create spaces that are filled with love and warmth. Here’s hoping that all of us have a good measure of both in the coming year – in our classrooms and in our lives.