The last time an entire generation was under duress and difficulty was several decades ago – during the Independence movement and the subsequent Emergency rule. Ever since, life has been more or less uneventful in India, especially for the student community.
Now the pandemic has pushed people of all walks of life into chaos and uncertainty – at the very least, or disease and death – at the worst. Senior citizens are under a health threat, working professionals face job insecurities, businesses are facing prolonged periods of closure, health professionals are overworked. But the impact on the student community is the most profound and long lasting.
Board exams, competitive exams are either being postponed indefinitely or cancelled. Students and teachers were forced to adapt to the online learning mode abruptly, without any time to prepare for it. Poor network connectivity in rural areas make remote learning unviable, thus depriving millions of rural children of their education. Students are passing out of academic years or semesters without setting foot in their campus. Without ever stepping into a laboratory, they are clearing physics or chemistry examinations, merely by learning theory. The human connect and bonding between teachers and students is simply missing. And the worst of them all – a few decades later, when these students look back at their youth, they will recall a long period of stress and solitude. The student generation is losing out on the best years of their life. Sigh!
But with every adversity comes a valuable opportunity – to learn and mature as an individual. This especially holds true for the children growing up in these turbulent times. In normal times (read before 2020!), school children in urban families were generally insulated from the difficulties of life. Indulgent parents took extra care not to expose their children to financial difficulties. In fact, kids were spoilt for choice and given material possessions way beyond what they needed. Kids were kept away from problems of the adult world such as work stress, family tensions or disease.
Parents carefully maintained a stoic silence until the kids were packed off to school and then had their blazing rows! Visits to hospitals, unsuccessful job hunts, financial difficulties – such realities of life would carefully be masked from the kids using the trick – “Go out and play”! In today’s locked up world, the entire family is cloistered within four walls, for weeks together. There is no escape from the brutal realities of life for the children.
Losing their illusions about life early on might rob them of their innocence a bit too soon. But it also prepares them for the battles that lie ahead in life. This difficult period has given our children some precious lessons for life. Lessons which no textbook or classroom can impart. Lessons learnt through experience.
Life skills learnt from the pandemic – A student’s perspective
• Self-learning: No matter how many Zoom classes I attend, how many WhatApps chats I have with classmates, there are some concepts which still elude my understanding. But forced isolation has made me face my challenges head on. With no external distractions, I now spend longer periods of time on learning by myself. And my perseverance has increased in tackling tough subjects.
• Managing with limited resources: When I can’t purchase new notebooks, I manage with daddy’s diaries. Not able to get printouts of reference material from near-by shops, so I hand copy them or scan them. Have access only to one laptop, so I share it with my sibling. I can see my parents in financial stress, so I don’t insist on that new game, new jeans, new phone.
• Better time management: I never realized there were so many hours in a day! Earlier, I would spend hours in the school bus, to and fro. And then rush to attend cricket practice, music lessons, coaching classes and what not! Now, I do most of these things but from home. So I don’t drop down dead tired at the end of the day. I still have a little time left to help out daddy with the gardening or sit out with my grandpa to watch the sunset!
• Free of peer pressure: Daily comparisons with my classmates – the race to possess the first bike, the best phone, the highest marks, the coolest holiday trip – these things don’t bother me anymore. I am grateful for what I have. And I appreciate my parent’s efforts, trying to do their best for me.
• A whole new learning: Cooking a little when mummy is stuck on a long office call in the other room. Taking turns at sweeping and mopping the floors with my siblings. Learning the wonders of the washing machine! Discovering the names of medicines my grandparents consume on a daily basis. Eating my beans and greens without a qualm because I appreciate the multi-tasking efforts my parents are putting in. Seeing disease and death at close quarters and understanding the frailties and uncertainties of life.
These are all life lessons that an individual takes decades to accumulate. But the pandemic has accelerated the learning curve for today’s children by taking away the rosy blinkers off their eyes. Let us cherish the hope that the scars of these troubled times fade quickly and only the positive learnings remain in the minds of our children, shaping them into better, well-rounded individuals of tomorrow.
The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at [email protected].