We often discuss how adults and children interact with each other or how they interact amidst themselves in schools. Let us look at how these adults and children together, in other words – the school, interacts with some of its neighbours. We will also explore if these schools could benefit from higher intensity of engagements than those currently in vogue.
Public-institutions like banks, post-offices, railway-stations and bus-stations
Many of our schools have banks or post-offices or transport stations in their vicinity. With more than one lakh fifty thousand post-offices and more than seven thousand railway stations we, in India, surely have the numbers! How many schools interact with these public-institutions such that children get to know their functioning, given that most, if not all, students will use the services of these institutions in the coming time? Some may, later in their lives, even end up being part of these institutions. Can we make our students aware of these services well in time and convey the appropriate mechanisms and mannerisms of using them? Can we give them the confidence to help those in need and point out if they come across wrong doings?
The idea, in the long run, is to influence the children of today to evolve into good citizens of tomorrow; individuals who use these institutions with grace and dignity.
Footpaths in the vicinity
Increasingly we see fewer and fewer children (and adults) walk to school. Walking paths will encourage people to put their feet to use to come to school. They could have more impact than empty talks about benefits of environment friendly transport or exercising could ever have.
It takes a Robert MacFarlane (The old ways: A journey on foot) to talk about these paths with panache; “Paths are the habits of a landscape… They are acts of consensual making… Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people.”
We need to go beyond the one-time cleaning initiatives, or photo-ops, and engage with concerned authorities to ensure that these paths are maintained. To ensure, for example, that these paths are dotted with shade providing trees and not with parked vehicles! In the long-term this can help create a friendly environment around the school.
The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003, states that – sale of cigarettes or any other tobacco products to any person who is under eighteen years of age; and in an area within a radius of one hundred yards of any educational institution is illegal. This in itself is a good beginning. How many schools though work in tandem with the authorities to ensure that this law is implemented in letter and in spirit?
There are other items too which are sold near the school, items like chips for example, which children consume on a regular basis. Items they could do better without. Schools need to work on this.
Moving to the proverbial other side of the coin – are there items that the schools need to encourage sale of in their vicinity?
Not many schools are neighbours to cultural spaces but of those that are how many join hands with these spaces to ensure that children get exposure and benefit from the activities taking place at these centres?
Children can do good to attend programs or volunteer or even just be at these spaces and observe.
Public spaces like parks
Many schools will have parks in their neighbourhood. For some schools these parks can also be that ground or open space which they do not possess. Schools’ encouraging regular use of public infrastructure like parks – for walking or bird-watching or reading or just being there – can help the children (and adults) get closer to these public spaces, learn about them. Actions like these may help underscore the importance of these spaces and the need to join hands to maintain them for the well-being of our society, for a better tomorrow for all of us.
Could these visits also provide a starting point for discussions on public and private spaces with children? On the need to respect both these spaces? Discussions where we could also broach upon issues we take for granted. Issues like high decibel levels; talking loudly in public spaces or playing music that disturbs others.
Together these, visits and discussions, can, in the long term, help us bring down our apathy towards these spaces and help us get rid of the tag of being amongst those who care the least about public spaces.
Most, if not all, schools teach children about the benefits of working together with other human beings. How much do these schools, located nearby, work together? Students of a school doing well often finds space in local newspapers – how many times do we read of schools joining hands? Students get preference in schools in the vicinity of their residences – do multiple schools located within an area have some role together?
Today, when we observe children, and adults, increasingly finding it difficult to accept differences, being less aware of the worlds beyond their small worlds – would it help if schools catering to children from different socio-cultural-economic backgrounds create spaces where children could come together to play, to talk or to do nothing in particular? Children could get to know that they also have a lot in common with those who stay not far from them but in homes that are very different from theirs. That they may speak different languages and dialects but they all go to schools for roughly the same time each day. They may wear different uniforms but they are all taught same or similar subjects. And so on.
This is a wonderful opportunity to look beyond our silos and learn from each other. The alternative and the mainstream schools can learn from each other, as can the elite and the not so well-to-do, the private and the government, or the English and the vernacular medium schools. Here, schools higher on the proverbial ladders may need to be cognizant of our loaded histories and that the line between being patronizing and being condescending is very thin.
We could also pass on this message to children (and adults) that, in most cases, there is an opportunity to learn from others. This can also enable us to teach about the need to look beyond our small worlds!
In an ideal world there could also be sharing of resources between schools as well; sports or library infrastructure for example. And, if we have large enough hearts and minds, sharing of food as well.
All this, of course, is not easy, but then – like a friend used to remind me – if it was that easy, it would already have been happening!