Pre-school Learning Centres: How Much Are Tots Taught?

Posted on November 23, 2010 in Education

By Shruthi Venukumar:

They say there is no age to begin to learn. But are we raising the bar too much by lowering the admissible age? On one hand, the education system is being swept towards a mode wherein pressure of studies and board exams are being taken off a teenager’s mind into postponement. On the other hand, the said moves only seem to be a concession in return for the overload of knowledge that a child is supposed to spoon down along with his daily dose of Cerelac and Lactogen. This is the question which churned my agitated brain cells at the sight which greeted me inside the creativity cell of a learning centre for toddlers in affluent South Delhi.

Filled with tots no more than 18 months of age and no less than 6 months, the cell was supposed to imbue (in tots whose creativity had not yet made an appearance) and extract (from tots whose skills could do wonders given a little push) creativity in/from the ones on its rolls.

Armed with this preliminary information, my vision was of seeing nifty just-a-notch-over newborns on the go proving their worth with paperwork, the alphabet and the ever-effusive realm of drama (after all, child artistes have a lower threshold to cross when it comes to entering the world of cinema (read glamour) and world-class theatre later on. My sight parted ways with my visage. The dim lights coupled with jarring toned walls would have rustled up an image of an interrogation room had it not been the jazzy hint courtesy the baby-sized disco ball throwing out myriad kaleidoscopic mosaics on… oh! Not on tiny tots grooving to the beats but son now balled cotton balls of tiny jumpsuits rolled about in the dancy arms of mothers, young, old and a mix of the two. The medley of music played by the synchronisation of a keyboard, drums and guitar had nursery rhymes played to the last upbeat tone by the likes of the lookalikes of the members of a Goan music band on the sidelines of the show.

Take a closer look and you would find that they are the ones to actually run the show. The mothers swayed about, gyrated and shook a leg to the demands of the fast-changing tempo of the music, grabbing into awkward moves the limbs of their children too. Some found it not so difficult to go off the grip of place and time and dropped their bundles of joy into the pram bundles next to the ayahs to get into a dance party of their own. One would have thought, and prudently so, that the kids were being trained for night-out dances in discs (and that too in visual detail; after all this generation is all about watching and learning over rote-learning) rather than all the things advertised in the brochures of the centre. A cut into the fees structure page and it starts to seem all the more absurd. Then again, it justifies why the drill is taken seriously at all by parents. After all, a price tag of Rupees 19,000 per month shines out doubling up as a hologram for quality.

A learning centre is touted to be to schools what a health drink is to regular food – a supplement to normal school studies. It is no substitute but a top up. And just like a child need not take to health drinks till a certain age, his/her interests best served by mother’s milk, the foray into learning centres can be postponed to an age where comprehension skills are better developed in the child. 6 to 18 month olds belong in real home settings where fairy tales, toddler classics and lullabies sound and resound in the air. Observing boiling bubbles skimming up to the surface of a milk bowl kept atop a flame and telling apart bird sounds score a march over the lopsided creativity workshops that a learning centre boasts of.

To be fair to the centres as well as to their older-than-a-pre-schooler beneficiaries, learning centres do deliver. With their programmes and activities involving creativity, clarity of expression etc, they help build confidence, cultivate articulation and correct speech gesticulation. But only if the exposure is at an age where a performer on stage (and this refers to all performers without props as well) starts to become evenly remotely aware of the meaning of his/her antics. No wonder many top of the line high school debaters and orators are pass outs from innovative learning centres. But to learning lies the prelude of observation and comprehension.

The human mind is keenest at observing and grasping during toddlerhood. The sheer novelty and never-seen-before charm that comes haloed with every single childhood experience makes for exciting learning in itself. The saddest prospect would be for the experience to be lost under piles of forced fringe “knowledge”. The kids in the creativity cell were blank as to how they were supposed to react under the disco ball glare and some tens of dancing women. Their interaction with other heads of their age in the room was limited to the point of nil. How then was the activity any different from a parent carrying around their kid in delightful moves in the privacy of their drawing room with a nursery rhyme rhapsody CD playing? I say there is a difference. In the drawing room, the child is not overwhelmed with strange merry faces in a less-than-melodious merry-go-round.

He/she has the emotional security to do their own thing, to enjoy and display emotions other than a scared, glum or void look and also bond with their earthly creator which would be a tad tedious to achieve amidst over-comfortable co-roomers in a creativity cell. What is fast turning into a fashion accessory for the rich is also matching time with turning into a money-minting machine for those who believe in commoditising education. The best of pioneering visionaries and scientists have not always had the “privilege” of attending “blank” schools, simply because of the inability of their progenitors to fire away blank cheques to what goes down as nothing more than frivolous down to brass tacks.

Only timely education is timeless. Mistimed education in misplaced fields may have a reverse catalyst effect on general development of the child.

Doofus in distress or creative in calm – what do you want your kid to be? It’s your pick.

The writer is a Senior Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz. She is a student of Politics and a keen debater. Catch her tweet @ShruthiScribe

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