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The future of education is here

Learning at a home away from home


Naveen Mahesh

Nov 27, 2020

Educators around the world are coming together to find efficient ways to infuse their schools with greater diversity and inclusion in schools. Among the many children who will benefit from these measures, are those that come from broken homes. I recently participated in a panel discussion organised by Milaap to have a conversation with my peers in the industry on the importance of inclusion to children of separated parents. Here are a few highlights:

What is it like growing up in a dysfunctional family?

Children who hail from dysfunctional families undergo a breach of trust and struggle to build healthy relationships throughout their life. While recalling the trauma, the part of the brain which deals with speech gets deactivated and they are unable to verbalise their inner feelings.

In most cases, children are divided to the vein while taking the side of one of the parents. Some children also suffer from parental alienation syndrome when one parent knowingly or unknowingly tries to alienate a child from the other parent. Here, the child is unable to resist or internalize the separation and gets confused. As a result, they tend to develop an ambivalent personality constantly upset or accompanied by anger. The elements of aggression exhibited in their behaviour result from the violence they witness at home. They are usually withdrawn and are unable to express their feelings.

Failures in co-parenting also lead to children constructing an imaginary parent inside their head and fantasizing a life with them. This helps them to cope with the absence of a parent figure and plays a major role in shaping their personality.The child goes through the experience of abandonment as one of the parent figures becomes an occasional presence and suffers from a lack of self-worth, self-esteem and confusion about the nature of relationships. Moreover, the trauma and anxiety of parents undergoing separation also get transferred to their children and the latter assumes blame for the separation of their parents. They choose to remain silent as they feel revealing that part of their life to outsiders renders them disloyal to their parents. The children suppress the trauma until they are convinced that they have found a secure place to articulate it. Therefore, learning environments where the child spends most of their time should rise to meet the psychological and emotional needs of its learners.

Are schools equally dysfunctional?

While discussing the need for inclusive schools, one cannot ignore the fact that our education system itself is fundamentally dysfunctional. Schools are meant to be safe spaces for children to grow, however a multitude of them fall short of understanding of what a child goes through during their parents’ separation. In fact, our schools are a reflection of our society itself: largely success-oriented and not wellness-oriented. Therefore it is crucial that we break this pattern and create learning environments where a child develops a sense of self-worth, safety and happiness .

Families that covet academic excellence rather than understanding the strengths, passions, fears and weaknesses of a child, unknowingly contribute to the conventional education system. This does not serve the society at all.

Schools can become centres of growth and metamorphosis only when families begin to place greater precedence on a child’s holistic development. It is important to understand that curriculum forms only a small part of a child's life. Learning should provide children with an opportunity for self-discovery and help them to understand and fulfil their needs. The failure to understand the uniqueness of children as well as the families they come from is reflected in the struggle to cope with the new normal in education during the pandemic.

Moving towards an inclusive learning environment

Considering the amount of time children spend in schools and the relationship they develop with their peers, schools cannot afford to play blind to the reality of the children. At HLC International , we nurture a culture of empathy where every child is viewed as an individual rather than categorising as a person with an ability or disability. It is our conviction that schools and organisations that are built around a strong foundation of empathy can serve families as well as society. We believe that every child is unique and needs different kinds of support and time. When learning becomes child-centred, every learner is equipped with the confidence to address their needs to the facilitators.

Parikrma Humanity Foundation is another example of a pioneering educational institution that works towards a sensitive and inclusive learning environment. They conduct personal growth labs for teachers to develop and sensitize themselves to help the children from dysfunctional families. The initiative also keeps in mind that teachers themselves might have witnessed the acrimonious relationship of their parents during their childhood. Parikrama has implemented a listening post in the light of the pandemic, where kids could dial and convey the complex emotions, claustrophobia, violence and frustration they experience in their families. Another commendable initiative which has proven successful in Parikrama schools is the friendship bench. It is a brightly painted bench where a child sits to indicate that they are not doing well. A teacher or student passing by sits beside the child to provide comfort and company in their loneliness. Such initiatives overcome the barriers of verbal articulation of feelings and encourage non-verbal signs of affection and care at schools.

Both HLC and Parikrama have also scrapped the idea of hierarchy in education by abolishing the terms that suggest authority like sir/ma'am used to refer to the facilitators. Here, the child perceives themselves as equal to their instructors and builds a cordial bond which facilitates an environment of listening, progress and growth.

Guru aka Mata/Pita

It is essential to rebuild the trust the children once lost in the course of their parents’ separation through care and validation. The need for full-time psychologists at various levels in schools should be considered with utmost seriousness. However, teachers play a vital role in initiating children to share their pent-up emotions. A facilitator is not someone who instructs, rather he/she is a coach or mentor . Teachers act as caregivers of their students by getting to know them better and being non-judgmental listeners. The children understand and articulate their feelings better when exposed to parental warmth and caring.

A better understanding of the parents' situation, communicating what the child lacks and providing psychoeducation for separated parents equip schools to embrace the new family. However, labelling the children based on their parents' marital status should be avoided at all costs. A child shouldn’t feel that they are different from the rest of their peers. The primary focus should be on the holistic development of the child and not on the family situation from which the child comes from. The facilitators who enjoy proximity with the children ought to recognise the wonderful human being inside them devoid of stereotypes and prejudices. Eventually, the children will find home and nourishment in a learning environment that strives towards knowing them better than chasing the syllabus.

We would love to know your views and suggestions on how to create inclusive learning environments. Tell us in the comments below.

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