Off school – VII: Time to choose

In the final article of this series, Seema Lal from Kochi, Kerala challenges the current system of lockdown education and questions the future.

My journey with grief

Being a mother of two and working in the field of mental health / disability / children for past 20 years, what was crucial for me was how this whole lockdown experience influenced children all around. What I saw at home initially was all fun and games when schools closed, cancelling their annual exams and giving an extended summer vacation. Soon started “the journey of grief (Kübler-Ross, 1993)”.

“..Little did I see them realise that they were being Locked Down…”

Shock, Denial, Guilt

The shock set in when schools started connecting with children online during the summer vacation. Parents (from both mainstream and special schools) did not seem to know how to engage children at their own homes. Many schools even started to teach curriculum during vacation amidst a pandemic lockdown situation. This was a numbing phase for me both personally and professionally. We had always strongly advocated for parent empowerment and child safety around use of technology.

I tried to convince myself that things would die down but soon even the most well-meaning people engaged in rash methods to connect with children. Live video calls straight into a child’s bedroom was being celebrated. We started a smart phone challenge too, gifting mobile phones and internet to children without checking if they or their parents were equipped to use it wisely. I attempted in vain to console myself and my children that everything will be fine soon – that this is temporary. Soon, I began to feel guilty as a parent and professional for not doing anything about this.

Pain, Anger and Bargaining

The painful truth was that this online shift in education was here to stay and there was surely no coming back from this even if schools were to re-open physically. It would only be a combination of online and offline teaching henceforth. Before the school, the teachers or parents were equipped we pushed it in haste upon the children. The need to sustain schools, maintain the salaries of thousands of teachers, support staff all over were hitting hard. When parents blamed schools for fees and trolled teachers, schools blamed parents for being overbearing and disrespectful.

Our children were watching all this and left with no choice but become the guinea pigs. I did my best to make sense of all the perspectives but what was healthy (physically/mentally) and safe for the child was ahead of everything else. Every attempt of mine to urge everyone to slow down and plan before rushing into anything was being misunderstood and manipulated. There seemed to be a hurry to accept the so called “new normal,” while I was trying to bargain them into a “back to basics”.

Depression and Loneliness

I was getting exhausted as the situation worsened with reports of deaths by suicide of even minors at alarmingly high numbers. It did feel like a lone battle. Though I was actively supporting others, I was failing to support myself. It felt like I had nobody who’d understand or even listen. There was so much misunderstanding around that my head, heart and soul felt drained.

Reflection, The Upward Turn and Testing

Taking one day at a time and one issue at a time got me on track. We had neither empowered the parents nor the students to become self-learners and here we were asking both to take on everything from home. Varied alternatives were necessary to address diverse needs of people who were flooding my inbox with problems. “One size fits all”, had to change. I had to decide for myself too what schooling experience I wanted to give my own children. I did not enrol them for online classes and took them off the school rolls and shifted to home schooling entirely. Watchful of their emotions without messing with their genuine love for their school and teachers, the shift happened. Home schooling is a transformed journey altogether and this quote gave me all the needed confidence.

“…Let’s not question our ability to teach our child. Question putting our children to the same system that left us feeling incapable of teaching our own children…”

Acceptance and Hope

We had to accept that what school used to be is over. It is better not to cling on and hurt ourselves more and others too in the process. Every parent chooses a different path, a different journey based on what works for their family. When criticisms and sarcasm came my way, I was able to respond and not react. That was a huge leap. We wish that all families reach this phase in their own beautiful way. May we all come out of this stronger together.

Other stories in this series:  
Off school – I: MusingsOff school – II: Early yearsOff school – III: ContemplationsOff school – IV: Mommy onOff school – V: Screen time, Off school – VI: Nature

Seema Lal is a psychologist, special educator and consultant counsellor. She is also Co-Founder and Executive Trustee of TogetherWeCan, an advocacy group initiated in 2015 in the wake of reports of unethical, abusive, non-inclusive practices in the disability sector. Seema is also pursuing her PhD from VU, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Cover Image : India Today
Story image : Author

Standard Disclaimer : The story contributors are responsible for all views and facts provided in their posts. Lockdown Voices and its editorial team is not accountable for the accuracy of the information posted.

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