The new notice by the State Education Department took me back to a conversation I had with Aama a couple of years back. The notice states that on Saturdays, students are asked to come to School in their traditional attires(once the pandemic is over). It is a simple notice – at first glance it looks like an effort on the part of the directorate to inculcate the values of tradition and culture, of re-introducing our roots at the school level- an attempt to encourage communal feelings and harmony among the many different cultures that make up the demographic of Sikkim. At a time when the world remains divided on multiple aspects like race and religion- where several cultures and traditions and vernaculars are on the brink of extinction- this does come as a welcomed change. A curriculum invested in conserving our culture and tradition.
But where do students of various Government Schools of Sikkim fit into this? Essentially, it is for them. That is what Aama and I had discussed. She has been working as a primary School Teacher for 20+ years now. We are a family of educators and conversations generally tend to gravitate towards these areas like students – curriculums- books and everything that pops up. I told her that it would be a nice change for students to be able to come to school in their casual clothing for at least one day a week. In my opinion, it would break the monotony of the week and give students something to look forward to. And mother brought me right back to earth (like she tends to do most of the time),- “Why do you assume our students have the luxury of coming to school in their casuals?” I told her that students would feel fancy, and they may even start looking forward to school (we know not all students like going to school). She then told me that among other things, one of the biggest motivators for some students to come to school is the mid-day meal that is provided during lunch break, apart from that they also really look forward to the free set of uniforms provided at the beginning of each year, a school bag if they’re lucky enough (at the primary level). All of this reminded me of my own school days when on rare days we were asked to come in our casuals, and we would be mortified if we had nothing nice and/or new to wear. Aama’s perspective began to make sense to me.
Things always look different after we adjust our perspectives. When this notification came out a week or so ago, I immediately thought of the hundreds of children who might not even have a full set of uniform, or even an extra pair of socks for rainy days. I thought of the parents who had a hard time when the pandemic hit and their children suddenly needed smart phones and internet access. These parents who are grateful for the one time meal provided in Schools as they don’t have to worry about lunch. In private schools, I have seen students on lunch plans with set menus for different days of the week, dessert included. Meanwhile, I have also seen students with steel bowls and dalley khorsani in their backpack. It’s clear that economic disparity is very much an issue in our state, like everywhere else. People belonging to the poverty or below poverty line will always be seen as projects – for improvements and for their “own benefits”. But, these policies will hardly have any input(s) from the people that will actually be affected by it- in this case students of Government schools directly and their parents(directly or indirectly).
I have thought about this quite considerably, I understand the intent of this order/notice. But, how will this affect our students, will they find this a welcomed change in their school routine or will they be terrified of coming to school on that one day when he/she/they will be among the odd ones with nothing “appropriate” for culture and tradition day. Peer pressure is a real thing and the effects it has on a young child’s mind could be anywhere between begging their parents for an entire new set of clothing that they might not be able to afford or a “I want to drop out of school” situation. I have seen friends and family who have children going to private schools and the kind of competition there is for that fancy ‘Frozen’ themed cake or the ‘Hulk’ outfit for fancy dress day is hard to play by. Government school students definitely do not have that same luxury. Are they ready for this added financial (as well as mental) strain during an already vulnerable time? Pandemic or no pandemic, this would still be very difficult for some students to adhere to, especially since it appears mandatory.
I can only hope that this order is implemented in a way that is inclusive and feels comfortable for students on every level. That this does not become another one of those things that look good on paper but becomes a logistical nightmare to achieve.
As an educator, this is my personal input and an attempt at starting a dialogue (if necessary), of course this isn’t an issue that is at the forefront, but tiny ripples definitely do have multitudes of reactions. I am just here to say that something that bore out of an intent to inculcate holistic growth and development of a child might become the very thing that threatens it.
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By Arpana Gurung. She can be Contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org