“Why do we go to school?”, wailed my ten year old as she wore her monumental school bag on her tiny back while preparing for school. “To get educated”, pat came the reply from her elder I-Know-Everything brother. “For?”, she shot back defiantly. “So that we get educated and find us a good job when we grow up”, replied the wise brother!

This regular and casual bantering however made me pause and reflect both as a parent and a teacher over the big question. Why do we as a nation yearly engage in the hugely expensive and culturally daunting task of sending children to school?

From everything I hear, it is to prepare the next generation for the economy. But our children are more than economic beings and learning and development cannot be reduced to a few test scores. After all, if learning for earning a living is deemed as education, ain’t birds and beasts able to live without learning?

Education turned my life around so I look at this issue in a very personal way. What kind of education can make a human out of a child?

During most of my early years in school, I was a disconnected and dreamy child, vaguely fearful of my future; full of longing but without much direction. Fortunately for me, a chance transfer of my father‘s job and relocation to a new city and a new school opened the gate of new possibilities for me. My new school was nice, it was different. It encouraged questioning, fuelled imagination, inculcated moral values and channelized free interactions. I soared high with the wings I never even knew existed. There are a lot of kids out there like me. And they need all that a school can provide. How?

We need to talk about school not only as a place where young people acquire knowledge but where they learn how to use it. How to make a sincere argument with historical events and how to think with numbers. The kind of education which talks about self-reflection, free thinking, examining your own work. The one that talks about reflecting on motive and on consequences of choosing one path over another- whether in science lab or in the playground.

Education that helps young minds form connections with tolerance, universal brotherhood, compassion and equality, thus putting a human face on knowledge and discipline. Education that promotes thinking with and through each other, respecting discordant views and arriving at positive collaborations. With teaching mutual respect for genders, race and religions, elders, under privileged and differently abled. Education for self-worth, dignity of labor and civic sense. Education with values, character and true intent. In short, Education for all reasons and seasons.

So why should a ten year old wonder. She should be made to feel safe that she goes to school to be a “better her”. To become a good student, classmate, daughter, neighbor and citizen.

A fine human being. Simple.

— Anu Sukhija

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