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Robbing the Child

If realisation dawns that we are heading for a generation of mental giants but emotionally crippled pygmies, we might avoid the scenario where a one-month-old baby is found interacting with the computer screen.

A K GHOSH | New Delhi |

It’s a lost world for children. In the second half of the twentieth century kids first lost their innocence by getting themselves exposed to the essence of generation gap; their authority was rejected in the age of protest. Faced with a lonely world, kids lost their love.

Plagued by the horror of a nuclear nightmare they lost their hope. Growing up with the irrationality of a postmodern world kids lost their power to reason and found out that they had lost their imagination too. And, finally, the last shreds of their innocence have been lost, thanks to the cyber world and celebrity.

The astonishingly grown-up air of our nursery entrants in recent years, coupled with escalating parental expectations has compelled almost every nursery applicant to attend a play school. Many of them are stretched to KG level standards and their parents appear to be vastly impressed by the ‘phenomenal’ knowledge that their toddlers display.

The proud parents lament their own lack of knowledge and awareness even when they were much older. Their charged-up countenances are eager to find out the latest pedagogic approaches and technology that would enhance their wards’ quantum and quality of learning.

Added to all this is NITI Aayog’ s innovation drive in educational institutions for stimulating and nurturing young minds to inculcate a scientific attitude. The decision to establish openended innovation workspaces equipped with sophisticated sensor technology kits, elementary electronic gadgets and computers, robotics to promote creativity, curiosity and imagination is something more to cheer parents.

Atal Tinkering Labs (ATLS), the Centre’ s flagship initiative in selected schools across the country, has the potential to boost the children to become innovators of tomorrow. By using science and technology to support basic education and stimulate innovations, a new India has been envisaged.

To top it all, WhiteHat Jr has emerged as a coding learning platform for young minds with the lone mission of transforming kids from consumers to creators of technology. This is made for children (6-8 years) to learn programming and they are then encouraged to create games, animations and applications.

Fundamentals of coding – logic, structure, sequence and algorithm are taught to enable kids to generate creative outcomes like websites, animations and apps. However, experts are of the view that building software is not a child’s play; it may take years to become an apt software developer if one starts from scratch. How to code cannot be taught easily to children; they can just be trained in how to modify a template.

To learn directly how to make an App without total computer knowledge is not an easy task. It is not practicable to develop software without sound knowledge of any programming language or technology stack. One begins to wonder if this is the unalterable truth of naked reality – are all our conceptions and myths about “innocent’’ children themselves an exploitation by the conscious “experienced” adults? Do we take that innocent affection and simple love of which only a child is capable as our birthright? Do those to whom we give birth have no right? Children have not denied us the fulfilment that they can offer; they continue to reassure us of the existence of a future, while we can only stand for that which is past.

They justify for us the debility and helplessness of old age as being symbolic of the stage of life when the old man transformed acquires a new simplicity – as Nietzsche implied in Thus Spake Zarathustra when dealing with the “three transformations”.

It is adults who, strengthened by the new awakening force that children provide, can make their lives meaningful by looking on them as symbolic of the “mystic centre”. Do adults have the right to be psychologically and emotionally supported by children when they lock the gates of a dignified life to them, when they place them on doorsteps under declining shadows? In Christian iconography, children often appear as angels. Paintings abound with soft figures of little ones, draped over the large bodies of grown-ups.

In almost all cases the little angels with soft limbs and cherubic faces stand for undefiled beauty and unfallen perfection. In art, they frame with elegance and innocence the central passion of evil and destruction which are enacted by the central figures of adults.

They stand for the ideals of happiness and harmony.

Their psychological impact is on the soul; they symbolise formative forces of an unconscious, beneficial and protective kind. It is not ironic that adults should derive psychological protection from beings to whom they do not offer even material protection. The mythology of many major religions conceives of the entrance of God into this world as a troubled child.

When Christ was born the “Massacre of the Innocents” destroyed thousands of little children. The Christ-child survived by escaping to the Land of the Jews, but even there was no room for him in the manger.

The birth of Lord Krishna amidst the tumult of storm and tempest and the fiery wrath of King Kansa is also well-known. When God as a child survived human cruelty, he stood for a future awakening. Even today when one dreams of a child, the interpretation is that some great spiritual change is about to take place. One also thinks of the mystical child who solves riddles and teaches wisdom, the “child that is father of man”.

But men forget that at least on the physical level they owe a responsibility to children who sustain them so well mentally and spiritually. On the mythic plain of the general and the collective, one thinks of the heroic child who liberates the world from monsters.

The youthful activities of Lord Krishna are the Indian contribution to this universal concept of child as deliverer. In alchemy, the child wearing a crown or regal garments is a symbol of the philosopher’s stone, that is of the supreme realisation of mystic identification of the “god within us” with the eternal.

It is true we realised that man does not live by bread alone but needs an emotionally warm climate to realise his potential. Although urbanisation has altered the functional and structural pattern of the family unit, it does not mean that parents should not be co-partners of other socialising agents in society.

Hopefully, if realisation dawns that we are heading for a generation of mental giants but emotionally crippled pygmies, we might avoid the scenario where a one-month-old baby is found interacting with the computer screen.

The writer is former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata, and is presently with Rabindra Bharati University.