15th June 1997


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That typical, tearful first day

By Chamintha Tilakaratna

Although I can not remember my first day at school, I still remember my younger sister’s. It was a much looked forward to event for my sister and more so for my parents. They prepared for the day ahead and on the night before the ‘Big Day’ my parents prepared the new bottle, new bag, school books, pastels and handkerchiefs with name tags. Although my sister was not old enough to understand the implications of the first day of school, she too was quite excited for what the following day would hold. However, that first day, quite unfortunately did not turn out to be as successful as they all hoped. My sister had cried her heart out refusing to stay at the Montessori without my parents while my parents were faced with a dilemma. The teachers too had been quite helpless , having to handle all the children and the parents present there.

This is a typical first day experience that a majority of parents, kids and teachers undergo. Of course, there are instances when the first day turns out to be more successful as well but according to Mrs. Chereen Dharmaratna who has been conducting a Montessori for over 30 years, when one starts to cry they all cry. "It spreads like wild fire," she said.

Montessori teachers are quite familiar with parents seated outside waiting impatiently to see their child after a few hours away from them. According to Montessori teachers it is best that the parents are allowed to stay at the Montessori on the first day. " Depending on the child I would advise the parents to stay on the first day, until the child is used to the class teacher. Most children tend to cry when they find that their mothers are missing," said the Principal of the Visaka Montessori, Mrs. D.Fernando.

Then, the question arises as to whether the children can adjust themselves to the Montessori environment if the parents are there all the time. Teachers say that most children cry only for the first week or so, until they make friends and build up trust in the teachers.

The Sunday Times visited a Montessori to speak to parents waiting eagerly till school was over. They gave a number of excuses for being there in the middle of the afternoon. They said they came because of fear that something might go wrong, or that the children will cry for them or that they will fall sick or wound themselves.

"We don’t take any parents at all, because then the child tends to hang onto the parents," said an experienced Montessori teacher. "It is a necessary break , the break from family into the outside world. We would advise parents to prepare the child for the first day and the days following, during the six months period between the applying of the admission and the first day at school," she said.

Some argue that it is in the best interest of the child that the parent is allowed to stay at the Montessori. Some parents fear that the child will get too attached to the teacher. But that problem arises only when the relationship between the parent and the child is not so loving. If the parents give adequate time and love for the child then there is no need to worry about a teacher coming in between..

Another problem that arises on the first day of school is that some parents try to sneak off as soon as the child appears to have settled down making things worse. " What parents in fact must do is to tell the child that they are going but they will be back soon to take them home and that the aunts will take care of them in the meantime. It is necessary that this assurance is given," Mrs. Chereen Dharmaratna said.

Especially on the first day parents must also make it a point to be there at the Montessori when it finishes. If the parents are not there the child will get so worried and scared that the next day he or she bound to refuse to come to school. Most often in instances such as this many children keep on, asking if mom will be coming back, several times, they said.

At the same time, Montessori teachers advise parents to take a positive attitude on the first day when they accompany the child. Once he/she realizes that the parent is nervous the child loses confidence.They should assure the kid that it is going to be a nice experience and that mummy will be awaiting her return eagerly.

It is also an advantage if the child has practised using the bathroom etc. so that he will not cry for a parent when he needs to go there, while basic manners of saying thank-you and please and even sharing with other kids will help the task of the teachers and help the child to carry on through the day confidently.

Mumbai Diary

It’s stress time once again !

by Kumudini Hettiarachchi

The new school year has just begun in India. With it has also come the results of the Secondary School Certificate (equivalent to our GCE ordinary level) and the Higher Secondary Certificate (similar to our advanced level) examinations. There is much gnashing of teeth and beating of breasts among students these days and the tragedy is that it doesn’t end there.

For, a large number of students, the stress and trauma - beginning with the examination season in March and culminating with the release of results in June - ends only with suicide.

The trend is ominous. As March draws near there are several "small" slots in the newspapers - a student who couldn’t bear the thought of failing the examination cuts his wrists with a razor, another jumps from the terrace of her English tutor’s flat, yet another swallows poison on the way to the examination.

Before and during examinations, parents of students sitting the tests, take leave from work to supervise their children’s studies and ensure that there are no distractions such as television. They also accompany their children, to examination centers and sometimes sit it out in the premises.

We were quite shocked to read news reports that some centers had special "isolation" units for students who had contracted contagious diseases such as chicken-pox, mumps and measles, to sit their exams. Can any parent even think of sending an ill child for an exam? But they do here, without a second thought. The exams being that, otherwise their child will lose a year.

And scoring 60 or 70 percent is not enough - it is considered "ordinary". Ninety percent is the target, most parents expect. To achieve this parents put their children, some even as small as four years, through the mill.

The routine of a child in India is this.

School in the morning, tuition in the afternoon, extra curricular activities in the evening, homework in the night and back to school in the morning.

A recent report on student suicides, in a magazine said that: "A number of forces seem to be conspiring against today’s children. Experts feel that these exam-related suicides are actually symptoms of a deeper social malaise.

"In today’s competition-driven society, there is no place for losers. The demands are so exacting that even four- year-olds are left out of the race if they cannot spell ‘umbrella’ or ‘nostril’ correctly and count upto 50 - things their parents managed to do only when they were six years or more," the article adds.

Our experience in this context has been quite an ‘eye-opener’. Our daughter has just been "promoted" to a higher class after a promotion examination in early April. She had to sit tests for 11 subjects - Maths, English, Religion, Recitation (Poetry), General Knowledge, Conversation, Story, Singing, Drill, Drawing and Craft. There was a timetable and for all written tests they were issued question papers.

During the past year whenever I questioned the need for such a large syllabus, all the other parents disagreed with me and told me that these "computer-age kids" could cope. The rivalry is more among parents.

We, like all the parents, had to attend an "open day" at school, along with our daughter.

We were told her performance was "good." Her average was an "A". And she’s only four years old.

That was the day we decided to remove her from that school and admit her to another - where Maths and English and promotion tests will come when she’s a bit older.

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