How can we help all our children realise their dreams

COIMBATORE: When I was in New York in September this year, as always, I walked into the lobby of the UNICEF headquarters looking for the latest publications. I have done so for 20 years, enjoying the routine as much as the glimpses from the lives of children across the world.

While reading, I had marked this paragraph out: Around the world, innovators are trying unconventional approaches to education — like using simple toys to illustrate principles of science, or setting of innovation labs to give children a space in which to tinker with models and ideas. Such initiatives impart critical knowledge and skills, while giving children opportunities to build their confidence as thinkers, makers and problem solvers. These experiences can change children’s lives — and children, in turn, have the potential to change the world.

As we celebrate Children’s Day today, think about how we accompany our children at home, in school and in public settings. Our everyday pre-occupations seem to be often limited to school, homework, grades and never-ending requirements for tomorrow’s success, even if we have the child’s best interests at heart. As a result, children are left with little time and nearly no space to do things that build their confidence, nurture their creativity and connect them with their immediate reality.

One might ask: do school and all that we do for children not help them realise their dreams and innate potential? Unfortunately the answer is: not always and not enough. Families and society alike must give their children time to discover the world around them, understand more deeply the real-life problems that surround them, allow them to experiment and engage them as partners in constructive and creative programmes.

Let me illustrate with some examples. India Poverty Solutions, a unique initiative to end child poverty, today engages students from over 100 schools. The USP here is the engagement methodology. Children end up knowing more about the impact of deprivation on their peers and then inviting them to be part of a creative solution (save 1/3 for self, 1/3 for family and 1/3 for society) that in turn takes the form of a concrete service for vulnerable children (immunisation, educational scholarships, support for adolescent girls, care for children living with HIV). In its third year, the child-to-child support stands out and the programme’s depth and simplicity contributes to its increasing popularity.

The children’s choir at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Coimbatore, is yet another example of how the culture of India can be enriched with active leadership of children. At almost any public event in the Bhavan and across the city, I have seen the choir take centre stage, singing traditional and contemporary, religious and secular compositions, bringing alive prayers and poems in a way only children can. We could surely do more to strengthen much-needed intergenerational conversations as well as to carry forward the collective spirit of India.

On Children’s Day, let us think not only of the child at home but all the children in the periya kudumbam, the human family to which we all belong. Nearly 16 crore children in our country are below the age of six years. In the years to come, these children will join our workforce as scientists, farmers, teachers, data operators, artisans, service providers and healthcare professionals. A disproportionate numbers of our children are still affected by poverty, deprivation, communicable diseases, gender discrimination and public apathy. “A matter of national shame,” said our former Prime Minister referring to the impact of deprivation.

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