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Stress at Schools- What to do? With Dr. Swati Popat Vats | What’s on my mind podcast

Why do you think the math book was sad? Because it had a lot of problems.. and so do we at school, said 14-year-old Adwaith Menon, with candor that would set the tone for a talk about stress at school, on Bookosmia’s podcast ‘What’s on my mind’ hosted by adolescents.

Co-host Satvika Suri, a 14 year old from Bangalore put forth the context for the conversation- stress at schools is not to be taken lightly, after all, what youngsters learn in their formative years at school is crucial for the way their future shapes up. And one person who knows how important early years are is Dr Swati Popat Vats, an educator, educational activist, teaching expert, author and parenting guru, who was the expert speaker of the day. Here are some snippets from this insightful conversation.

school stress bookosmia

Why do you think the math book was sad? Because it had a lot of problems.. and so do we at school, said 14-year-old Adwaith Menon, with candor that would set the tone for a talk about stress at school, on Bookosmia’s podcast ‘What’s on my mind’ hosted by adolescents.

Co-host Satvika Suri, a 14 year old from Bangalore put forth the context for the conversation- stress at schools is not to be taken lightly, after all, what youngsters learn in their formative years at school is crucial for the way their future shapes up. And one person who knows how important early years are is Dr Swati Popat Vats, an educator, educational activist, teaching expert, author and parenting guru, who was the expert speaker of the day.  She is also the President of Podar Education Network, Early Childhood Association and a global educator with over 32 years of experience.

Stress at schools Dr Swati Popat Vats bookosmia

Here are some snippets from this insightful conversation.

The teen podcasters opened by sharing a poem of gratitude by 11 year old Anavadhya from St Mary’s Central School ,Trivandrum.

Teachers Poem Bookosmia

Happy teachers make happy students. However the role of a teacher is constantly expanding. We expect the teacher to know how to deal with mental health issues, answer a sex- ed question, be tech savvy, in addition to the standard deliverables in terms of academics.

Are we putting too much on our teachers’ plates?

An educational avant-garde, Dr Swati shared, “No, I don’t think so. Teachers need to be able to support children in all areas of development. I’m speaking from my 35 years of experience that the duty as a teacher is not only to help with the studies but to help with overall development. Helping only with academics is not what makes a teacher, they are simply tutors then. We don’t need as many tutors as much as we need teachers. Teachers must help their students in these areas of development : 1.language 2.physical 3.social 4.emotional 5.cognitive.

Teachers should not feel this as a burden because the needs of the world are changing and teachers also should be able to adapt to that.”

So we are finally back to school! For two years we were behind screens and now some are apprehensive, some talk of anxiety. How are schools prepared for this?

A wonderfully crisp response from Dr. Swati followed, ” Yes, school was a completely different experience for the last two years. Muting, unmuting, switching off camera, moving around, not forming any close emotional bond or connection with classmates, no tenth standard farewell party, exercise was not possible –  life changed!

And now as we reopen school there are some things for schools to keep in mind :

  1. We might find some behavioral changes among children

Not everyone will be able to adjust to the move that quickly. Kids are used to their freedom,  sitting the way they want to but now they will have to go back to wooden benches, a structure, rules to follow. We need to accept that children might come back with body image issues.

  1. We must keep an open mind.

We have to accept the child will take time initially and not enforce rules to stress them further.

  1. Prepare for safety

 The pandemic is not over yet so we must be prepared to conform for safety standards.

  1. We must not pressurize children

For better mental health, we must not force them to excel in studies or conform to social rules if we want kids to be happy to come back to school and adjust quicker. “

Our young costs read out from 15 year old Devansh from Noida- a very meaningful quote from Einstein- Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid. Why do we want to judge all our kids by the same standard and risk a large number of them feeling inadequate.Is it right to judge a student based on their marks? Why do we judge all students by the same standards leaving a large number of kids feeling inadequate?

The podcast audience was quite surprised by the response from Dr. Swati, a veteran educationalist- “Each one of us has different abilities that cannot be judged by an exam. Most exams are based on rote learning.

For the last 35 years I have been fighting this issue. Testing is not assessment. The amount of stress kids go through during board exams destroys their mental health and makes them feel inadequate. Children have to become the voice of change now because the government will listen to children’s voices – they are the users who are affected by the system. Lots of changes can happen when they speak up.

Films like 3 Idiots talk about the stress of exams and how it’s unfair, however we watch it just as a film and once the film is over we forget about it. Another movie that I really loved is Dasvi starring Abhishek Bachchan and the way he was taught is the kind of teaching we should be doing. Kids need to be taught with the kind of examples they understand and we need to teach them resilience.

If you do not teach the way children understand, they will end up hating education. When I was young,  I hated math, history and English grammar. I have now written two coding books and this is because I realized that I was taught wrong but nothing was wrong with me.”

Our podcasters shared an amusing yet hard-hitting poem, The Scam Of Exams to continue on this theme by 16 year old Urja Dhirwani poem Ahmedabad

exams poem bookosmia

Dr. Swati’s response had us all rejoice in the educationalist -” Exams are absolutely a scam! This beautiful poem should be sent to the Prime Minister. It is time these voices are heard in the corridors where education policies are made. The new education policy is child-centric and I hope it is implemented well. “

Even by scoring as high as 95% students still don’t get admission in colleges. Your take? 

“That’s because parents want their children to only join select courses like medicine or engineering. The high percentage cut-off is because there are few colleges and too many students wanting to join them. If the government could increase the number of colleges, that might make it a little easier but the main change can come if parents would just listen to kids’ choices. We don’t even talk to kids about other professions!

Look at the people who own social media companies, musicians, artists — these professions don’t need a very high percentage cut off. When career counseling is done for the child, the parent can see that there are so many options available based on their interests. This is also an aspect of mental health. When you force a child to take up a profession they are not interested in, they will earn money but not be happy. So, find out what you like doing and then find someone to pay you for doing it!”

For youngsters today, popularity is equal to confidence. What effect does that have on them?

For many, the most important thing is the number of followers they get.  They want to be liked and they feel that is their success. If they do not get 10 likes they feel demotivated. The only person who should like you is yourself. If you don’t like the person in the mirror then you need to work on yourself. At this point, the role of a friend becomes very important. What are friends for? On Facebook you may have 14,000 friends but are they really your friends? I don’t like this term Facebook has coined saying ‘Friends’.  Do these people know your likes or dislikes?  Will they be there for you when you need them? Social media has changed the meaning of friends and that is where the problem starts.

It’s important to have like-minded friends who are there to support us, not to demotivate us. They can critique but not criticize.  They must celebrate but not be jealous of us. If a friend wants you to drink, smoke, watch content that is not suitable for you, if someone is forcing you to do something that you are not comfortable with then there is no need to belong to them. They are not your true friends.

In the story Pinocchio, there is a beautiful line that goes, ‘let your conscience be your guide’.  It is important to develop consciousness. Why am I trying to please that person? This consciousness can only come with appreciative adults around you. When adults constantly criticize a child, pull them down, the child will seek friends who make them feel good and not mean it. 

It’s important not to fall for peer pressure.

How do we handle peer pressure? 

If you have selected the wrong friend circle, you will face peer pressure. When you are put under pressure just smile and ignore. Learning to say ‘no’ is one of the biggest skills. Say, “I’m sorry but I would not like to do this.”

What is more important? Bowing down to peer pressure or walking away to what you believe in?  We must develop the ability to walk away when we are not comfortable.

What kind of environment should schools create for their students?

Every child must have a sense of belonging and a sense of support at school. Schools are not prisons. A school should be like a garden where children should bloom, not wither. That is why Froebel called it Kindergarten or a garden for children.

It’s high time schools change the way schools look. All benches face towards the blackboard, there are individual benches, this discourages group work. At offices, people sit in padded chairs however children have to sit on hardwood benches for eight hours. Is this the kind of environment that would encourage a child to spend more time in schools?

Reggio Amelia said that for children, parent is the first teacher, then the teacher and the third teacher is the environment. Now we need to work on the school environment to make it more comfortable for children.

CEO of Bookosmia, Nidhi Mishra wondered how we should prepare our little ones for the school journey ahead.

And of course, by now we know that Dr. Swati had a handy crisp answer.

  1. Reject schools that interview 

Do not select a school that has an entrance test for your child. A school must be ready to take any child, not only those they deem to be intelligent. So if a school asks your child to appear for an entrance test, reject that school.  Anyway according to the RTE, interviews for school are banned.

The school interview is what starts the first stress. Parents are so stressed that these days there are classes to help little children prepare for interviews at schools. This is ridiculous!  This is where the stress of school procedure starts just at age 3!

  1. Never compare your child

Never compare your child, not even to their siblings. Compare them to their past performance and not to others because by comparing them to someone else we are telling them they are not good enough and that destroys their self esteem. Instead give them goals to improve on their past performance which will motivate them to do better.

3. Select a school that doesn’t label 

Select a school that will not make your child into a number, a school that will not use words like  ‘achievers’ ‘backbenchers’ ‘ A grade’ ‘C grade’ etc.  When we attach these numbers to a child, we stop looking at them as children.  We only judge them by numbers.

A message for parents

We have two kinds of brains –  one, the emotional brain and two, the thinking brain.  The emotional brain has to be happy for the thinking brain to be used well. If the emotional brain is not happy, the student cannot focus, cannot learn and cannot remember, that is the simple funda of life. If parents understand this, it will be a good schooling journey for the parent and child.

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This article is a creative output of  Archana Mohan, Nidhi Mishra and Mugdha Kalra, co-founders of Not That Different movement to understand mental health and embrace neurodiversity. We encourage you to listen to the podcast on audible.com , hubhopper to make the most of this meaningful conversation yourself.

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