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The Death of Curiosity


My son was preparing for his third grade annual exams. A chapter in his Environmental Science was dedicated to the universe and there was everything from the sun to earth to moon. When he came to the ‘different phases of moon’, there were quite a few hiccups and no matter how much I tried to make him visualize the different positions of moon with respect to earth and sun, he preferred to take a short-cut when things got a little complicated. The short-cut was learning by heart! Hadn’t it been explained in school? It had been. It bothered me to no end that he had silently taken the route of cramming when the time came to dive deep and understand what was actually happening! I found it difficult to explain to him that learning a conceptual thing is not a quick, single step. It involves knowing the facts, relating them and imagining what could result from stringing the facts in the right order. And that is where lay the hitch. Beyond a point, he could not imagine or he did not want to take the pains of imagining when the easier option lay before him – memorise and throw it up when needed. That set me thinking.

Checking with children in the neighbourhood, I was surprised to find most of them stood in the same bracket as my son. They were happier cramming than sitting down to relish the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of things. What was wrong? Flipping through the pages of different books, there seemed to be nothing amiss. The illustrations were great, there were photographs that supported the information neatly laid out in sections, there were experiments described that could be carried out at home. There were some questions that were brain-teasers too! Then why didn’t the children love to think and understand and then learn? Where was the block that prevented them from spending some extra time to absorb a new concept for it to get etched in their tender minds?

It would only save them the trouble of re-learning a concept again and again! How could the point be driven home that studying doesn’t mean loading the head with facts and figures, rather it means comprehending something once and for all in a way that when the need arises to explain the same to another, it can be done easily? To give an example, a Social Science book mentioned Jammu & Kashmir had Srinagar as the summer capital and Jammu as the winter capital. It also said that winter made Kashmir intensely cold while it was much kinder to Jammu. Now, why does one state have two capitals at two different times of the year? Did the question come up in the reader’s mind? What is it that goad the children to straightaway go on a “learn by heart” spree instead of letting questions poke them? It’s widely known that children are born curious, they are born inquisitive. Somewhere along the way these precious traits are lost! What goes wrong?!

I looked deep inside me and an ugly answer began raising its head. It was me, the culprit. As a parent, I wanted my son to excel in his studies, to stay somewhere at the top. How could that be achieved? Good grades, of course! And how was that to be accomplished? Well, with spending the major part of the day with a variety of subjects and extra-curricular activities in and out of school, was there any scope of delving into the depths of a subject, look for the links between the different portions of a chapter and glow with understanding that suddenly fills the learner with thrill?

In the rapid, mad rush to accumulate information and reproduce it on the answer sheets, aren’t the young learners missing out something vital during their journey? Are we giving them ample time to look for the pearls in the ocean of knowledge or are we hurrying them, pushing them too much to move fast to that one goal – GET GOOD GRADES! SOMEHOW! Are we allowing them enough time to ponder over what they’ve just got to know? To try out what they’ve learnt from books? Are we not denying them the satisfaction of trying out something they’ve got to know? In the pursuit of grades and marks, are we allowing them enough time to develop love for any one subject? Do they ever feel the urge of looking up at the night sky? Or do they have the time for it? How can we expect them to tell readily why the twinkling stars of the night disappear during the day? Maybe we are tuning their minds to study for the sake of it, not for the love of it. Maybe we’re killing a few Einsteins and Newtons as we let curiosity die a slow, silent death!

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have teachers (who are part of the system, but can bring about some… subtle changes) as well as parents getting involved in this discussion on curiosity dying an early death? I also look forward to inputs from ParentEdge. Couldn’t we make learning a pleasure even after the kindergarten years? As long as the good scores keep coming in, shall we take it for granted that everything is fine?

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9 thoughts on “The Death of Curiosity

  1. Namrata S Bhagia

    Being that I am a teacher i feel that lot of the syllabus given in the younger years to the students is a little too much and to add to it the expectation of the parents and the teachers that the child scores highly, robs them of their childhood and the curosity. Nowadays the trend of sending children for tutions starting from std 1 is ridiculous. I see small children coming home eating their lunch and within an hour rush to tution class for 2 to 3 hrs, i think it is a torture on a child and when the child returns from tution he is expected to do his/her homework of school as well as tution and also to study thoroughly for the tests conducted right and left by the tution and school teachers, leaving no leisure/playtime for them. Soon, it is seen that they lose their interest in studies and acquiring real knowledge and work like robots. Today, the parents feel it is easier to pay for the tutions rather than spending time with their children and helping them with their academics. Later on in the higher standards the syllabus gets difficult yes then it is understodd to get extra tutoring and also the children have the energy to grasp at that age. Parenting is not easy but also the most satisfying role provided one works and puts more than 100 percent, it requires a lot of sacrifice not only on the part of parents but all the members of the family to provide the child with cheerful, happy learning environment. Today in most homes it can be seen that adults are hooked on TV, imagine how can an adult expect the child to stay in one room and study whole day and they just enetrtain themselves. Decades ago there were no such distractions, today there are many TV, internet etc. The best would be to give them small syllabus and lots of love and encouragement and to be a pratical parent, to be more understanding towards children, if we go to see not all of us were rankers from std 1, but we are successful. I remember once on the result day i was speaking to one another parent and the discussiin was on results of the children and she put forward a question to me, “do you remember how many marks u scored in 4th, 5th……9th,” my reply was no, she then said “we all remember the 10th std board scores”. we need to let children enjoy their childhood and later on they themselves will mature and study.

    Reply
    1. Sudha Kumar

      As a mother of two teenagers, this post made me introspect and reflect. I think it is a tight rope walk as parents- while we kept telling our children, do your best, how effectively did we communicate that meant learning well, and not, necessarily scoring the highest marks. I have seen this tendency to take short cuts too- that is because of the mistaken belief that learning thoroughly takes a lot more time. And, today, children are influenced by the peer group very early- so when they do not see their friends adopt similar approach, they begin to wonder “why me”. My son, when he was in middle school, always felt he had to do things his friends did not do- today, at 18, he realizes the merit of the method and sagely advises his sister!

      Maybe encouraging activities centred around ideas learnt- your post on the kitchen garden is an example, to reinforce concepts may work- today there appear to be many more activity centres than there were, say 10 years back. Have you explored such methods?

      Yes, parenting is hard work, and being an involved parent means a lot of effort; requires us to adopt a mix of strategies to convince and be effective.

      Reply
      1. Aparajita Bose

        Sudha, you are right in saying that today there are many activity centres compared to what it was years back. Should be in proximity too. These are still few and far between.
        I only wish my children could do true learning by applying a learning. It’s not always possible within classroom because of infrastructural problem, time constraint etc. But if the inquisitive mind is nurtured through thought-provoking questions (NOT as homework, but as a leisure activity) during week-ends, it could help. And I’m happy that you understand my concern.

        Reply
  2. Aparajita Bose

    I had written to a friend from my engineering days, asking him his thoughts about this blog –
    Aparajita Bose What about the “Death of curiosity”? It was relevant during our times as a student as well as now. Some things should change….to make studies interesting for the children…..

    Sujoy Saha’s interesting reply follows below (the entire discussion thread is on my -Aparajita Bose – Facebook Wall):
    Sujoy Saha Went through your “Death of Curiosity”……forget about lower classes…I use to mug up in my eng. subjects also like Accountancy, Material sciences…..For my daughter one thing I do is to draw & explain new concepts like earthquatke, ecl…ipses….this helps….it is also a function of how quickly you can relate yourself to the maturity level of your child & explain the process with drawing, simple experiments……Drawing & modelling are two things which in our times not too much emphasis were given…..Now a days I see lot of changes particularly with the CBSE systems….where drawing & modelling has become quite integral…..I believe things are changing not @ pace which we may be proud of…..but it is changing for the good.

    Reply
  3. vanita nagpal

    Dear Aparjita,
    I agree exactly with you….The parents and the teachers both have to make a deliberate effort on it…I have noted one more thing….a child does not have to mug up his favourite subject…it is only in the subject which he/she doesn’t like at all…this happens with Hindi at my place…..i literally teach Hindi grammar in english to them so it fits in their mind….i know its wrong but they score good this way….

    Reply
  4. Sharmistha Sarkar

    Aparajita it is true the teachers and the school play a major role in imparting education through innovation rather than cramming. But we as parents are equally responsible for the process. When the school puts less academic pressure on the children at the primary level don’t u hear most parents cribbing oh the standard of the school is too low. If the school tries to teach beyond the conventional manner of teaching and taking exams don’t we as parents question ourselves are the children learning enough? Haven’t we put a benchmark the more(more in the sense more of syllabus covered in each standard) the school teaches the better the school.? Can we have a let it be attitude if the children fare badly in the assesments? And to do well in assesments the easiest way as we all know is to cram….So the teachers , parents and school must work in tandem to change this system…….

    And as a tail ender ‘What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare……………….a poor life if, full of care,we have no time to stand and stare.’

    Reply
  5. Aparajita Bose

    Yes, Sharmistha, all the three-school, teachers and parents, have a major role there in encouraging the young minds to be curious, not to make their memory cells work extra and work most of the time.
    And yes, if we stopped complaining about the syllabus covered and paid right degree of importance to learning in a way that they could relate it to real life scenarios, then education would be on its way to achieved its purpose!

    Reply

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