Children’s Helpline That Invites Their Questions Currently Doesn’t Meet Expectations
- IWB Post
- March 22, 2019
On February 28, the Kerala Forest Research Institute launched a children’s helpline called ‘First Question’ that encourages children to ask questions mainly on nature and science.
Which is quite an undertaking, in my opinion; children have the wildest of imaginations and the weirdest of questions and limiting the area to nature and science may narrow down the topics but not the children’s thoughts. One can reasonably expect them, in the near future, to be dealing with some absurd and ridiculous questions which will somehow manage to make sense.
Intrigued by this, Indian Women Blog came up with an initiative to encourage the participation of girls in using this helpline. Oftentimes the voices of young girls are silenced, their curiosities treated as insolence because quietness and subservience are considered virtues in women, even now, in the 21st century. This has such a damaging effect on the child’s personality and prevents these young girls from reaching their full potential. This dichotomy of encouraging one gender and actively restricting another creates an imbalance that lasts not just a lifetime, but entire generations. It takes colossal efforts to bridge this gender gap and despite the feminist movement having had a tremendous impact, the gap hasn’t been completely bridged yet.
The M. S. Public School, Udaipur, helped us in this endeavour and we asked three very enthusiastic girls from this school to call the helpline and get their curiosities satisfied.
Following are the excerpts of the conversations.
Name: Disha Garg
Disha wanted to know what is the water cycle and how it works.
After a couple rounds of back and forth, because the operator heard motorcycle instead of the water cycle, Disha was finally able to get her answer.
Which was – Water cycle is also known as a hydrologic or a hydrological cycle. In the cycle the water will be continuously moving, i.e. in between of the earth, above and below the surface. There are four stages like evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and collection. After that, the operator tried their best to explain evaporation and condensation to the girl, but couldn’t simplify it enough to satisfy Disha’s curiosity.
Name: Priya Meena
Priya wanted to know about ‘madhumeha rog’, which is diabetes and the hormone deficiency that causes it.
After asking Priya to translate that in English because she didn’t know Hindi that well, the operator ‘reads’ to Priya (with numerous pauses in between) – It is caused due to high levels of glucose. There are different types of diabetes such as type I and type II diabetes. Diabetes is caused by the deficiency of the hormone insulin which is secreted by the pancreas. Insulin converts glucose into … ‘some other substance’ and when the levels of insulin decrease in our body, glucose levels increase and that is why one gets diabetes.
Besli’s question was about blood banks and how they work.
And try as they might, neither this little girl nor the operator could get their point across to each other; the operator heard blood veins and that is what they explained to Besli.
In today’s day and age, the majority of Indians have smartphones and mobile data, regardless of where they live i.e. in rural areas or in cities. In this increasingly tech-savvy world, children are able to pick up technological knowledge better and faster with each passing day. In such a scenario, it is given that the child will be able to use the internet to find answers to their questions. Hence using the internet to find answers would be more convenient for older students who understand English.
This limits the number of children this helpline will be beneficial for, which will probably only be students without access to the internet or students who don’t speak English or smaller children who may not be able to understand the answers given on the internet.
During these calls, a couple of issues occurred that decreased the efficiency of the helpline, as the teachers of these young girls pointed out.
The first issue was that the operators attending the calls weren’t fluent in Hindi and had trouble conversing in it; they only seemed to speak English and Malayalam. This hinders their ability to address queries of those children who speak languages other than the aforementioned ones. The other issue encountered was, the answers given weren’t satisfactory and the children didn’t understand what was being explained to them.
The teachers of the school said that the individuals receiving the call didn’t have knowledge of the topics covered in the questions, even when the questions were related to the field of science as specified by the helpline officials. They looked up answers on the internet and read them to the children instead of simplifying and explaining the answers to them in a manner they would be able to understand.
Not for the lack of trying though, the operator was very helpful and polite but they just didn’t know how to simplify and explain the answers. And the language was a major hindrance as well.
The helpline is in its nascent stage and not yet fully developed but even the few services being offered don’t seem to have any major advantages that would prompt children or their teachers and parents to use it. Currently, this helpline seems to be doing the work of Google without the internet and would probably only be beneficial to children who speak English or Malayalam and don’t have access to the internet and that also only if the operator is able to explain the answers in a simplified manner.
While the helpline is open to children pan-India, it doesn’t have the resources yet to be able to successfully deal with such a varied audience, and the teachers of M. S. Public School suggested arranging for individuals fluent in multiple languages to receive these calls as well as those who had experience in teaching children so that the answers would be better explained.