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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Dr. Swati Popat Vats Talks About Archaic Methods In Early Education And Their Negative Effect On Child Development

  • IWB Post
  •  November 14, 2017

Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world, said Malala Yousafzai.

Podar Education Network was established in 1927, by Sheth Anandilal Podar with a focus-driven and motivated idea to uphold traditional Indian values of honesty, integrity, and service. Mahatma Gandhi, being the very first President of the Anandilal Podar Trust, stands a tall testimony to this fact. This is being taken ahead today by Dr. Swati Popat Vats who shares the same values and believes in nurturing children of tomorrow. She is currently the President of Podar Education Network and President of Early Childhood Association of India.

Dr. Swati has written books for parents, teachers, and children. She blogs, tweets about childhood, parenting and child rights regularly. Dr. Swati has recently set up the world’s first video-based parenting website Born Smart that helps parents understand the importance of brain development in the early 1000 days of a child’s life.  We chat in a dynamic interview about it all and more.

How can parents positively contribute to the brain development of their child?

Three things happen in the first six years of a child’s life Language Development, Attachment, and Stimulation. Parents are often unaware of these things; if the child is not given the right stimulation in the first six years at home by just keeping them in front of a television or in the feeding chair – this can damage brain development, later. Also, parents mistakenly think they can just put on songs or make the child listen to the language to make them learn it. Language development is a two-way process, and if children don’t have a to-and-fro in language communication, then children find difficulty in picking up essential words to build their vocabulary.

Another important thing is that parents should nurture emotional attachments of their child. Children who don’t have such attachments feel isolated and even more aggressive. So, parents need to be taught how the brain development works because unlike the physical development, it is not something that one can see.

You have recently launched a website called ‘Born Smart.’ Tell us more.

It talks about the development of a child from birth to 3 years, so before a child even goes to pre-school, we want parents to nurture bran of their children in the right way. The website has simple games in video format that the parents can engage the child in. Our entire focus is to help parents understand how to bring up a child correctly. We explain why parents have to talk and question with their children. And not simply say ‘no’ because that has a negative impact.

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Technology has been seeping into all aspects of our life. Discuss how to use technology with a positive impact on child development.

I suggest limiting the use of technology at least for the first 3 years of a child. However, video calling with grandparents or distant relatives should be appreciated. We ask parents to give their child mobile phones only on flight mode because the radiation it emits is dangerous for the child’s growth. Parents should reduce the amount of time the child is spending on these devices because that leads to sleep and stress disorders. Concerning technology, there is no learning that happens in the first few years through it. Even with language, you can’t talk to technology you cannot interact with it. Most of the games that children play on mobile phone or tabs are reactive games, so it is not suitable for young children. Children need to touch and feel, not just see things on the screen. Even the American Pediatric Association has recommended cutting short technology for children under three years old.

You also wrote a book titled, ‘Are you unknowingly harming your child.’ What are those unknown ways parents harm their children?

I’ll give you a simple example – if you take the child to a movie theatre, and the first thing you do is give them popcorn, then ice-cream, etc.  Now one tub of popcorn has enough salt for a week’s consumption, and you have just overloaded the child with sugar. Most parents say that the child is hyperactive and cranky after going to malls and theaters, and that is obviously going to happen because of all the sugar and salt that was pumped into the child. These are the things parents are not aware of. Another thing is sleep. Many parents do not know that children require nine hours of sleep and if they don’t get those nine hours, their brain’s ability to remember and the immune system become weak. It is important that parents get educated about these simple things so they can stop unknowingly harming their child.

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Is that why you introduced Stress-Free Learning into early education? What are those Stress-Free Learning methods you are using?

You know, Indian schools teach cursive handwriting and writing between red and blue lines. It is something that is very simple, all of us have grown up with it, but the effect of it is taken for granted. Children in the primary section often find difficulty in shifting from this red and blue line to the single form format. If you take the letter ‘G,’ you are using two red and two blue lines when you transition from it, there is only one top line and one bottom line. Children don’t understand which lines disappear. So what we have introduced is a dotted line system so children will understand that the small letter will go below the dotted line, the capital letters will come above, etc.  Thus, when the child transits, it becomes smoother because only the dotted line disappears. It looks an unimportant thing, but it makes the entire process stress free.

The second ignored thing is writing in cursive. It is like asking a child to run even before they can crawl. We have introduced a writing style devised by a Marian Richmond in the UK which has a loop at the end so each letter can be hooked to each other. It makes the writing fast, but there are no unnecessary curves, etc.

The third thing we have started is introducing writing later than what most schools do, which is at the age of three. The fine motor skills like the tripod finger grip of a child are not developed by that age. Abroad they start writing by the age of seven years. According to research, the obelic line which is there in many letters can only be processed by the age of 5 and 6. But because we have to conform to Indian School we start at the age of 4.

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What are the other things India can adopt from the World Curriculum?

That’s a great question. Most importantly India needs to understand the negative impact of the early pressure we put on children while learning them to write. Reading, on the other hand, is something that needs to be focused on. After learning the language, reading should come next as you read a symbol. For example, first, I will learn to differentiate between a chair, and a table and then the chair will be converted into a symbol and then a word. “Let children read before they are taught to write” is a quote by Gandhi himself.

The irony is that we have an excellent education policy devised by the government which is there on Women and Children Development websites, but most schools are unaware of it. This policy has a curriculum, it is also in my book, but people don’t follow it. So we keep on using the traditional practices. The effect isn’t going to be seen immediately, but for example, people in their 10th standard are stressed out because, at the age where they should’ve been taught patience, multi-tasking, etc., we were busy teaching them to write and not learn. We should focus on the socio-emotional development, then the resilience level and the ability to handle stress.

And what is your thought on bringing Religion into education curriculum?

Religion is an aspect in our country which will always get mixed with a lot of things. As an educator, it is the responsibility of a teacher to give a right perspective. It is not just about what is in the textbook. As a country, we need to understand that religion is so much a part of our entire being that teachers need to be taught and prepared to bring balance to the class. Each government brings their own biases, so it’s on the teacher training colleges and institutes.

How have you achieved overcoming religious barriers in your class? 

Very importantly, when we came out with kiducation, we started the day with National Anthem. We took a very conscious stance that no prayer will be sung. Also, no festival is celebrated as a religious festival but with a goal or vision. For example, Govinda is celebrated as milk day, Eid is celebrated as friendship day and Parsi New Year as Let’s Help Each Other Day. Thus, no festival is celebrated in its religious context but in its value context aspect. This helps to respect every aspect of every religion.

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You did something on similar lines by asking to question anything archaic. So how can teachers be the engines of progress in education?

For that, we change the fables and moral stories that are traditionally taught. For example, Goldilocks and the three bears have negative content as it is saying that you can enter someone’s house and take their things. We have turned it into a story where Goldilocks learns the three magic words. Similarly, Hansel and Gretel and the kind old lady who teaches the kids to brush their teeth. Teachers in their training need to understand that they are teaching wrong and the implications of what they teach.

The introduction of POSCO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) has led to creating awareness about child sexual abuse. What do you do towards this awareness as an educator?

We did this much before it became so common. It’s not like it wasn’t there before, but we created a presentation in multiple languages to teach kids which part of the body no one should touch. Then we made a Muppet video on this, which talks about feelings and consent. Consent should be taught right from childhood. You shouldn’t force kids to kiss and hug even relatives because you cannot force a child to be physical with somebody. There is no distinction in the child’s mind.

I have also written a book on this titled ‘When touch becomes trouble’ and ‘Secret touch.’ It is about a little child who was abused by their babysitter, but because the mother taught the kid about a good touch and a bad touch, he could speak up.

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Even after so much awareness, children feel scared to open up to teachers and parents. Is there something wrong with a teaching approach?

There are two things that predators use against children. A predator will either say if the kid tells this to their parents they will kill them or give them chocolate for keeping quite. Parents must become aware of this and not use this in their parenting, which makes it a custom threat. The child shouldn’t become accustomed to keeping secrets. When a child knows that secrets shouldn’t be kept, they will be able to open up more.

Gender norms are taught to children at a very young age, how do you think education system can change this?

When we say developmental education, we mean to say that gender bias starts with play activities. Like Girls are given a kitchen set and Boys a doctor set. So, we consciously train teachers to make sure that this is not brought in by them. The choice of toys should depend on the kid. Parents don’t understand this, we had an incident when a boy was playing with a kitchen set and did the same at home, but the grandmother didn’t like it. So, we hold playdates for parents to understand the concept that the school is following. There are parent participation programs, and we try to keep it on Saturdays so that both parents can attend it alternatively if they are not free.

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