Do we answer questions posed by our children?
Every child in every school needs to understand how great ideas and innovations are born
Reforming education is a task meant not only for school teachers and the education minister; it is something towards which we all can contribute from our homes, in our neighbourhood and in our communities. Why then do we neglect this responsibility towards our children, those among us not only from economically weaker families but also in middle-class homes?
Let me ask our readers a simple question: How many times have you said in response to a question from your children, niece or nephew, or neighbour, that you do not know the answer to that question, and that you would find out and get back to them? If you have not done this many times in the last month, then accept that you do not love your child, though you may claim to do so.
I have met many children who have somehow gathered the courage to ask questions, and when they do not find an answer, they write to me or to the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) asking the same question. But few children do so. Some of them want to experiment on the traditional knowledge gathered from their grandparents. Some have been encouraged by their teachers to pursue real-life experiments on herbal pest repellents or the efficacy of mud plaster in keeping germs away.
I met Pranav Mistry at the TED conference in Mysore. Hailing from Palanpur, he is pursuing a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston. At the conference, he was credited with being one of the smartest people in the world, in acceptance of his invention of sixth sense technology.
I thought the city would be on fire after hearing of him and that his phone would not stop ringing. It is true that he deserves some peaceful time with his family. But then, surely some children in the city as well as the state should interact with him and understand how great ideas are born. What kind of ecosystem makes a young inquisitive child become a world-class inventor, and what role do his or her parents play in the upbringing? MIT has nurtured his talent. Is it too difficult to create a similar environment here, now and from tomorrow?
I will be inviting him to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA) to meet the children and adults (some of whom have failed to keep the child in them kicking) on campus. But I think the children in municipal and rural schools across Gujarat have a greater need to meet him, more than the children on the IIMA campus. Mistry says on his website, “In short, I do what I love and I love what I do.” How true.
With all rural schools connected in Gujarat, let this boy from Palanpur share his childhood pranks, his ability to ask unusual and awkward questions, his friends in Palanpur where he was born, and his journey through the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai to MIT. If he can do it, let every child from every school in every village and small town say that he or she too can. It would not matter then what the education ministers think; our children can make them redundant.
Anil K Gupta