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Childhood Interrupted

Education | Civil Society | Sep 17, 2020

A discussion that looks at the impact of the pandemic on children, especially between ages 8 to 18. How have the various restrictions imposed affected their routines, their mental make-up? How will it affect their future? Will this become the lost generation What can we do to prevent it, both at the level of the individual child, and society as a whole? What has been done before, in different parts of the world, when children have been under collective stress, through wars and disease? The goal of this diverse panel of stake holders, would be to let be truly understand the impact on children, but also learn from past history – say through other experienced pandemics, or the last World War, how societies tried to mitigate the impact on young people. And therefore feel inspired to innovate our way out of the current situation, when it comes to the future citizens of the country.


0:00:10 Raghu: Good evening, and a warm welcome to today’s session on BIC Streams. Childhood Interrupted-How can we restore the loss to children from the pandemic? Joining us are Rohini Nilekani, Shekhar Seshadri, Kavita Gupta, Deepika Mogilishetty, and Vishal Talreja. Thank you Rohini for helping us put this panel together, and thank you all for joining us. Before I hand over to my panelists, you can sign up to our mailing list, or follow us on our social media channels to get updates from us. We will be posting the bios of all of today’s panelists on the chat box that you see at the bottom of your screen. Do post your questions and type in your questions in the Q&A box, which is next to the chat box. With that, over to you, Rohini.

0:00:58 Rohini: Thank you so much as always Raghu, and ellarigu namaskara. Good evening, everyone. Thank you once again, BIC, for giving us this opportunity, and thank you to my panelists and to you, the viewers, whether you’re watching this live, or later on YouTube. So today we are going to address a very serious topic, the impact of the pandemic on children. Ironically, today is Mahalaya Amavasya, when millions of people in this country will be remembering their ancestors and seeking their wisdom. But today, we are going to focus on the future. We are going to focus on the children, born and unborn. Of course, we have a great panel today.

0:01:42 Rohini: We have Dr. Shekhar Seshadri, he’s a psychiatrist and a professor of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NIMHANS. He’s been speaking out a lot about children’s issues during this pandemic. We have Kavita Gupta, who is the founder of Neev Academy, a much coveted system of schools here in Bangalore, and she has intensely researched all aspects of children’s development. We have Vishal Talreja, he’s the co-founder of Dream A Dream, and he works on the life skills of young children from slum communities, he’s been doing this for years and years. He has worked particularly hard during this pandemic to help children deal with the emotional fallout. And we have Deepika Mogilishetty, last but not least, who wears many hats. She’s been a legal activist, she’s a core team member at EkStep Foundation, and she’s a very active parent, part of many parent networks that learn from each other on how best to support children. So before I go to my marvelous panel, I’ll just do a brief sharing of some of the research that I came across.

0:02:51 Rohini: We have 320 million children in India, and this pandemic has impacted every aspect of their lives. For millions of those with socio-economic disadvantages, the repercussions are going to be much worse. For example, with all the school closures, 95 million children who avail of midday meals have lost that very critical source of nutrition. And when it comes to online learning, an Oxfam survey found that 85% of rural households in five States are struggling with the digital mediums of education. And then of course, the psychological impact. In just 11 days in March, Childline India received 92,000 distress calls from children expressing many anxieties.

0:03:40 Rohini: Now, there have been several studies of the impact of past epidemics and disasters on children globally, and they’re not very encouraging. There’s a range of issues that emerge: Social, emotional, educational, and much more. For example, some research on earlier outbreaks, such as Ebola, threw up significant impact on children’s mental health. One qualitative study that was done of those who experienced that Ebola outbreak, through their drawings, they represented it as a highly stigmatised and feared disease, and this is something in India we need to be very aware of, because not only do we already have a heinous caste system, we have created more social outcasts during this time, without seriously discussing the negative repercussions that might happen.

0:04:33 Rohini: Even short-lived events such as earthquakes can have a lasting impact on children, including unborn children. Scholars who studied the effect of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, which also hit India and in which 80,000 people died, reached the conclusion that children living close to the fault line were significantly shorter four years later, if they were in utero or under the age of three, and the authors of the study tell us that the two million or so children born in India now during this lockdown, and the millions more who are under the age of three, may be subject to severe health deprivation which may affect them all their lives.

0:05:13 Rohini: There is also an economic impact. And their work on the earthquake also suggests that all school-going children will suffer in terms of their learning. In a NIMHANS study of Indian children who were proximate but not directly affected by the 2004 tsunami, one-third of them reported a loss in concentration, decreased sleep, and anxiety about the future. And during the COVID-19 pandemic too, there have been some studies, and there are many more happening as we speak. Reports from Italy, Spain, and China show significant emotional and behaviour changes during the quarantine or lockdown in children and adolescents. Younger children become clingier or regress in their behaviour, and older children become more anxious, angry, restless, or withdrawn. Children subjected to quarantine have more likelihood of developing acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, and grief. Those who were quarantined showed four times higher scores of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to those who are not under lockdown. And even short outbreaks like SARS have shown children to have long-lasting trauma. So we can only imagine the extent of the impact of a long, drawn-out pandemic like this one.

0:06:30 Rohini: However, I don’t just want to do doom and gloom. The authors of the study on Pakistan do suggest that governments begin to track some indicators immediately, so that losses known can be quickly mitigated to the extent possible. Society as a whole can prevent harm to children, but we must acknowledge and understand the potential impact and create effective nationwide programs to stem the loss. It is possible and requires a rapid response. For example, one study showed that children who are part of a Vitamin A trial when a typhoon struck in Bangladesh, were fully protected in terms of their height losses, and post-tsunami, so much aid came to the way of children who were directly impacted, that they were not only able to fully catch up with others, but they even outgrew children who lived further away.

0:07:19 Rohini: So therefore, there are plenty of creative opportunities for us as parents, as grandparents, teachers, educators, healthcare practitioners, and just as caring adults to nurture this generation of children, so that they do not become the lost generation as is being feared. It is as important to us as a society and as a nation as it is to them, and the future will be shaped by a generation coming of age at the time of this Coronavirus pandemic, and we need much more discourse on how to understand and how to support them. And I can think of no better people than our panelists today to share with us their ideas on what we can do to help children recover.

0:08:00 Rohini: So the format is like this, I will ask my panel a couple of rounds of questions. We’ll also have two very short videos of children because the children are not here, and we’ll see them virtually, they are from around the country. And all of this together will take about an hour, but we will leave the remaining half hour to you the audience, to ask questions. As usual, let me remind you to make your questions short, crisp, clear, and brief. Preferably address them to a specific person, and I promise to try and take as many questions as I can. So let’s get to it, but I’m gonna go to you first Shekhar, but just before that, Raghu, can we play part A of our two videos please?

0:09:54 Rohini: Thank you Raghu. Shekhar you heard some of those children, can you expand a bit on what are all the things that are happening to the children of this country and of course, globally, what have you experienced? Can you tell us a range of issues they are facing?

0:10:12 Shekhar: Thank you very much Rohini, and my greetings to all the panelists and all the people in the audience. It’s a very interesting title Rohini, to this seminar, and when I read the word loss in the title, I was suddenly reminded of what Mark Twain said, “Nothing that grieves can be called little. In the eternal laws of proportion, the loss of a doll for a child, and the loss of a crown for a king are events of the same size.”

0:10:42 Rohini: Wow. That’s amazing.

0:10:44 Shekhar: In the eternal law… So what have children lost? And when you look at loss of routine, loss of structure, loss of predictability, loss of learning spaces and opportunities, loss of peer interaction, loss of social spaces, and loss of play, this has a significant developmental impact. This is one aspect of what it does to child development in a vacuum in a period which not just for that little girl in the video who said…

0:11:21 Shekhar: For many of us it’s the first time that this non-living thing, this strand of RNA which has brought humanity down to it’s knees. 100 years from now it’s gonna go down in the history of mankind is written… Of humans are written as something that had a huge kind of impact, Rohini that you referred to that. So this is one aspect of what does it do to interruptions in child development. What does it do particularly to children who are special needs? What does it do to children of daily wage workers and migrant workers who’ve suffered loss of livelihood, and what is it going to do post-pandemic, whatever the state of the economy is going to be in terms of the fallout, and how it’s gonna affect family structures there.

0:12:09 Shekhar: So what has happened is that the ecology of our lives have changed. Both the internal ecology as well as external ecology. And this generates both loss of developmental experiences, it also brings in for those kids who had pre-existing concerns and anxieties, there’s an exacerbation, and then there is new onset of symptoms, not just because of the reality of the pandemic and all the misinformation and anxieties around it, but it’s also related to: Does a family member have the infection? Was someone hospitalized? Did someone unfortunately pass away? How about the extended family, are they safe? How long will this go on? And for those kids who are in their exit exams, will there be a loss here? So we really look at it in terms of the kind of questions that are generated in children’s minds, so that for each child, we respond to the uniqueness of her universe and where she comes from.

0:13:10 Shekhar: A last point while opening, it is the… This whole issue is based on a very primary psychological construct and that is called, “Intolerance of uncertainty.” Most anxiety is based on an intolerance of uncertainty, and what really characterises children’s psyche and their response to this is uncertainty, and the manner in which parent systems, adult systems actually relate to the different questions that structure this primary principle of uncertainty by simple first-level responses, that creates a different narrative for children, because they’re constructing narratives there, and that’s really the essence of the kind of work that we would like to do. These are some opening thoughts Rohini, but I guess I’ll come back as we expand. Over to you.

0:14:06 Rohini: Yes, of course. We’ll of course be coming back to you, I read somewhere, someone… Dr. Pauline Boss calls it, “Ambiguous loss” that because it’s… You can’t pinpoint the loss, and that means you have to find different coping mechanisms to deal with it. Shekhar of course we’ll be coming back to you a lot, but I’m going to turn to you, Kavita, and before I come to you, to talk about educational loss, loss of learning, we’ll play Raghu our second and last little video.

0:15:45 Rohini: So Kavita, you saw that they’re all talking about online lesson, the last little young man says…

0:15:51 Rohini: What is your… What have you seen these six months? What have they done to children, and in this program, I’m focusing a little less on toddlers and pre-schoolers, but you know say from five, six to 16 or 17, that age group. Talk about it please.

0:16:09 Kavita: Yes, and it’s interesting that you mentioned that age group because both of my children just went out of that age group, and one is just turning 16 soon, and the other one is 19 now, so I can see that their experience has been very different from the children who are in the age group that you are talking about, sort of six to 16. I think the learning loss is just immense and I think it’s… You know, more than that, it’s just the loss of a… Schools are not… They say it takes a village to raise a child and I think our society has changed so much in the last few decades, in India in particular, but also around the world, where the village that existed is no longer there, you know grandparents and cousins and all of that. That village is no longer there. And schools, and child-cares, and pre-schools have become that alternate village that brings up the child or the alternate universe. And with that, with the loss of that universe, there’s a whole chunk of the child’s life that is just gone and that is very confusing for children.

0:17:14 Kavita: I think it’s… So there’s a different level of loss in terms of learning for different children. It depends on how strong the systems are, it depends on how strong relationships at home are. So there’s a scale there. There have been some gains as well, but we won’t go into that for now. The losses have been… It’s known, it’s documented that distance-learning can make up for disruptions, but there is a learning loss even on assessments and on exams and scores, children measure out at about 20% to 25% lower than children who are learning face-to-face, and this has been documented in planned outages for education like home-schooling in the US. It’s also been documented in large systems like in Australia where distance-learning has a 100-year legacy but when the children enter school, they enter at about 20% lower than the other children are, who are in the regular system all along. So I don’t think we can measure at all.

0:18:25 Rohini: Can you just tell us what is it that explains that difference? Doing something online, just… I mean, it’s a little bit common sense but just draw it out. What is the difference?

0:18:36 Kavita: Sure, I think there’s… Again, it’s a matter of the system and how it’s planned. So there are also benefits of the distance-learning which are also measurable, but the distance creates… It creates opportunities for choices for children and intrinsic motivation, where intrinsic motivation is high, where relationships at home are high, distance-learning actually can also be more successful, but where you don’t see that and at large, the people at home are just so busy and they’re tied up in many other things, that the time and the mind space for handling that at home is not there. So at large it’s the loss of control, and you know children are again questioning that, why should they be there, and why should they focus when there’s not a teacher who’s holding their attention right there. That you know…

0:19:31 Kavita: Even for us it’s 24 little faces on a screen but for many others it’s 50 faces on a screen or a WhatsApp call, even worse. So I think it’s how do children… How do teachers assess? How do teachers engage with the child? I think that is what causes the greatest loss in learning. It’s the engagement, the relationship that’s completely gone. Children also learn socially. There’s a lot of interaction that happens socially in that universe, so the social interaction causes in early years trillions of pathways, in later years it causes negotiations, there are parallel conversations, it’s relaxing, it’s fun.

0:20:05 Kavita: So all of that is also taking away the learning opportunity and there’s tedium that sets in, it’s tiring to be on the screen that whole time, to be doing everything on a screen. There’s social isolation as a result of that. So there’re many of these factors that cause that learning loss. All a matter of how well-organised the children are, how highly motivated they are, how people at home are able to help them, versus the other end where they don’t get that support or if they are not as, Dr. Seshadri was talking, about children who have challenges, for them that’s a disaster to self-organise and to bring themselves together and organise folders. It’s quite a challenge.

0:20:44 Rohini: Right. They say schools are the miniature of the nation’s future, and with schools closed, I don’t know what that means for the future and for such a long time. So in fact, there’s that lovely cartoon which went around where first you’re not allowed to use mobile phones in school, and now you’re not allowed to use school and you’re only allowed to use mobile phones. So how quickly we had to move from that. Of course, Kavita we’re gonna come back to you, because this program is not about stating the problem, but saying how can we mitigate it. So, let me go to the other two to lay out the problem scenario, and then we’ll quickly start talking about, so what are we all going to do about it. Vishal, what has been your experience with the work that you do with children? In these last six months, especially disadvantaged children, especially children who may be in cramped spaces, or who may not have digital devices. What’s been going on?

0:21:42 Vishal: Yeah. Thank you, Rohini. I think it’s a very important conversation that we are having. I think I will just want to open up what Shekhar has shared and Kavita have shared, specifically in the context of kids coming from some kind of adversity. What we already know now, with all the research that’s been going on in neurosciences, that early experiences of adversity in children can have lifelong impact many a times. It prevents children from achieving developmental milestones. So experiences of neglect, experiences of lack of emotional love and care or in extreme cases, abuse, violence, a pandemic of this nature. So we already know that. And this pandemic has amplified a lot of those experiences of adversity for children coming from some kind of marginalisation or adversity. In March, when the lockdown happened, we decided to actually reach out to our communities, the young people and started talking to them. Before we reacted and came up with solutions, we said, “Lets understand what they’re experiencing” and this is what we heard from them.

0:22:51 Vishal: There was high levels of uncertainty, there was high levels of anxiety, children were coming up and asking us, “I’m worried my parents will die” and “what will happen to me if my parents die?”. There was a lot of misinformation that was being spread because they were getting a lot of information from WhatsApp sources, or from the local neighbourhood communities, it was not very clear. We ourselves were building our own understanding of the pandemic and how it spreads, so that created tremendous amount of distress for children. There was heightened abuse and violence. For many children, school is a safe space. And now they were stuck at home, they were stuck in neighbourhoods without necessarily having some kind of safety nets. So abuse at home, violence at home, violence in the neighbourhood increased. Unlike in many of our homes where if there’s a death or a sickness in the neighbour’s home, we might not even know about it. But when you’re living in communities that are cramped up together and you’re seeing sickness and death every day, that causes a lot of distress, so children were very distressed about that.

0:23:58 Vishal: We have now, of course, enough studies to say there’s been heightened gendered impact. The impact on the girls have been much larger. The girls have had to take on adult roles very quickly in homes, including taking care of the parents who might have gone into hopelessness or a sense of helplessness, because they’ve lost jobs, they’ve lost incomes, livelihood opportunities. When the migration crisis happened after the lockdown, the impact of that on children, because in your own country, suddenly you feel like a second class citizen, as you’re walking thousands of miles and feeling that no one is there to support you, and the system is not around to support you and your family, and the heightened distress of that, that what is my identity in this current situation and why are we walking these thousands of miles, and why is no one there to give me food or to support me and my family.

0:24:54 Vishal: So we heard many stories like that, of children feeling that level of distress. And of course, Kavita has spoken about the loss of learning, which has been tremendous. But I think to bring all this together, it is the trauma. When the pandemic hit, and in India especially, when a lockdown was announced with a four-hour notice, it’s almost like a shock to the bodies. When a body experiences an accident, the body goes into shock, and that is what happened to the system, and we all went into a shock. But when you look at families in some kind of disadvantage, they didn’t know how to cope with that shock, how do you come out and heal out of that shock. So there has been sustained trauma that families and children especially have gone through in the last six months. And now it’s already six months into the pandemic, but the spaces of healing are not there. The spaces of talking about these issues, the phases of listening and validation, those are not there.

0:25:54 Vishal: There has also been heightened impact on minority communities, we work in some neighbourhoods like Padarayanapura, where there’s a strong Muslim population, and we had young people from there calling us and saying, “Why are we being put in the forefront and said that the pandemic is spreading because of us, what did we do?” That sense of feeling that maybe I am responsible for this pandemic, I did something wrong. Right? So I think children are still in trauma. And nothing has happened so far to help children make sense of this trauma. And find spaces of healing.

0:26:32 Rohini: Right. Of course, Vishal, we’ll come to you to tell us. So what did you do, what kind of coping tools did you erect for children, we’ll come back to you very quickly on that. Deepika, coming to you as a parent, as… At EkStep Foundation, what have we seen, of course loss of learning. But as parent, other things that you and I have been talking about. Can you describe what’s happening to kids, your kids, the kids you know, and also because of the research you do.

0:27:02 Deepika: Yeah. So, I wanna talk about this from two perspectives, from the EkStep perspective, where we’re working on building digital infrastructure for learning. And in order to do that, we actually do a bit of research to understand the communities that we have to work with, essentially parents, teachers, and learners. And very early on, in March and April, when this happened, we did a very quick quantitative study to quickly understand what our parents initial reaction is going to be to this whole idea of school at home or something at home which is somewhat indefinite. And then, of course, my own experience as a parent in this, I’m sure others in the community of yours will possibly resonate with. But, the initial phase, because it was so early, a lot of worries were around the issue of exams, at least in the higher grades, right. Exams are not completed. What’s gonna happen in the future, those… But the other aspect of it, and this I think was interesting, was about how… If I am to teach my child, how is that going to work? A lot of anxiety around that idea. Anxiety around ideas of how do I keep them disciplined, I can’t make them sit in one place and do this, school does that job. A lot of anxiety and worry around those issues. I remember in our research, it came out that, you know with the girls, I think it will be a little bit easier than it will be with the boys.

0:28:31 Deepika: Parents of boys had… At least mothers of boys had that kind of a reaction. Issues of how will portions finish, how will curriculum be done, on what basis will they move to the next class. Those are the kinds of very… Structured sort of responses that came early on, but this is March and April, you should remember. I wonder if we did, we haven’t done it after that, but I wonder what they feel like today. I’m sure the anxiety and being overwhelmed continues, but in general, what… There are two ends of the spectrum, right? It is, when you have access, it is overwhelming, the plenty is overwhelming, as much as the lack of access, so much is getting thrown at you, your routines are… As families are out of gear. One good thing, I suppose, in some ways, that you are forced to spend a lot more time. A new sort of relationships and conversations are developing in spaces where it’s possible as much as new disruptions and violence is also happening. But, having said that, being overwhelmed, having to play a role of parent-teacher disciplinarian, friend, entertainer, all of these has to wear them as families, as parents, that’s hard!

0:29:58 Rohini: To come to the… What the children are feeling? This is, you’re telling us quite rightly what parents are feeling. Talk to us…

0:30:04 Deepika: I think the children… I’ll say…

0:30:05 Rohini: Something on the children.

0:30:07 Deepika: Children are… The little girl in the video said, she used the word stuck, and feeling stuck is something that I hear often, not just from my children, but also children in our community, and the immediate bubble that we’ve made for ourselves. Not being able to get out, confined. At some point, they get used to the idea, but not being able to play, not being able to talk to their friends. It’s not the same thing as being on the phone and having a conversation. And the physical confine, being stuck and confined in a physical space. I do wonder what that does to their heads.

0:30:50 Rohini: The lack of physical activity also, there’s not too much activity can we do in small spaces, right?

0:30:56 Deepika: Yeah. They are doing a few things in small spaces. But it also is so… Again, it’s limiting, it’s confined, it’s not open. And the other thing also, I do feel is… There was a day when my 13-year looked at me, can I see other people who are not you? Just somebody who’s not you. [chuckle] This in the middle of the lockdown and all of this is not complaining, but just some difference would be nice. And, more recently, the struggles have been, especially with kids who I know in the immediate circles of my life, who have flunked the 10th standard exam, the state board exam. The inability to get access to help, to be able to write the repeat exam which is next week. Things that they would have access to, otherwise… Tuition classes…

0:31:49 Rohini: Tuition and so tuition classes.

[overlapping conversation]

0:31:53 Deepika: Tuition classes, things that they would be able to go to, that they can’t do anymore. So, they’re now… They have suffered a loss, to get out of the loss, they need help. They can’t get the help they could have, otherwise. All of these, there are losses of various kinds, time, space, worries, engagements with communities, talking to their friends, their relationships have changed. Also time…

0:32:16 Rohini: Are the children turning more inward? Are they focusing more on theirselves rather than outward facing?

0:32:23 Deepika: I think a little bit more inward, but I also think a little bit… I wonder whether there’s just too much adult scrutiny into their lives. There’s no place to hide, to play hooky, to whisper, to conspire with your friends.

0:32:43 Rohini: To be quietly naughty on your own, there are helicoptering parents hovering about in small spaces, and you can’t avoid them.

0:32:52 Deepika: You can’t. You can’t. I think the best of parents are feeling there is a structure, there is this online class, there is this time and they’re all adult-ing, everybody is adulting. I feel like all children are adult-ing. They are looking at time…

0:33:04 Rohini: With that you mean they are behaving like adults or?

0:33:08 Deepika: I think they are taking… They have no option but to take on some adult-like behaviour because of A, if you are doing online classes, you have schedules that you have to maintain, like you and I, calendering things, and being in some place on time, things that they didn’t have to do, otherwise, at least not at this level of depth. And like Vishal says, there are a whole bunch of kids who have to just step up and work more.

0:33:35 Rohini: Yes.

0:33:36 Deepika: Because they have no other option. And the real… There are two other, two or three other types of issues, one is migrant children communities, other is also adolescent men, boys who were struggling in school, are dropping out, and now if you look at the juvenile crime rates coming out of particularly Kerala and Bihar, the numbers that are being reflected about… Yeah, and then petty theft kind of crime matters, and even in our own communities, we’ve seen that incidents of mobile phones being snatched and all of those. So that led me to start looking at this issue and I said, Yeah. Then I looked at particularly Ernakulam and in Bihar, there were studies which reflected this these things. So 16 to 18 age group.

0:34:24 Rohini: Right. So lots and lots of issues, so between the four of you, you have laid out the sort of panorama of problems that children are facing. Let’s spend the remaining hour on saying so what shall we do? Okay. So Shekhar, let me come straight to you and tell us, you have to told us what the, how many kinds of loss children are experiencing. So how do you mitigate this? Where do you start as parents, as teachers, as just say, caring adults? And then talk about the… And what can the state do and the medical system? But, first talk about us, caring adults. What are we supposed to do?

0:35:00 Shekhar: Rohini, let me try to respond to this by actually beading beading in some themes that have come from you and Kavita and Vishal and Deepika. See when you spoke about ambiguous loss and then Pauline’s concept, traditionally ambiguous loss, when you lose a dear one, is when a person is physically absent, but psychologically present, such as someone lost in action was never found or is missing, or when a person is physically present but psychologically absent such as a family member who has Alzheimer’s or someone who has mental illness or someone who has personality issues and perhaps substance use and is never there to spend time. So the ambiguity of the situation and the point that Kavita made about how children’s lives, whether it is learning or whether it is relationships is essentially embedded in a social context.

0:36:05 Shekhar: Learning is social. And the point that Vishal made about trauma and the point that Deepika is making about constriction, I would have you know that there is a thing called the MRI machine. It’s a gantry in which you have to go, 10% of people will say I will die of the disease, but I’m not going inside there. That’s how claustrophobic constriction can be. So how do you really bead in together the whole ambiguity of this loss to the social learning context? I’m not just talking about education and the digital divide, and to the whole trauma and constriction that we’re talking about and put these frameworks together to really look at mitigating responses.

0:36:55 Shekhar: So there are a couple of things that I wanted to say. One is that last year, we had actually sent a proposal to the ministry for a project that we wanted to do on child protection, and it took its time to basically do the office foods, and finally in February, we had a meeting with the Minister and it was approved. COVID was kind of hovering in the background, and then it hit us in March, and it seemed to be some kind of divine coincidence that… But this project, we have started, it’s a national initiative and integrated resource on child protection, mental health and psychosocial care through which we are going to work in all the states, addressing health education and welfare, all service providers, all stakeholders, which means childcare institutions and staff, child welfare committees, JJ boards, police academy, administrative academy, judicial academies, legal services authorities, school boards, Childline India Foundation and all front line workers.

0:38:01 Shekhar: And I have a large team in place and we are already working to basically support these front line workers and equipping them with what I call as first line responses to children who have any kind of anxiety, and these materials are already ready for… And what I’m going to shamelessly do is put on the chat, the YouTube channel, which I would invite all 209 who’ve basically subscribed. You don’t have to pay money, you just have to click a button, and we’ve already finished a show, a series called August Talks focusing on child rights in education. We started one yesterday called Parenting Paathshaala, and yesterday’s session was on parenting children with special needs, and we have nine more planned, these are just 15-minute sessions, but they’ll be only on YouTube.

0:39:01 Shekhar: So we are spread across the country to really look at simple mental health interventions, and all this is available, not only on this channel that we have put, but also on a lot of material that we have put on an earlier project that we had completed, which is and it’s a free access public domain because we don’t believe in copyright, we believe in copy-left or copy left, right and center. So these are simple materials that any service provider, any parent can use to assist children across socio-economic classes, this is the first thing that I wanted to say…

0:39:49 Rohini: That is very heartening to know. Thank you.

0:39:51 Shekhar: Yeah, the second thing I wanted to say was when the term healing spaces were used and you know Rohini, you’re very familiar with spaces which were essentially programmed for some other purpose and I’m talking about spaces like Ranga Shankara, I’m talking about spaces like Bangalore International Center which is hosting this… And in my talk with Arundhati and when we spoke about repurposing these spaces because everything is closed, how can we re-purpose not just spaces but re-purpose education, repurpose parenting and the organisations that people so ably run like the organisation that Vishal runs and how can we open them out, not just for the theater community but also the surrounding areas of people to come in so that as the restrictions move, maintaining proper distance, people can come in maybe just to listen to 10 minutes of someone playing the flute or watching someone in rehearsal or just 10 minutes of solitude or having my team being there for someone to speak to so that your narratives change in a manner that… Your anxieties are validated and you have simple methods to basically reduce your tensions and simple techniques that you can use. The last point…

0:41:23 Rohini: We are re-building community… Re-building community in a new way. So, yeah.

0:41:28 Shekhar: Yes. And lastly, I just wanted to say that you see the way that Sweden handled COVID, you know, which was being bindass in reaching herd community, herd immunity. And the way that New Zealand has worked with it and The Centre for Informed Futures in the University of Auckland spoke about something called a “Social Cohesion”, and they say once social cohesion is lost, it becomes extremely difficult to restore, especially when there is both increased uncertainty and new forms of inequality and this is what Vishal spoke about and social cohesion should be the cornerstone of this new scaffolding. COVID-19 has so ruptured our existing world that as we move to respond to this substantially altered environment with likely substantive changes or resets in much of a society and economy, sustaining and promoting social cohesion must be a key policy consideration because it will give us an advantage on the global stage, and the word rupture is used deliberately because it signals an inflection point where opportunities and risks multiply and when new structural scaffolding is erected.

0:42:49 Shekhar: And things like COVID have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable segments. And what does this mean? It means creating a sense of belonging to a wider community, and trust and common respect for human rights. So, how do we create this? Inclusion which means equity of opportunities, labour market participation, income, education. Participation which means involvement in social activities and community groups and recognition of diversity and differences and legitimacy which some confidence in public institutions that act to protect the rights and interest to mediate conflicts So these are some…

0:43:34 Rohini: This is to repair the torn social fabric, right?

0:43:37 Shekhar: Yes, exactly.

0:43:38 Rohini: Try and weave it back together in new ways. But Shekhar before you… Before I turn to the others, what is… What material is there for parents in these toolkits that you are putting up digitally? Give us an example. An anxious parents, after all adults themselves are feeling like, you know, completely depleted, right? So they have used a… What do they call it? They call it some surge depletion that you’ve been using your adrenal system to go and then now it’s all gone and now you don’t know how to replenish. So what are we supposed to do as adults? Ourselves we need to replenish, ourselves we need to heal. How are we supposed to help children heal? What are the three, four things we should do?

0:44:22 Shekhar: This is very interesting because it also relates to a question that has been put on chat specifically for me and I’ll take them both together. What do doctors advise parents and what kind of stuff to follow and make things better for children other than routine and stuff we see in the clinic in any case, particularly if you’re looking at long-term and what can parents do themselves? So what we are putting out, Rohini, is not a lot of complex digital stuff. It’s about creating childhood memories. The issue is very simple. If you ask any individual, “What do you remember about your childhood?” You’ll remember that which is a memory and a memory is something that happened very often or it happened once but it was unforgettable because it was traumatic as Vishal points out or it was wonderful there. And therefore people say, “You know what I remember about my childhood is this 100-year-old bell that I had in my place and it was my job to ring it during meal times and now at the age of 35, it has a pride of place in my house.” You know what I remember about my childhood? “Night after night, thinking, why the hell was I born in this family?” So if children cannot go out into the world, how do you bring the world back into the home.

0:45:32 Shekhar: And this is Rudolf Steiner’s work on anthroposophy, Kavita will be very familiar, these are the Waldorf System of Schools that… And anthroposophy essentially works with simple materials like nature, gardening, music, craft, movement, dance, it’s about… Even with children as young as six or five, just to get some sand and pots and throw a couple of coriander and mustard seeds and nurture them, and they germinate in three four days and the joy of seeing that happen, it’s about putting two chairs together and a bedsheet on top of it and putting a blue filter on the light and making some orange squash and putting on some Hawaiian music and thinking you’re in the Hawaiian Beach.

0:46:16 Shekhar: So it is to create these kinds of spaces to really take care of the constriction that Deepika is talking about because the mind cannot be constricted and if you close your eyes and if you can imagine then the mind can go anywhere, there is no restriction on where you can travel even though you’re physically constricted so it is to bring this kind of imagination.

0:46:41 Rohini: Okay, yes.

0:46:44 Shekhar: And therefore, defy the imagination of parents also, without belittling or trivialising the kind of difficulties they may be having, particularly daily wage people and migrant workers who’ve suffered loss of livelihoods. This is in no way, to belittle or trivialize it but which is to say that you can still create children’s memories intact, by finding those pockets, even if they are five or 10 minutes, to create those memories, which two years down the line, five years down the line, they will remember…

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0:47:20 Rohini: That’s so interesting. All of us can create new positive, simple memories, opening the windows of the mind and allowing something to come in, just like how in my childhood, I was always stuck between the pages of a book, and I was never really there, I was somewhere in the pages of… With the characters and different countries, different spaces, you can do the same thing in the home today, for children, and create new positive childhood memories. I really love that. We’ll be coming back to you again, because I do want to ask you about other things, other simple things about structure and routine that you have been talking about. We’ll come back to you on that. Kavita, how has Neev, been helping children to create these positive routines, and to stem the loss of learning? What have you all done, as a school, and an institution, what do you know that other institutions have been doing?

0:48:19 Kavita: So yeah, yeah, I just wanna pick on, just take further, some of the points that Dr. Seshadri has been… Was just talking about, and he spoke about the Steiner philosophy and the need for connection with nature and Tagore has spoken about it, in his lectures, Sadhna, the first lecture, where he speaks about man and the relationship with the universe and the importance of that and how man has… So this is not new, this is the early 1900s, and he’s spoken about how man, anything which is non-human is inanimate, and that’s what nature and beasts are, but anything that has the stamp of perfection on it, is what man has become, and this is the 1913s or early 1900s that we’re talking about. I think… And also social cohesion that he’s been talking about, and I think it’s, “Our theories of the world, determine what we see in this world,” I think Einstein said that, and I think a pandemic does not… It does not create new trends as such, and what we are seeing, the kind of stuff that Dr. Seshadri has put all of this together to deal with, these are not new trends, these are all…

0:49:30 Kavita: These were existing, and a crisis only accelerates existing trends, and the reason it does that, is because it forces us to change, and not because of the support that the crisis provides, but because it reduces our resistance to change. And so the reality that we have seen, we have seen with our own children at Neev, and the world is seeing, is that… People like Ken Robinson, God bless his soul, and many others have spoken about how schools… What schools are doing to creativity, and it’s really… And you’ve spoken about it, Rohini, that schools often are, about the what to learn and not about the how to learn. So you know, much of this, and… But it’s not just the school system, society itself has to be questioned and I think there’s so much that is… The trends that we’re seeing right now, there’s social isolation, there’s a culture of indifference, the MIT Scholar and author, Sherry Turkle, calls it the Alone Together generation, and there’s a surface veneer of relationships, and there’s a very low tolerance for failure, whereas failure is how we learn best.

0:50:40 Rohini: I want you to tell me what Neev has been doing, and how do you conquer this? What do we do? What should the school system do? What have you tried that has worked?

0:50:50 Kavita: So we recognise at Neev, Rohini, that the regular classrooms only work for half the children and the reality of that hits us… It doesn’t hit us as much when we are in the physical classroom, as we are in a digital classroom because those are the children who do the absent, by saying, “My video doesn’t work today, because the bandwidth is not working,” so it’s… They opt out of the classroom. So, many of those things, I think it makes us question the motivation and how we handle motivation of children, it makes us question the choices that the children are allowed to make, and the questions children will make anyway. You can be physically present, the ambiguous… You can be physically present, but you can be mentally shut off as well. So I think it’s all of that, that needs to be dealt with, in education, and we are working on that, and I’m hoping that much of this, that we are learning in this… What we are doing differently, is we are empowering children, we are creating social groups for learning, we are recognizing that the children…

0:51:50 Kavita: Half the children were in the school, but they were not really developing relationships and because of that, they were not really learning, they were not performing to their potential. So how can we deal with that? How do we empower children and give them agency on their learning? How do we become clearer about the outcomes? The teachers have to be very clearly, facilitating outcomes and not just a learning activity that they are doing so it’s all of that. Empowering children…

0:52:13 Rohini: Give an example, of how, in the last six months, something that Neev did online, helped children to perhaps even learn better than they would have, in your physical school. Give us an example of an instance of something like that?

0:52:28 Kavita: Yes, and I think that’s probably true, more about the slightly older children, than it is about the five and six-year-olds. One of the things that we have been forced to do is longer cycle planning, we can’t do a daily planning. In the past, children would think of education as something my teacher is going to do to me, and education is not… Education is something that someone does to you, but learning is what you do yourself, so it’s that. So I think longer cycle planning has been a very concrete move, that we’ve had to make, because the longer cycle gives flexibility and empowerment to children. When there’s power outages, like Deepika was… Some of your videos we’re talking about, when the WhatsApp call goes away suddenly, when the children have longer cycles of planning, and when they can see the outcomes, they can see the options that they have, they move forward in their learning, or they come back, they have… They know where they can take their learning, they can see the outcomes. And so we’ve been doing something called Hyperdocs, and that’s something which has been existing probably for the last five or six years.

0:53:29 Kavita: But it’s really come alive at the time of COVID right now as a methodology for being able to make the teachers planning visible to the child, that’s been a very concrete step that we’ve got and then many others.

0:53:49 Rohini: But how do you propose when schools finally start and they will, they will have to sometime, how do you propose to restore the loss of learning? Have you all already started thinking about it because a lot will have to be done, Rukmini Banerji of Pratham has been talking about, you know, teaching at the right level, so helping making extra efforts for children to quickly catch up and then move on. What are you planning? What is the education system planning already for when schools re-open?

0:54:17 Kavita: Yeah, yeah. So I think it’s… I think we are some of the fortunate few, we don’t actually see a learning loss, especially for the six to 16 kind of age group, we don’t see a learning loss. What a situation like this makes us also do is trim the fat. So all of the extra stuff that is there in the classrooms which does not necessarily need to be there and just fills spaces is now taken away, that’s a part that we take away and we stick to the concrete and we focus on that. We’ve also learned how to leverage relationships between children and the learning cycles to help children in many situations learn better, we have… Yesterday a grade one teacher was telling me about this tech expert in the classroom, who says, “If you have a technological glitch, I will help you.” So I think children are also finding the space to say that, you know, “I have expertise in the space and I can help you.” So I think it’s… We don’t see that, we don’t see that learning loss as a result, and many schools that are truly able, fortunate enough to be able to manage this well would also experience the same.

0:55:22 Kavita: I think the kind of concrete skills that we’re not able to build things like labs and PHE or physical development, things like that, are the ones that we wanna see coming back the earliest. If I have to speak about the earlier, the younger students, I mean that’s where… That’s where the gaps truly are because learning there is not so abstract it’s very concrete and there’s a lot of movement, the cognition is also associated with a motor region of the brain and there’s a lot of… All of that that happens in the physical environment and for younger children that would… That’s something that we would have to catch up on, and you know our school system is built in such a way that we learn in age groups, it’s not like, say the Spanish Flu in 1918 where children were learning vertically across the age group, so it didn’t matter if you lost a year. You just caught it up. But I think now, the way we are structured, the children need to be caught up at all times, so that’s where we will have to figure out some very quick stuff to catch children up on the skills and sort of review on everything that’s going on.

0:56:26 Rohini: Yeah, there have been case studies like in Sierra Leone where they’ve done some remarkable work to prevent the nation’s children from the dropping off the charts of learning and they are doing a lot of work now, so people are interested to look. Deepika, can you quickly tell us about EkStep. I don’t know, time is moving too fast, but tell us quickly about EkStep before I go to Vishal. What have we seen in the… How well has digital learning picked up and what are we seeing? Do you have some stats to share with us? We can’t hear you. You have to unmute yourself.

0:57:03 Deepika: So sorry. Yeah, at EkStep what we’ve done is actually built digital infrastructure for learning which is currently being used by the government as the school education platform, DIKSHA. Now, of course before COVID hit and schools shut down, there was a certain way things were being engaged and you suddenly realized that when school was the place where they were accessing information, both physical and digital, textbooks and digital content lead to textbooks. But in a world where school is not there and you’re not engaging with that, how does scale infrastructure for the nation enable access any time, anywhere with whatever you have access to. Right. So the thought process has been about the idea of coherent access which means you see a lot of governments across the country creating time tables and streaming learning content, whatever your opinion may be of it, they’re structuring it enough to broadcast it over the television medium.

0:58:06 Deepika: The same thing is also available on the DIKSHA platform, so that in case you missed it or want to go back to something later, it’s accessible. So that’s one of the big things that has happened from a student perspective, of course a ton of work on teacher training and courses for teachers, but one thing from March to now, if you go on to the DIKSHA website, you will see over learning… What they call learning sessions, right. There have been over 400 million learning sessions from March to now across the country. Yeah.

0:58:40 Rohini: Something shift…

0:58:41 Deepika: Yes, so the shift that was happening is from… I was only able to access it in school to blowing it up to I’m able to access it any time, anywhere in whatever bite size, I can. So very often, obviously, you know children don’t get access to devices, until late in the evening when one parent who has access to a smart phone gets them, you know, is able to provide it to them. All of those kinds of things exist, but in spite of that, you do recognise the shift in attitude, mindset, acceptance, that we will learn with what ever comes our way. So this can be a mobile phone, this can be a computer web interface, which is where DIKSHA is available, however, we see a lot of innovation at EkStep foundation from communities, you talked about Pratham, Rohini but even in Bangalore itself, a group called Gubbachi learning centers, which had physical learning centers and worked only with wider communities to bridge children who were unable to go to regular schools, they would actually work with them teaching them to read and do math and then move them into regular schools. While the crisis hit.

0:59:53 Deepika: Now their families… Not only have the school centers disappear, even the families have disappeared because they went back to wherever they were from. So today they’ve had to morph into making learning happen, but their struggle is, “I don’t want my kids to regress”. While much of ours my own children or you know some of us who have online school a little bit more regularly are about progress, much of it is about how can we stem the regression? So the kind of thing they are doing is using WhatsApp, sending worksheets over WhatsApp, we know that Pratham talked about several of these sorts of ideas as well and then following up the WhatsApp with a call. So the idea is…

1:00:34 Rohini: The state government also printing out this stuff which is digital, and actually delivering it.

1:00:39 Deepika: Delivering it… Exactly, Karnataka is doing that now with their Vidyagama program which is very similar to what Gubbachi has been doing as well, which is to send the worksheets out, print it, put it out there, use community workers to distribute it and then figure out a way with some interface with an adult to enable it. The other thing we’ve seen is informal community learning spaces, get small groups of kids together, but keep social distancing and enable some learning to happen.

1:01:09 Rohini: I believe they’re called parent pods, particular parents come together and two or three safe families who know that they are being safe, they get together and create small learning groups.

1:01:21 Deepika: Learning groups and learning pods, or even sometimes just socially, you create your own bubble so that the kids can engage with that…

1:01:27 Rohini: They are a way to restore social interaction by thinking imaginatively, yes.

1:01:32 Deepika: But we’ve seen a lot of organisations as well do that with underserved communities.

1:01:37 Rohini: Yes, which is…

1:01:39 Deepika: Getting… Mantra for Change has been doing a bunch of things. We’ve also seen another one who connecting, connecting the dots, working on science education with senior school kids, is also working particularly also with for example, frontline workers, health care workers children and police personnel children, knowing that those communities because their parents are out working, are going to get neglected, so there are things like that…

1:02:08 Rohini: Parents are so busy, the children need extra help, health workers…

1:02:11 Deepika: In some ways, what my intent is in about talking about these examples is very simple. Studies have repeatedly shown that and there are two specific ones, the Pakistan one that you referred to as well as one which University of Melbourne did after the bush fires in Victoria in 2009. It was a longitudinal study looking at children, but a few years after the loss right, and say what happens is not what is the immediate loss when they come back, it’s what happens after that. It’s like we as adults and school systems and institutions forget that there has been an incident and kids have been affected, and we want them to jump back into something normal. So I wanna talk about the idea of reduction of syllabus, trimming the fat that Kavita was talking about. But as policy, as systems to be able to think of this and using digital infrastructures to be able to lift everyone so that you can make things meet. It’s not perfect.

1:03:17 Rohini: Yeah, you level up not down…

1:03:19 Deepika: At least level up in some way.

1:03:20 Rohini: Using, using digital… Yeah, thank you. This… Yeah, exactly. I think how we are shifting, we are adapting just like two centuries ago, parents had to suddenly learn to send their kids to school, away from the agriculture fields, you have to put your… Now we have to learn to teach children and allow children to learn at home, so again, sort of a swing back of the balance, but that’s a good segue of talking of communities and civil society response. Vishal give us really good examples of how we can help children restore their confidence, reduce their anxiety, what have you been doing? What have you seen works?

1:04:02 Vishal: Before I do that Rohini, I’m just reading through the questions that we’re getting on the Q&A.

1:04:07 Rohini: Okay, you could answer, start answering them too, because…

1:04:11 Vishal: I will, I will, I will.

1:04:13 Rohini: We have half an hour but it will disappear.

1:04:14 Vishal: But I just want us to all take a pause because what I’m seeing in these questions is also a lot of anxiety.

1:04:22 Rohini: Anxiety, Yes.

1:04:22 Vishal: And solutions coming from a space of anxiety are not gonna work for our children.

1:04:29 Rohini: Right.

1:04:30 Vishal: So let’s take a step back. Let’s take a pause. What we have experienced, all of us have experienced, even adults have experienced this trauma in the last six months, and I want to talk into solutions from three lenses. I’ll talk more into what the sector has done, the more education learning sector has done and even some of, some practical solutions, some structural changes that we are now recommending and some mindset shifts that we need to also look at. Right? So for example, one key mindsets shift that we’re talking about is learning loss. I think that’s a mindset. That’s a narrative. If you actually think about it, this is one of the most important life lessons that children and us will experience. How are we helping our children make meaning of this life lesson, this new, new reality that they are living in now, which might actually continue if the climate crisis continues. So one is around learning loss, reducing it to just academic learning loss but actually expanding it and saying actually, this is a very important life lesson and how we as parents, as community people, as educationalists helping children make meaning out of that. So we’ll be creating them spaces, one for listening, for validation, just spaces for children to come and talk about their distress, right?

1:05:51 Vishal: So one of the first things that we did was set up a emotional help line that child could just call or they could give a missed call and we’ll call them back and just create spaces for children to share, talk about their distress and without giving them solutions. It was just a space for listening, validation, acknowledgment to help them calm down. And many organizations have done that across the country now, including the government, even the government has set up mental health help lines for adult and children.

1:06:21 Vishal: The second is understanding, learning, that… What has been heartening, and Deepika has shared a lot of that, is that a lot of content has gone online, and how quickly we as an education system moved ourselves online has been heartening, it’s brilliant. However, the key difference is that it’s not about moving content online, it’s about moving interventions online, which looks very different from moving content online. I can take a lesson plan and move it in an online platform, but what is the intervention that the child needs right now, and how I’m moving that intervention online? And even in our work at Dream A Dream and many other organisations in the last 20 years, we have seen… When we create caring, empathetic learning spaces for children, and we create emotionally safe spaces for children in the presence of a caring adult, when we use the art, we use play, we use imaginative play, that Kavita spoke about. When we use tools like that, that Shekhar has spoken about, we’re using nature, using the ecology, these are very, very powerful tools which are intrinsically rich in learning. So how do we now use this and convert our interventions online?

1:07:35 Vishal: So the second piece that we did, was moved a lot of our interventions contextual to the current challenge and started designing using art and play as critical mediums, interventions that could work for children who are going through trauma, who are going through adversity. The third was understanding teachers. The teachers themselves are going through their own set of traumas and anxieties, especially in the affordable schools market, teachers are experiencing loss of jobs also, and not having received salaries for three or four months. So a key aspect of our training for teachers was helping teachers first makes sense of the trauma, experience their own sense of care and safety and using art to help teachers heal. And then helping… Sorry, yeah?

1:08:23 Rohini: What is the role of, say, story telling in helping children restore their balance? Have you…

1:08:29 Vishal: That’s also a medium. It’s a very strong medium, and we have used story telling, in fact with the happiness curriculum work that we do with the Delhi government. Yeah. We helped the Delhi government take a lot of the stories of the happiness curriculum into an IVRS model. My parents could give a missed call, and then they get a message back with a story, which the whole family could sit together and listen to… And then talk about it. So again, creating those community spaces of social interaction and creating meaningful spaces of interaction to happen. I think that the third piece to really talk about is the cultural… The mindset shift.

1:09:08 Rohini: Yes.

1:09:08 Vishal: I think what’s very important to recognise, and I don’t think they’ve done a good job of that yet. What are the narratives that children are building up today? And I can tell you, when we talk to a lot of young people, they’re building up narratives of, I am not important, and this is coming from us.

1:09:28 Rohini: Their self esteem is getting low. Their self esteem is lowering?

1:09:31 Vishal: Their self esteem is lowering because no one is talking to them.

1:09:35 Rohini: No one is talking to them.

1:09:36 Vishal: You look at, you look at…

1:09:37 Rohini: Conversation in your families is extremely important. Talk to your children, right?

1:09:42 Vishal: One, yes, in the family, but also the messaging that is coming from the largest community in the society, right? For example, I saw this beautiful letter that the superintendent of schools in Ottawa had sent to all the school heads and teachers as they were reopening schools and he said, you know what, don’t worry about the syllabus. Spend the first 90 days investing in the wellbeing of your children. Care for them, talk to them, listen to them. Coming… Giving that kind of a message is so important for a society. So who’s giving that message to parents? Who’s giving that message to teachers? Who’s giving that message to the children? So what are we as a society going to do to build newer narratives, constructive narratives for our children, to help them together as a community move forward? The learning losses will catch up. With the right kind of interventions using caring environments in the presence of caring adults, learning losses will catch up very quickly. But the job…

1:10:43 Rohini: Shekhar, tell me, don’t children have their own resilience and adaptability to where they can find their own pathways to make sense and meaning and give themselves some control back over their lives? Surely children are creative in their own way. What would you say to that?

1:11:05 Shekhar: Resilience is a… I’m sorry to use a technical term, resilience is a super ordinate construct, it’s used always in the context of an adversity. I wanna go back to a point that Vishal made about adverse childhood experiences and the impact that it has on brain development and adult outcomes, that a lot of children’s resilience is, of course, based on their innate temperament, but it is also based on their exposure to adverse childhood experiences and how a child visualises and experiences her caretakers dealing with conflicts in the life of the family, and to what extent is that countered by the kind of messages that come from the peer group or from some other caring adult, or from a teacher that…

1:12:06 Shekhar: And these small experiences are important, really it’s like… It’s like the 35 year old techie, who comes back to school to meet his teacher who’s just on the verge of retirement, and says, “Teacher, do you remember me?” And she sort of looks at him and says, “No child, I don’t,” you know obviously she can’t because he was a cherubic innocent looking boy, and he looks like a thug now. And he says, “But I’ve never forgotten you.” You know? “I don’t know whether you recall, terrible family and truth be told I have not reconciled with my family.

1:12:36 Shekhar: I don’t know what it is that you saw on my face one day in class, and I still remember you did not do me the indignity of calling me out in front of other children, you waited til they’d gone out, you quietly called me and said, “Child, you look a little down today, is anything the matter?” Then I told you, and it’s not that you did anything great, you just said, “It must have been so difficult to keep all this inside of you, I’m so happy you spoke to me, if there’s anything I can possibly do, please tell me and don’t hesitate to come to me,” and I have never, ever forgotten that act of kindness.”

1:13:07 Rohini: Small acts of kindness, it’s never too late to practice that for children. Shekhar, you want to answer this question, “My 10 and 13-year-olds have taken well to the online learning, and they don’t seem to have any stress. That makes me wonder if there’s something going on inside them that I need to talk to them about.” It kind of relates to the example you gave. Is this parent missing out? Are they actually stressed inside and showing themselves to be happy outside?

1:13:37 Shekhar: These are not Deepika’s children, right?

1:13:39 Rohini: No, these are not Deepika’s…

1:13:41 Shekhar: Because her bio says…

1:13:43 Rohini: Yeah, that’s true. So, what should this parent do? Is there something she’s missing?

1:13:55 Shekhar: In the program that I did yesterday with Indumathi Rao and Mary Barua on parenting, she said, one of the first thing parents need to do is learn to relax. Our children are, they have a native intelligence, and sometimes it’s important to be a little relaxed, a little circumspect, and perhaps one down… And this comes back again to a point that I think beads in all the thoughts that Kavita, Deepika and Vishal have, it’s really questioning the basis of our relationship, adults relationship with children, teacher’s relationship with… And unfortunately, it’s often based on a culture of instruction, expectation and obedience, and not on a culture of conversations, and all we need to do is bring conversation back, and whatever you may observe and whatever concern you have, it’s just to bring it in the context of some light conversation, so you’re not probing or asking or oh God what’s happening then. It’s just a conversation. I just wondered, and then get them to respond that it’s okay to talk to mom and dad. And anything, any question is acceptable in this family, nothing is taboo, and that’s what brings in a certain openness and transparency.

1:15:23 Rohini: Rebuilding that trust between the generations. Arpita Bedekar wants to know this is very nice, but give us very practical tips as for parents. Now, Kavita, Deepika come up with like one, two, three, what are just, what should parents do to overcome their own anxiety and Shekhar has given some leads, Vishal has given some leads, give us two ideas each. Deepika.

1:15:48 Deepika: Breathe.

1:15:49 Rohini: Breathe. “Expect less of yourself” I read that in an article.

1:15:55 Deepika: No. I wish I was better at doing this than… I really, really wish I could admit to doing it, I can’t. Depending on the day, I’m as anxious, as stupid, as reactive, as unreasonable, but what this has… However, these six months have been, if anything, a lesson in going with the flow.

1:16:20 Rohini: Go with the flow. Don’t beat up on yourself.

1:16:21 Deepika: Go with the flow. Take a deep breath.

1:16:22 Rohini: And don’t beat up on yourself. You may be anxious sometimes, don’t beat up on yourself, go with the flow. Breathe.

1:16:30 Deepika: I’m a terrible practitioner of it, but I’m beginning to realize the value of it, letting go of ideas are sometimes the best thing.

1:16:39 Rohini: Exactly, is what that person said. If you expect less of yourselves, you may expect less from your children right now. It’s okay to do less.

[foreign language]

1:16:50 Rohini: Kavita, two, three practical good suggestions as parents, teachers.

1:16:54 Kavita: Sure, I think it’s…

[overlapping conversation]

1:16:57 Kavita: He had the best one in there, which was really engage, interact, that is the biggest thing, but at a very practical sort of level, two ways that we find useful to interact and to increase their engagement with children, and this is something where someone also asked the question. Aashika Shetty also asked a question that we are not looking at the… I’m surprised, here Kavita say, there’s no learning loss, there’s no learning loss of learning outcomes is what we manage, particularly for the older children, but schools are not just about that, they are about much, much more than that, it’s about these relationships and the interactions, and two ways that parents can do this at home is, one is play, because play looks very different at different ages, let children lead the way in play and follow that. It could be role play, it could be physical play, it could be board games, it could be creating videos, it could be anything.

1:17:58 Kavita: So really play with… Play has many definitions because that’s a big part of relationship building. There’s play therapy. There’s all of that. So it’s really about that. And the second thing is reading, because reading is something which truly deeply builds empathy and relationships and reflection and contemplation, and quiets the mind, so leave devices at the door. Once the distance learning is done, leave devices at the door and create the space for reading, ideally physical books so those are the two things that I would…

1:18:29 Rohini: There are many good curated reading lists also online that you could use, and I agree, a physical book shared between two generations, creates bonds that cannot be done otherwise, yes.

1:18:41 Kavita: Absolutely. Those are the two things I would say that you can do differently and play can look like so many things, it can look…

1:18:48 Rohini: Find the child in yourself. As an adult, search for the child in you.

1:18:52 Kavita: Absolutely. And laugh, laugh with that. Nothing…

1:18:55 Rohini: And laugh, laugh, laughter club.

1:18:57 Kavita: Nothing’s better.

1:18:58 Rohini: Yes, Vishal, so many new social barriers have come up. After this is over, how are we going to reduce them? How are we going to pull them down? Like you know, even when you don’t want to… Middle class homes, the way we are treating our maids, “Oh, you can only come to this door. You can’t come inside.” “Oh, you can only do this.” And it’s all supposed to be explained by the virus and the pandemic, but other kind of cultures are creeping in which are not very refined. New barriers, new ways of excluding people, how on earth are we going to lower them again in the next few months as the vaccine comes, therapies come, any ideas?

1:19:42 Vishal: No, we can’t.

1:19:43 Rohini: You can’t?

1:19:45 Vishal: No.

1:19:46 Rohini: You mean social barriers are going to stay? No, no, no, we can’t be defeatist, we have to find a way. What…

1:19:52 Vishal: I think, Well, if you really wanna go into that, I think the most important thing to do is for each one of us to look at our own biases and prejudices, and become very, very aware of them. This virus itself is a great example. This was a virus of the rich.

1:20:11 Rohini: Yes.

1:20:11 Vishal: And the poor bore the brunt of it.

1:20:13 Rohini: Right.

1:20:14 Vishal: We have to learn to acknowledge that. So if you really want to break these barriers, we have to learn to acknowledge our stereotypes. And that’s, I don’t think we’ll do.

1:20:22 Rohini: Shekhar, rebut him, there must be a way where we can become more self aware and learn. How do we teach ourselves? How do we do CBT? What are the pathways to make ourselves more mentally healthy and socially healthy?

1:20:43 Shekhar: Well, I could give you several examples. But I do think that these need to be tempered with this very stark issue that Vishal has spoken about. And I would really contextualise my response in the kind of, let’s say activism and social advocacy that is needed. I can see several questions. Children with special needs and ADHD are gonna suffer most when schools open, what role will you play? And systems of the nature that I represent the extent to which we advocate, the extent to which not just from a systemic perspective, but even individually, even in the place where I stay, one of the neighbors sons had tested positive, and they never told the maid and she went there for three days and then I was called and said, “You’re a secondary contact.” Just because they didn’t want to.

1:21:45 Shekhar: And then she was asked not to come and they didn’t take the responsibility of getting her tested. And because I have the resources, I saw to it that given the seven day period after which… After that person’s results came to ensure that she got tested, and that her anxieties were allayed.

1:22:05 Shekhar: So in the kind of circles that we operate in, whether it they’re our individual interactions, or whether we have a… We work in a system where our impact extends beyond the kind of individual interactions that we have to take the step, to take a stand and to take a position and articulate it and see how much of an impact that you can make in the gated community that you live in, in the hospital that you work in, in the neighborhood that you work in, in those three schools who call upon you, to education boards that may call upon you. And so questions that come on this inequity that and this is what I said that, “Pandemics like this have an unequal impact on the most vulnerable” and how do we therefore going forward… Even for systems that there that were anthroposophic in nature, the issue, how do they go online that and this is where creativity and…

1:23:17 Rohini: Innovation.

1:23:18 Shekhar: And innovation and how do we respond to the camera and take pedagogies in the way that you know, the immediacy of how do I play with those children even online for things to come alive at an educational level, but at a larger anxiety level. I think that this is where public health and public mental health becomes most important. And public health hitherto has focused so much on infectious diseases and rightly so, but the anxiety and the uncertainty that COVID has generated is also an epidemic. And there are other epidemics, COVID is eight months or nine months old, but there are everlasting epidemics like domestic violence, like child abuse, all of which it comes sharply to focus in the constriction that Deepika referred to in families that had pre existing problems that…

1:24:27 Rohini: Obviously in India, access to mental health services is very, very low. I’m glad you’re talking about a new structure where all actors and departments will be pulled in to respond to children. I want to draw your attention to the question on adolescents, parents, teachers also may find it a little harder to deal with adolescents than younger or older kids. What advice do you have about especially dealing with adolescents, Shekhar?

1:24:57 Shekhar: The whole issue of agency and the need for mobility, to hang out, all those hangout spaces have… And I think that in parent-child relationships with adolescents the whole process of renegotiation. And I do see Vishal has something to say as well.

1:25:20 Rohini: Yeah, please.

1:25:25 Shekhar: It’s a process of renegotiation of recognising agency on the one hand and just tabling your concerns but not imposing your authority or the kind of hegemony of the family as it were, the patriarch of the family. And what do you appeal to? Do you appeal to adolescence as unreasonable people or do you appeal to them as reasonable? And this is what I meant by a culture of conversations and one of the problems with many families is that they fail to re-establish adult relationships with their children as they grow up that… So, what do you mean by my adult child? He’s not a… [chuckle] When your child is… When your kid is 27-years old, he’s not an adult child. He’s an adult.

1:26:16 Rohini: Right.

1:26:16 Shekhar: So, a 16 or a 17-year-old is not a child. He’s a self-respecting adolescent with thoughts of his own. But I think Vishal has something to say.

1:26:26 Rohini: Please Vishal.

1:26:27 Vishal: Yeah, I think just talking into Shekhar’s point of agency, I think an investment in an adolescent agency and life skills and the capacities to respond to dilemmas and tensions and complexities of life, we’ve seen that in our own work now. A lot of our alumni, graduates from our program who are today 18, 19, 20 years old, the way they responded to the pandemic has been deeply inspiring. We’ve had young people who have become volunteers with the government, volunteers in the community. They have set up solutions, they’ve set up camps, they’ve set up these parent pods that you spoke about in communities. They’ve taken on income earning needs of the family, they have supported their own parents to deal with the mental health crisis that the parents are going through.

1:27:18 Vishal: So, I think trusting adolescents, that they have the agency, they have the skills and the capacities to deal with ambiguity, possibly better than adults because they’re still building those faculties and they’re practicing those faculty. So again, comes back to my question of this education, if we can re-purpose education from old notions of academics to notions of life skills, social-emotional learning capacities, then when things like these happen adolescents will have much better capacities to respond, with showing a lot more agency.

1:27:52 Rohini: Right. No, it’s a great, great point that adolescents especially can create a different relationship with society. They can learn to do that. They can actually practice kindness to a stranger. They can get involved in designing the society they want to live as adults. And if we as parents, teachers, caring adults can help them to do a little bit of that, the ripple effects may be vast both for the family and for society as a whole.

1:28:19 Rohini: We are running out of time, I don’t know how, but I’m gonna ask all of you to make closing remarks. Each of you cannot do more than one minute. Sorry, I’ll have to stop you. But because we want to give our audience a sense of what works… I mean, we know all the problems. What works to help us all to help the children of this country, the children of this world, create a better future for them and therefore for us as well. What works? What should we focus on? Each one of you… Kavita do you want to go first? You have just a minute.

1:28:56 Kavita: Sure. So, this is finally about relationships, that’s really what it’s about, at all levels. Whether it’s adolescents, whether it’s younger children, it’s all about relationships and agency in their lives and I think it’s… So EM Forster left one of his books, in the epigraph he ended with saying, “Only connect… ” and there was ellipses after that. And I think that is very profound and the book had a story from which is a sequel to The Time Machine and the machine stops, is what it was. So, you can imagine, the machine stops. And this is where we are right now, we are… The machine has stopped and the only advice is, only connect. So, the relationships that we form that is… We really need to re-learn how to build those relationships. We’ve ignored a lot. This, what we are seeing is not new. These are not new trends, they existed. Overcoming that, the only thing we can do is teach ourselves how to build relationships with our children, with society at large and connect.

1:29:57 Rohini: Thank you. Deepika?

1:30:01 Deepika: I have just one thing to say and I think what this is doing to us is forcing us all to learn, as human beings but also as systems. So, in some ways, much of our, my work particularly is in the context of government systems. So, I’m saying, these systems are also learning and in some ways it’s an opportunity to renew, learn, push new ideas like critical thinking, like social-emotional learning. Make that part of the mainstream and there’re opportunities to do that and there’re spaces to do that, so just take it.

1:30:29 Rohini: Re-imagining learning, yes. Using it as an opportunity to do so.

1:30:34 Deepika: Yeah, opportunity to do so. Absolutely that. And at the same time that at the meta-level, for sure. But I do wanna say that I think as individuals, perhaps the word bubble makes something seems small but it’s not a bad idea to make a bubble which includes not just you, your family but just the people who are supporting you. And that includes… Your housekeeper, your help… And everybody needs support. And one of the big things that came out of one of these studies of post-pandemics was the fact that a household which had an educated mother, those kids did better to manage and… Not from learning regression but just overall did a little bit better because they had [1:31:16] ____. So, sometimes being in a country where a lot of our children are first generation learners, that role needs to be played by somebody else.

1:31:24 Rohini: Right because education such a big, big, big indicator of a nation’s prosperity.

1:31:31 Deepika: Yeah, so to that extent, I’d say as communities to expand our scope of influence even to the four and a half people who are immediately in your life that I think is what… So I would say community in that way along with being a… Allowing space for learning both there as well as at the meta-level, let systems make mistakes, allow them to change but take every opportunity to push for change.

1:31:54 Rohini: Thank you. Don’t shrink yourself, expand your bubble to include others and this… Let systems experiment, fail, learn, continue. Vishal, one minute.

1:32:07 Vishal: Yeah, I look at this pandemic time as we passing through a portal and if you’re going to come out of this portal different, a very practical thing to do is if all of us today before we go to sleep can write down three stereotypes that we live with, that we have about ourselves or someone else in our community and let go of them.

1:32:28 Rohini: Super.

1:32:29 Vishal: And let’s intentionally create newer, fresher narratives that are filled with kindness and empathy.

1:32:37 Rohini: Thank you for that homework, Vishal. So everybody pens at the ready tonight. Break your own stereotypes. Expand your mind to connect with the whole universe of humanity. Shekhar, last thoughts? One minute.

1:32:53 Shekhar: Yeah, I’m just taking of the example that Vishal gave earlier about the school in Ottawa and also this other example of how the principal went from home to home, he stood outside and he was shouting and… It’s about repurposing the social spaces and re-establishing the culture of conversations with your children, it’s through that, that narratives build because after all our conscious is nothing except stories, we are all constituted of narratives and stories, all of this is just maya. And how do you build these narratives with special focus on something that everyone has spoken about that ultimately what is important for children and what is important in education is their social and emotional being… Children are natural learners, they will learn anyway but it is their social world and their emotional world that is of paramount importance and the only way that can be done is through a culture of conversations and through activity and play and playfulness.

1:33:58 Rohini: Thank you. A culture of conversation to be nurtured in the home and outside so that children are not afraid to speak, not afraid to be heard and it allows them agency, we’ve heard a lot about those words. Well, we have a long haul ahead of us and all of us must replenish ourselves so that we can help children replenish themselves. I hope you learnt a lot from my wonderful panel and I thank BIC as always. We will do the homework, a lot of homework has been given to us, a lot of ideas, let’s do it for the children of India. Thank you. Namaste. Thank you BIC. Thank you panelists. Thank you especially audience, without you, of course, we can’t have much of a show. Thank you.

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