(This is the third of a four-part series on the myriad issues involving the First Bell classes in Kerala.)
It is said education is the passport to the future. Education delivered at a school or even the school of hard knocks has its value. Myriad extracurricular activities that school education offers to play a significant role in unearthing and refining the talents of children. Today, amid fears of COVID-19 pandemic schools remain shut and there are curbs on gathering.
The many avenues for children to show their skills and talent are no longer possible as schools don't conduct arts festival (kalotsavam), science fairs, sports meets and the like. School-based clubs are dormant. The activities of Scouts and Guides, Student Police Cadets and National Service Scheme too have been hit.
The self-confidence that children gained through participation in extracurricular activities at the school level was huge. Other benefits of excellence in extra-curricular activities included grace marks, weightage for higher studies, opportunity for professional courses and so on. Many children who had hoped for such incentives this academic year are now disappointed.
K Devika, a Plus-Two student of the Govt Rajas HSS, at Kottakkal, had dreamt of giving another shot at the state-level arts festival. "I got A-grade in ‘Vanchipattu’ in the state Kalolsavam last year. That day, I had left the stage with a lot of expectations. I hoped to excel in next year's Kalolsavam by partnering with a new team. Small online art festivals are currently on, but they are all in individual categories," she rued.
"It is an altogether different feeling while leaving the stage amid applause after performing in front of a packed audience. My dream of bidding farewell to school life with the head held high on such a stage will remain unfulfilled," she summed up her plight.
There could be several talented Devikas across Kerala who is now deprived of a chance to parade their talents at the popular arts festival for schools.
Budding athlete PA Athulya, another Plus-Two student, too shared a similar dilemma. "This was my last chance to realise the dream of a triple gold in at least one state sporting event. I have been in the tracks for seven years. It is in the final year you need the grace marks the most, but it seems those marks will be lost. I was eligible for grace mark in Plus One on the basis of last year's achievements. But to get that I have to compete at least at the revenue district level this time," Athulya said. She is a student of Government Fisheries HSS, Nattika, Thrissur.
Athulya wants the authorities to resume sports contests in Kerala. "International competitions have been resumed following the COVID protocol. Our years of hard work will go to waste without sports fairs for students," she said.
E Hasna, a Plus-Two student of, GHSS, Thirurangadi, cited the benefits of school bashes. "Such festivals help to forget the tension over studies and other difficulties. In the science festival, I had competed in beads work till the state level. I had started preparations for this year early. I had hoped that COVID would abate and the science festival would take place. As I finish the Plus-Two course this academic year, I will not get another chance," Hasna stated.
The lot of the disabled students
The problems faced by disabled children were much greater than those faced by other children after the closure of schools. Unable to get out of the house, their physical and mental problems have mounted. Although online learning is much more difficult for them when compared to other students, local online communities led by special school teachers are coming forward to help.
The online ‘kalolsavam’ was organised by the Association for the Intellectually Challenged (AID) to reduce stress among special students. Students from 232 special schools in Kerala participated. It was first held at the school level, and it was followed by the district ‘kalolsavam’ from October 22 to November 9.
The competitions were in light music, folk dance, speech and fancy dress. Those who came first were judged at the state level and the winners were selected.
This online attempt can be considered as a model for regular schools.