December to March is a very important period in the school academic year. It is not only the period of annual exams and results but also a popular time to conduct “School Annual Day Celebrations”. As the name suggests these are the grand events which schools conduct once in a year and they bring teachers, students and parents and even the school managements together.
The celebration of Annual Day is crucial as it provides a platform for the students to showcase their talents and urges the teachers to put their best. It is more so with nursery schools. It is on this occasion that the children get a chance to step on to the stage and conquer their fear of speaking or performing in front of a large gathering. The parents, in this revolutionary age of media, aspire to see their children on the stage however good or bad the children are. They provide all the costumes and jewellery needed and make sure to attend the program however busy they are. The school managements consider the school annual days are a part of the school promotional activities. From academic point of view the school annual day celebrations are the best ways to present our culture to the students.
A decade back these celebrations were conducted only by the teachers. Keeping this in mind, teachers who had talent in dancing, singing were given preference during their appointments. Now the situation is changed. As it is difficult to get creative teachers the schools are relying on the organizations which train students exclusively for school annual day celebrations. They choreograph the entire program and charge quite high for the schools. The schools which are rich enough to hire them get their services whereas other schools get help from old students or parents. In this condition the annual day programs have taken a new turn. The teachers instead of getting inspiration from the rich Indian culture rely on Bollywood Music and teach simple steps for the popular song numbers of Bollywood. This training ranges from 1 to 1 ½ months.
Let us think from the point of view of the small children. Children below 6 years of age have tremendous power of learning. It cannot be called learning because they are not conscious of what they are learning. It is only absorption. The children absorb and retain everything good or bad. This is evident from the way children learn those advertisement clips from the television, the way they remember what you said about your neighbour and recite it in front of the same neighbour innocently. They even catch up the rhythmic movement. They have the capacity to learn all the dance movements whether they are part of it or not. Often, in the school programs, one could see the children who are not performing on the stage from the visitor’s gallery dancing and singing. This capacity of the children has to be used for a better purpose. The children are exposed to all these songs and dances at home through television. They are doing this on their own in this situation the teachers need to think whether it is necessary to teach these movements specifically.
How about children being taught to be confident? It is not the program which teaches the child to be confident and fearless. Children are born fearless. They are not scared of any animal. They are not scared of even people. We could notice the younger children demonstrate braveness compared to the older children. How could the children who were born so brave turn into scary? The children become fearful because of the home and school environments. They instil fear in the children. Dr Montessori gives many examples for this. Once, a child was in the garden. He was trying to turn the sprinkler on. Exactly at that moment the mother came in and shouted at the child. The child immediately took his hand off the sprinkler. This incident was so strong in his mind that since then he never touched the sprinkler and was not able to turn it on even when his mother asked to do so. There is one more incident, one day a child was about to sit on a newly painted chair. Mother saw this and admonished him. Since then he was scared to sit on any bright coloured chair. Whether the child is confident or frightful on the stage is only the symptom of what happened earlier. One has to treat the cause and not the symptom.
Another important aspect of annual day program is prize distribution. When you distribute the prizes most of the times the children do not care even to take the prize with them. They just leave it for those who gave because the prizes don’t have any meaning for them. Dr Montessori rightly said that children do not need any reward or punishment. It is only the parents who take pride when the child receives prizes. When the teachers were asked why they distribute prizes they answered it is was because of the parents. The children naturally do not have any competition. In a Montessori House of Children unlike a regular nursery school, you could see children helping each other. There is no competition in scoring highest marks or scoring one mark more than his friend. They happily help the friend overcome the difficulty. That too the help is offered only when needed not unnecessarily. This natural way of helping each other which is a great social development is subdued by the competitions. It is true that children (everyone) love to have gifts. Gift are given at special occasions in a family. The older one gives to younger or younger ones to older. This concept of exchanging gifts could be introduced and all children could be given gifts as the celebration of annual day.
Whenever I witness the annual day programs I feel sorry for those small children. It is not that they want to dance and sing. They are forced to do so by the teachers. It is not the children who are dancing or singing on the stage it is the parents who are getting their long wanted need to dance, sing and to speak on the stage in the form of their children. Through children they are getting their need satisfied. If they like to dance so much why not they do so? Why is such an inhibition? Dancing is an effective way of self-expression. One need not be a proficient dancer to express the inner joy. At the same time it is not the only instrument of expression. Different people express themselves in different ways. The school programs force a person who doesn’t want to dance to dance, who doesn’t want to sing to sing. Whenever a group of children are dancing for a popular song on the stage, few would be dancing and few are standing stiff, frightened. You find their fathers and mothers, and the teachers behind the screen compelling them to dance. The more they are asked the more they get stiff and nervous. Imagine yourself in his position. Imagine yourself made to dance when you are not willing dance. One should also understand just moving hands and throwing legs is not dance. Dance has a rhythm, a meaning, an expression. The whole meaning of dance is lost. Why not we have small dance dramas which depict some themes? If one thinks anything children do is nice why not try dance dramas? If still one needs to have a dance why not have all the children on the stage and dance as they like?
The School Annual Day Celebrations do not fare well as the representation of Indian culture. Culture is not mere traditions. Everything learnt by a man is a culture. India has a rich culture in the form of festivals, dances, singing and folk lore. Why not we bring those into the classroom? Incidents in the life of great personalities could a good theme for annual day functions. Having different folk artists to perform and expose the children to different folk lore. The Bharata Natyam Mudras and their meanings could be an interesting subject for celebration. The stories from Mahabharatha, Ramayana, Upanishads or Bhagavata could be an unequalled theme. If the children are not able to talk on the stage there could be a tableau.
The schools should keep the development of the child in mind rather than the parents’ interest. School Annual Day Celebrations are a great way to bring our culture into the classroom. They provide an opportunity to understand and respect our culture. Only thing they have to be planned in a meaningful and productive manner.