Can We Break Free?

Dr Navniit Gandhi
Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Every year, on Independence Day, some of us get philosophical and wonder: are we really free? Independent? Free from cares and concerns? Self-reliant?
Since last year, the pandemic has brought confusion, turmoil, anxiety and despair in our lives as never witnessed before.
We admirably managed quite a lot and we sadly mis-managed quite a lot too!

As the lessons from the months gone by unfold before us---let us look at that one most crucial performance indicator on our report-cards, which shall decide how well shall we, our kids, our society and our nation fare in the future. Yes, I refer to: ‘EDUCATION’.


The most important question, we, the parents, teachers, students, principals, managements and the policy-makers, should ask is:

Did we learn due lessons from this pandemic, and take suitable steps as a result of which, our kids are better equipped to face similar such adverse situations in the future? In short, are our students stronger, kinder, and more able?

With all the due respect to all the teachers, principals, administrators and managements of all Indian educational institutions, I feel we have ‘failed’!

We could not break free from the shackles of our system, which insists on syllabus-completion, rote-learning, examinations, marks and a redundant way of grading the young learners. In countries which rank high on the Human Development Index, the goal of education is that the system should make the kids skilled, smart, sensitive, empathetic, and capable of taking care of themselves. Our system still believes in cramming young minds with facts, figures, and data, irrespective of whether they understand any of it or whether any of it is ever of any use. Most important, the system does not mold them towards being ethical citizens or responsible members of the society.

During this pandemic, we could have made such a big difference and lent credibility to our entire education system, but we didn’t!


A deadly virus caught us in its noose like never before and shook the world. Lakhs of people are dead and the counting is on… Hundreds of kids have been orphaned and thousand others have lost one parent… Millions have lost and are still losing their livelihood! Patients struggled for a bed or for oxygen or ventilators; frontline workers struggled to keep their sanity amidst all the diseased, and the dead; the administrators struggled to enforce sanitation, and discipline and make provisions for essential facilities… In short, everyone was struggling.

And what were we, the academia, doing?

How shall our performance be remembered in the books of history, when this pandemic shall be discussed?

Yes, agreed that the show had to go on!

We began the arduous task of training our teachers so that online classes and online examinations could be held. Our one and only focus was: completion of SYLLABUS! That is all that mattered to us and to our educational institutions. Our goals were:

*the online classes should commence at the earliest, while also roping in--the kids of kindergarten;
*the syllabus should be completed;
*exams should be held;
*assessments done and results declared.

For the purpose of scoring points and getting rankings and ratings from Boards and Accreditation agencies, schools and colleges burdened the students with a whole range of online activities and suffocated our teachers with an endless stream of webinars, and zoom meetings. Let us evaluate how many of those activities, webinars, and meetings—benefitted how many and in what manner?

Disaster struck for Jyothi (14) and her sister Geetha (12) when their father Mahadevappa, a milk-seller, tested positive for Covid-19. Post-infection, the entire family was ostracized by the village. The mother of the two little girls was not allowed to fetch water from the public well. Relatives and friends too did not comfort them. When the family could not take the humiliation further, on June 2, all four of the family hanged themselves from the ceiling of their house and killed themselves.

This pandemic was an opportunity we utterly wasted. We could have imparted valuable lessons on how to handle social stigma, isolation, depression, anxiety, emotional imbalance, economic shutdown and future insecurities.


We should have:

*Not risked the eyes, necks, shoulders and back-bones of at least those aged ten years and below. After extensive brain-storming sessions with all the stakeholders, we could have made certain offline activities mandatory for them at home.
*Included in online learning:
*understanding what the parents, relatives and neighbors were going through;
*not wasting water and food;
*sitting still/quiet and conserving energy;
*fitness at home;
*social skills;
*controlling temper.

*Children should have been rewarded for helping parents in the household chores or in taking care of the sick or for other such admirable ‘conduct’.
*For kids aged above 10 years of age, there could have been daily slots of 30 minutes during online learning, as for example:
*Monday: Fact-Day when children should be apprised with what is happening all around the world, particularly with reference to this pandemic.
*Tuesday: Story-Day when at least two stories (one folk-tale and one real-life story) should be told to the students. The stories must showcase valor, grit, empathy and leadership, particularly when the going gets tough.
*Wednesday: Social-Skill Day when useful tips should be imparted to the students on polishing one’s social skills such as listening, speaking, understanding, and taking initiative.
*Thursday: Brain-storming Day when, solutions to various issues which the nation/society is facing should be encouraged, from the students.
*Friday: Handling Trauma Day when children should be given practical suggestions on how to cope with big and small traumatic incidents in the family. They can be taught the importance of giving to and taking support from family, friends and neighbors when death, or disease or unemployment or other adversities strike.
*Saturday: Making Plans A, B, and C for their careers so that our kids learn to keep alternative/optional plans ready and focus on other skills/vocations or start-up options.

Had we adapted ourselves suitably and striven to infuse this entire gamut of online teaching, with meaning and substance, our kids also then would have had faith in the system. Now, they themselves can be seen and heard making an awful mockery of the same. A large number of our kids were just happy to get up at whim, play games while learning was on, gorge on the delicious foods Mummy was making, and think of ways of deceiving the teacher during the MCQ exercises labelled as examinations.
If our teachers were given time to breathe, think, and contemplate, and the freedom to choose how to mold and assess their students in the best possible ways—their faith in the system could have been re-affirmed too. Instead, the pressure on them was ruthless and frustrating.

Of course, the picture isn’t altogether bleak.
It is also true that there are countless tales of bravery, care, and kindness of our own people within the system! Inside several cramped homes, tales of care and love have been woven, during this pandemic. People who fed others; cremated others and took the lead in providing help to all those they could-- have imparted to their kids precious lessons! During several online classes, many teachers have played their part well. They have cared for their little wards and virtually hugged and wiped tears off the tender cheeks.

If only the education system had geared up better, bravely broken a few shackles, and played a pro-active role in infusing young minds with positivity, optimism, perseverance and the need to care for others, during this pandemic---our successive generations could have celebrated freedom from several cares and worries over the next several decades…

Dr. Navniit Gandhi is an academic, writer, author and a trainer/counsellor. Her write-ups can be read at
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