Childhood is a stage of innocence in the process of what George Bernard Shaw calls in his Treatise on Parents and Children “continual remanufacture of life by which the human race is perpetuated.” Hinduism too believes in rebirth. According to the Bhagavat Gita, just as a man discards worn-out clothes and puts on new ones; the soul discards worn-out bodies and wears new ones in its cyclical process of purification. Perhaps, it is this belief that leads every man to rejoice the birth of a child and mourn the death of the old. We must all be born again, and yet again and again until our soul is united with the supreme power.
Childhood is a time for discovery and dreams. When looking at my child’s face, I can see the reflection of my own childhood. The only difference was not growing up too fast, like him; I was a late bloomer. And I was subjected to physical punishment at home and school. In those days, it was considered not only common and normal, but absolutely necessary to discipline a child. I also worked in the field before and after school regardless of my age. But 30 years later, things have changed drastically. Young boys, and even those in their early 10s, are seen smoking. They have the complete freedom to do as they wish.
A lot of amazing and bizarre changes have taken place from the 1940s, when the word "teenager" was invented, to the 1990s. But by the year 2000, a rebellious youngster has emerged. Back in my days, kids who smoked was unheard of. Defying school regulations or disobeying parents, elders or teachers, was taken particularly seriously. Our teachers were notoriously strict disciplinarians, who beat us until we cried for defying rules. And there was no question of skipping classes. Much has changed today.
There is now a debate in the West about introducing sex education in school curricula as more schoolgirls are getting pregnant and young people, even before they turn 15 are having sex like adults— something quite unthinkable in our times for a variety of reasons. We lived in a closed society and were brought up in a joint family and neighborhoods where nothing was secret. But that´s not to say we were not interested in adventure. But our peak and prime adolescent age vanished quickly without indulging in love affairs for the fear of social ostracism. But the piercing Western modernity and English education is changing the society now.
Until high school, I had never seen such a mass movement toward romantic relationships among adolescents. I was shocked by the influence rock ´n´ roll was having on young people in Kathmandu. Everywhere there was optimism and enthusiasm to have romantic relationships among many young people. Come 90s, there was an abundance of sexual imagery through the Internet and television promoting a more sexual culture among young people.
Easy access to mobile phones with internet connection, MMS, iPods and freely accessible porn sites on the Internet these days have altered the whole concept of adolescents in a substantial way. As a result, a key shift in the child-parent dynamic became apparent even in Nepal, along with different ways of teaching and socializing.
Whether Nepali education system is of high/low academic standard is up to the researchers to find but the kind of blended learning – combining courses taught in school and educational toys at home – certainly enhances a child’s cognitive development.
Whether my son will turn out to be a hero or a villain, the future will tell but we decided not to force him to learn the alphabets at so tender an age. And with the passage of time, he began assembling voluminous cuddly, many of them from the Disney Pixar, Transformers, Roberts, Barbie toys, and many more that I have no idea whatsoever about. Some of his favorite picks at Toy Planet in Spain and BR in Denmark— are now his passing fancies. While visiting these stores, choosing bewildering arrays of soft toys had often been a hair-splitting task. He carried the toys, all of which he could, in his little bag all the way home. Some of them were incredible which included dinosaurs, mind-boggling jet planes and ships he built out of the three hundred plus blocks and bricks. Nowadays, he still loves to assemble ship, jet planes, robot, and armored vans with the Chinese manufactured blocks with enthusiasm. They are cheaper too. Notwithstanding the smallness of their size, he quickly arranges blocks of all diminutive size neatly into jet plane, ship, doll buildings, armored van and so on. Once when he had difficulties assembling them, he stuffed his finger into his mouth and shook his milk teeth for a while and after meditating deeply, said, “Oh! Now I get it. I know how it works”.
On his 7th birthday, we promised him the choicest of all gifts: A box of blocks out of which he was to assemble the Queen of Scandinavia. Here, he had a chance to sit in the sun for the entire weekend and assemble these objects of strange hue and color for there was no circus to attend to, no Tivoli or Monte Igueldo to go to for a ride, neither any open field to play football or park to play with Danniel. The objects that had taken me and my wife four days to assemble, it took him just two days.
He is also good at drawing. His favorites are dinosaurs. One day, he asked me, "Dad, where are these Dinosaurs?" I replied him, "They are extinct; they no longer exist." My answer did not satisfy his curiosity. He continued to search for an answer. We decided to buy a DVD on dinosaurs. We went to Bhatbhateni and bought him two movies – "Dinosaurs" and "Jurassic Park". A bit scary though they were with some violent contents, they were a new discovery for him. After watching the first one, he began to ask more questions: "How and where did those meteors come from?" I stood in awed silence.
These days, he is glued to world history from four million years to the present day. He is a great fan of Alexander and has already read the rudiments of American War of Independence, and the fall of Hitler in the Second World War. Sitting on the mat in our room by a heap of children’s encyclopedia, he pensively draws strange and curious objects ranging from the armor of the king of Benin, the spears used by Homo sapiens some 30,000 years ago, to swords of the Sparta warriors, and archers and cavalry troops of the ancient Greeks. At seven, he had already learnt what I hadn’t learnt in my high school.
For seven years, we watched him grow with these toys and great zeal for arts and history. It was for this reason that we did not introduce him much of the alphabets or mathematics. Moreover, he had changed seven schools, including three in Europe. Assembling toys, reading history, playing internet games, and watching cartoons were in itself too heavy a load for him. But when we arrived in Nepal, we had to send him to a local school, where they forced him to memorize. The first day when I went to purchase his textbooks, the principal gave me a list of 20 books. The backpack that we purchased in Spain was not enough to hold all the books, so we bought a new one. Being too heavy for him to carry on his back, I have to literally carry the bag to school every day. And each day he was assigned voluminous amount of homework to complete. Before even grabbing an apple, or a cup of milk, he would begin his homework. He is given head-breaking questions and puzzles to solve at home. I particularly remember this instance in which he was struggling to answer a question: "How does the plant grow?" He came running to me and asked: "Dad! help me with this question". I was clueless. Half-way through his unfinished homework, he lulled to sleep.
Barely two years into formal school and he has already learnt a great deal of mathematics, science, Nepali and some general history of Nepal. And with a proper guidance at home and introducing educational toys, he has far outshone the rest of the class. Whether Nepali education system is of high/low academic standard is up to the researchers to find but the kind of blended learning – combining courses taught in school and educational toys at home – certainly enhances a child’s cognitive development.