My iMessage pops up with a message from one of my friends: “I need to talk to you”. My phone buzzes and I pick up when she begins, “It’s about my 12-year-old cousin who met some guy on Discord and he has been luring her with sweet messages and wishes her to be his girlfriend, he would also ask her to do some sexually explicit things like sexual role-playing….”
Similarly, last year I saw a short documentary about how young girls are lured by older men through social media sites like Instagram. The filmmakers made fake accounts of young girls and showed how men of varying age groups, from high school boys to middle-aged men, sent friend requests and sexually explicit text messages to young girls.
There have been incidents where little boys and girls have fallen into the clutches of child pornographers because of social media.
Today, babies and children believe that smartphones are as omnipresent as their parents. I have seen my little cousins, nephews and nieces growing up with phones and tablets and this has escalated in the past year due to pandemic, which has forced children to stay at home and restricted their activities, including going out, playing and going to school.
Parents have also changed, with most of them unable to engage their children with fruitful and meaningful activities like reading, playing board games, writing, colouring, reading stories along with tactful supervision of smartphone time.
I believe all of these activities can actually bring some positive change in behaviour and can make children more responsible and have purpose.
‘Pedagogy of the pandemic’
There is no doubt, especially in these times, that children are getting affected and parents are also finding it hard. Nobody was ready for such a time.
At present, we need more than Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, we need a ‘pedagogy of the pandemic’. Most parents are clueless about the challenges that the pandemic has thrown forth, the digital world is too boundless and too diverse for parents to understand, they were never ready for this.
One thing that remains pertinent is that we need to re-learn and re-figure the ways we bring up children.
Schools should have come up with a pedagogy that not only teaches children but also guides parents at home on how they can educate their children about aspects of digital media, through seminars held by children-specific organisations.
When my generation was growing up, it was a mix of everything and the best of both worlds. We played with bicycles, fell in the gutters, went to summer sports camp, to art competitions where we had no idea about what the topic actually meant, no concept of Kindle and Amazon, so borrowing and parceling books was the norm and birthday parties meant an opportunity for being creative for all the children alike.
At the same time, we watched Disney on TV, were given iPods, learnt what Google is and created the first email ID at the age of 11.
However, currently, with the pandemic, working parents and advanced technology, children are supremely confused and so are their parents.
As a result, schools need to reorient their pedagogy. The ‘banking approach’, a term coined by Friere, is the biggest obstacle in today’s time. The approach refers to an educational system where teachers are active participants while students are just passive recipients.
This method is obsolete and does not prepare children for the upcoming challenges. These institutions need to make parents actively participate and have a thematic and observatory approach, as elucidated by Freire in his book ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’.
An alarming situation arose in Latin America earlier this year when young kids and teenagers fell prey to propaganda and were induced to join militant groups and drug smuggling organisations.
This was because schools were closed, an economic crisis was looming, the future was uncertain, there was a lack of engaging pedagogy, parents were ill-prepared and the government took no action.
Media also has a large role to play in the way children’s worldview and expectations are oriented. The distant westernised culture, which is more expressive and self-retrospective, along with misguided ideas like feminism and modernity have left children and teenagers confused along with their parents.
But here we were talking about children who have access to technology and are privileged, but what about those children who do not even have such access, live in clustered homes with limited means in a rural setup?
So what is left today is all left to proactive efforts; for instance the Camel library that was initiated by a school in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan for the kids is one such example.
Paramita Baishya is a student of Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi