Do We Need Summer School?

Come summer, most parents make a beeline for special classes, workshops, or any form of group activity to keep their children occupied. A mime class, a swimming session, a dance or a theatre workshop would keep the kids engaged at least for a few hours everyday, they say.

Do We Need Summer School?

Do We Need Summer School? [Illustration by Anup Singh]

But, aren’t these supposed to be summer holidays, asks Monika Halan, the mother of a four-year-old, in her column “I, the Consumer” in the Intelligent Investor magazine. “Toddlers should be at home playing, not going off to school in a van, in the summer heat,” she elaborates.

As the heat intensifies and children mope around at home, summer class advertisements may look attractive, but one should think hard before sending one’s kids off to some workshop, she says.

What Halan says is being reiterated by many other parents as well. A lot of children who like skating, dancing or theatre do develop a dislike for such activities if they are sent to a badly conducted class. These creative exercises soon start resembling classroom instructions.

This is because there are no yardsticks guiding these classes, no rules and regulations about the running of a summer school despite the fact that an activity class seems to appearing in every nook and corner of Delhi. Like schools, the summer classes have also fallen prey to commercialisation.

Most people who start these schools do not always care how they are conducted and whether the consumer, the child, actually enjoys his time there. Though as we all know, laying out laws do not necessarily mean that they will be implemented!

So, one cannot completely write off Halan’s scepticism about attempts to structure children’s lives during holidays. But on the other hand, the ramifications of a completely unstructured life can be quite far-reaching.

With anarchic holidays, a school-going child’s routine goes haywire. With no school bus to catch at 7.30 in the morning, and no homework in the evening, she can stay in bed till late and watch as much of Cartoon Network as possible.

And by the time the school reopens, it will be a Herculean task to get the child out of bed and into the school uniform.

One needs to wake up to the fact that one cannot completely do away with the discipline a school brings to a young life. True, it is a constricting, but, so long as it is not overdone, it has a positive angle too.

Besides discipline, the school is also a space for activity. It channelises a great deal of restless energy into constructive and useful work. During the holidays, it is the parents’ responsibility to keep the child engaged.

And, practically speaking, it is not always possible to think up interesting things to do to keep the child occupied. Particularly, in households with single children and working parents. Now, can you blame the parents who look out for summer workshops? As V. Krishnaswamy, father of a single child, puts it: “It keeps the child occupied for at least half the day; the parents can take care of the rest.”

In India, the concept of the summer school is fairly new. A byproduct of urbanisation, which led to the breakdown of the joint family, the summer workshop is becoming increasingly popular among working couples – people who miss the support structure provided by a mom-in-law or an aunt.

Since there are no older people in the household to look after the children, most parents do not have much choice between summer classes and leaving the child with a servant, however trustworthy he/she may be.

In such a case, while one should pay attention to Halan’s word of caution and take care to ensure that the child goes to the right kind of summer activity class, one should also look for alternatives, like sending the children to their grandparents or cousins for the holidays, or organise stay-overs at friends’ places if they are a little older and can take care of themselves.