The Invisible Backpack

Deepshikha Dhankar delves into a school student’s backpack and discovers he has more than one!

We are all aware of how our current education system operates - It’s about ‘how much’ our children are learning but and not about ‘what’ and ‘how’ they are learning. They sport a heavy backpack every day, full of books, lunch and other relevant educational material. Many efforts have been made to lighten it but to no avail. However, in addition to this heavy backpack they also carry to and from school an ‘invisible’ backpack, possibly twice the size of their regular colourful and heavy backpack. Neither they nor their teachers or parents notice it. If they do they tend to ignore it, with disastrous consequences for the child and society.

What is the anatomy of this invisible backpack? This invisible backpack contains all that the child absorbs through observation and interaction in school and at home, but mainly at school as he spends most of his / her waking hours there – Behaviours, vocabulary, feelings, punishments, adrenaline rushes from accessing the forbidden, hurts, insults, praises, emotional highs and lows, sexual awakenings and the like. They are not listed on his notebooks or mark sheets. They carry all that in their invisible backpack – more often than not, misery, anxiety, mental and emotional claustrophobia and sometimes learning excitement, and joy!

The invisible backpack is nothing but the road less and yet often travelled by their young minds as they capture and imbibe the behaviours of their surroundings in schools in those eight hours every day. Imagine the kind of things they must be learning, without their conscious consent, without their teacher’s or parent’s knowledge and without any grip on it whatsoever.

Aristotle once said, “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and development.” What does this mean in today’s scenario? If you seep into the skins of their pencil’s charcoal, you will begin to see how trapped these children are, without the power to control their learning, imagination and finally actions, and unable to differentiate between awful evils and amazing virtues. Right now, in our education system, there is, in fact, no hold on what the child might think at school and do at home or vice-versa. Even the parents and guardians are helpless to a large extent. They are either too busy or too blissfully ignorant.

So, what should one do? Since there is no certain goal of ‘education’ yet, there could at least be a central purpose of education. No one can control what happens at school and what kind of learning or lesson they pick up from the constantly moving reel of classes and intervening interactions during the eight hours they are away from home. If the children are to carry the invisible backpack anyway, when they return home from their 8-hour shift, we can help them unpack it and repack it with the relevant books and ink, so that they are using the right tools.

There are many things about education that are worth preserving but most of the way we provide it needs reform.

Backpack it right

Let them stay curious – They might have questions about how babies are born and why the earth looks flat if it is round, help them understand these things rather than trying to shift their attention to something else. In the know all internet of things, you will find plenty of methods to enhance their understanding in a not so boring manner. It is very crucial for children to know that being curious is not a sin.
Help them stay creative – Whether your child learns from videos, or textbooks or simply real-life experiments, know that they do want to learn anyway. They have just not found their own creative tool to understand things better. Not every child is made for books and not every child is scared of science experiments.
Let them connect – Some children might want to connect with nature, some with technology – the point is, they know and accept their point of connection because that’s where all the learning starts. Do not shun them if they simply want to play in the mud or are glued to the buttons of the remote. Every child is wired differently, they could be earthlings or skylings or somewhere in between. Help them find out what they connect with the most.
Let them watch – If you close their eyes every time there is love-making on TV or on the streets, they will forever remember it is as something that is not to be seen. It will sort of wire their brains to think that love is bad for example and they will always fail to express their love, towards themselves and others. Studies show that children who were not allowed to expresses their love in their own love language, grow up never understanding the difference between good and bad touch. One more thing we inevitably drop in their invisible backpack – withdrawal.
Let them keep learning – So what if they spent eight hours at school and they are not interested in doing their homework? So what if they didn’t pay attention in class and are now shying away from attempting to even pick another book. The fear of school books can cause them long-lasting harm of never picking up any other books at all. Let them keep learning – show them the world of other books, Lego and puzzles outside of their school syllabus.
Let them play - Have you ever noticed how much sunlight and exercise prisoners get or the construction workers? Definitely more than your children who are probably allowed to soak in the open merely for two hours a day. Sun rays are essential for mitochondrial and other biological functions. Similarly, if the child wants to rebel against sitting in the classroom all day because he/she would rather be out working those muscles, how bad could it be?
Let them understand their own ethical code – Their future is already quite ethically complex and it would only add to the weight of the invisible backpack, if we were to hand them down our own. Artificial intelligence and fast-paced technological evolution can make it even harder to gain a sense of any kind of ethics at all but remember, they are the ones born now, in a world of their own, so they would have to devise their own ethics too.
Let them find own rights and wrongs – This is one of the things that cannot be decided by anybody else for them but themselves. Children turn into rebels and completely shut themselves down because they are constantly told what is wrong and what is right. They get misguided, misunderstood and misplaced in their own world of faith and family because we decide what is good and bad for them, eventually leading to a heavier invisible backpack with added ‘isolation’.
Let them learn informally – We raise our children in quest of higher education so they get even higher paychecks. So, most of the education revolves around formal settings but what about the informal education? What if a child wants to learn the art of effective communication, art of negotiation, good listening tricks, table manners, public speaking, social communication, self-help etc? There is no way the current education system provides any of these critical skills for living. Let them visit a concert or two, seminars which are fun, public gatherings, and social occasions, which make them learn about things that are not taught in schools.
Let them protest – We all need to stand up for our rights when we reach adulthood at some point in life, so why not start from childhood itself? Don’t nag if the child is protesting, they are doing so because they want to be able to exercise their right to take their own stand if no one else will. A shunned voice, an ignored raised hand and a shut door can give the child a serious malfunction. If they get the slightest hint that they do not and will not matter, today or ever they will forever be in denial. This makes their invisible backpack heavier and they cement another brick between you and them.

Homeschooling is one option though not many would opt for it. In the home-schooling approach not only does the child get to study in his/her own way at his / her own pace, but also gets to dunk in mud, go fishing, play cricket or go hiking. The idea of home-schooling is to not let the child pick the laden invisible backpack to keep storing the strong emotions they are forced to absorb in schools. However, not everyone can afford to have their children home-schooled due to various restrictions but every one of them do have the option to lighten the invisible backpack, if not completely take it away. If the regular education system can be reformed to include elements of homeschooling – like learning by doing, caring via sharing, emotional intelligence workshops, increased outdoor activity including play time and reduced formal education which relies on memory, the backpack can be lightened. Either way, we must help our children pack their own invisible backpacks right.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.