July 14, 2008

Teach India: ‘Don’t Weed Out Kids, Work Them In’

By Malini Sen

The much-acclaimed film Taare Zameen Par explored with deep sensitivity how a dyslexic child can shine in school if he receives the proper support, and how the same child can lose his way if there is no understanding of his special need. The film's writer and creative-director, Amole Gupte, tells Malini Sen that every child is truly special.

How would you define inclusive education?

An Inclusive education, to me, is one that does not practice selective exclusion- weeding out children on the basis of unreasonable milestones. This key principle drives me in my daily life. I work with various children's organisations and schools, and I am shocked by the way the education system systematically and selectively denies children with special needs access to the classroom. What people forget is that the speed of the herd is not determined by the fastest but the slowest in the pack.

What do you feel is the biggest barrier to inclusion?

The existing system is the biggest barrier. Urban India's priorities have changed-there is more space to park cars than for children to play. You feed the child popcorn and coke and then say s/ he is hyperactive. A child has no lawyer or voting rights and we, as adults, are deciding what is right or wrong with him/her. Even our vision of education has narrowed down to brand names and high scores. What happened to the concept of the good old neighbourhood school?

What was the inspiration behind Taare Zameen Par?

Deepa Bhatia, my better half, and I have always shared a strong connection with children. I was a mentor to the neighbourhood kids and then a nanny to my friends' children. We wanted to make a film on childhood from the child's point of view, with a focus on our education system, which forces every child to conform. Also, we wanted the film to reflect adult views on children. Everyone in the film, from the parents to teachers, had a take on the little boy. The art teacher, Nikumbh Sir, who recognises the talent of the boy, is named after my art teacher in school. The film also celebrates my teachers in school who left a positive impression on me. I wanted to show how a good teacher can transform a child's life.

Were you surprised by the huge response that the film received from so many sections?

The film was designed to trigger the emotional response that it did. I have been a student and lover of cinema since 1981 and had worked on this project from 1999. The universal theme of the film connected with each and every member in the audience. The film was not only about dyslexia. I used it as a bridge to reflect on other issues such as the problems in our education system and how we fail to understand a child's mind. I remember getting a call from a rickshaw-driver in Uttar Pradesh saying "Sir, after seeing the film, I realised I have misjudged my child."

If you could change one thing about the education system, what would it be?

A total overhaul of the curriculum. I would like to see a more holistic curriculum, where the focus is on knowledge not scores. Besides, I would like to replace rote learning with subjective knowledge that would benefit a child much more.


(c) 2008 The Times of India. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.