My friend Murali Krishna loaned us his old typewriter. Advay loves to play with it, to type stories using it and in general explore different kinds of writing. One afternoon he decided to fill out a form using the typewriter. His answers are quite accurate.
Whats interesting is that he read long sentences on the form, understood it and answered it from his point of view.
As a child, whenever I got myself to stick around for long in the vicinity of this phenomenon called “question”, it was always followed by something called “answer”. Q&A – Questions and Answers. They never existed in isolation. It was scary to just be with a question. If there was a question that I no answer for, I feared being perceived as stupid. My school loved to have “General Knowledge” quizzes. I almost always had no answer to questions like –
What is the capital of Namibia? Who won the last Olympics 100 meters? Who is the current Mr. India? How many rivers are there in India? Who is the deputy chief minister of Gujarat?
Not knowing answers to these questions was still Ok. At best I would lose the quiz and be teased by my classmates who knew the answers to these questions and were celebrated as smart and intelligent kids.
But I better know answers to questions that show up at the end of each chapter in my textbook, whether or not I know the reason for knowing those answers. If I don’t know those answers, I must be willing to be labeled as “poor student”.
As an adult, I began to see how much of my life and career were about being with un-answered questions.
One key skill that every self-directed learner must nurture is the ability to read books of interest. I am not saying that reading is a skill that is more important than other skills like making friends, playing, etc. I am saying that reading is a critical skill that one must pick up as a self-directed learner.
Nandini has ensured that Advay (our 8-year-old) always has enough books around him that he can pick up from and begin to read. Since we don’t follow a specific syllabus, he is free to pick any book fromstorybooks, to science books, to national geography books, to cooking recipe book, to mythological books to anything.
Last year Nandini and Advay had been to the Books By Weight Fair at Safina Plaza. The whole process of going there, looking at the sheer volume of books available, the huge crowd that comes to the event, the kind of intent and interest people show towards books, the process of picking up books for ourselves, bringing them home and reading them – everything was great fun.
The word “multiplication tables” brings back memories of only one thing from my childhood – “mugging”. As a child I simply had to learn multiplication tables. I couldn’t ask for a reason why. My parents would explain to me the benefits of learning tables by-heart. They would even give me sufficient time to learn it. Figure out ways to learn it. But when the exam time came, I better have learned it by-heart already. There was no way around it. My school, the neighbourhood with other kids everybody basically reinforced the need-to-learn-multiplication-tables-by-heart ™. So I would spend days and months learning it by-heart.
One onezaar one
One twozaar two
Eight onezaar eight
Eight twozaar sixteen
Eight threezaar twenty-four
“I was mostly in college when I realised that it is not “eight eightzaar sixty-four”. It actually is “eight eights are sixty four.” I never bothered to question “zaar” as a child. Because questioning anything was a big big big big risk. What if my questions pissed off my teachers?”
As a kid, I did not like it at all. Now as an adult I know that multiplication tables are useful. Although I hardly use tables beyond 10 for mental math. Calculators are always around so performing multiplication is not an issue.
My son turned 8 this year. If he was in a regular school, he would be in 3rd standard. Many of his friends in the neighbourhood are ramping up on math-tables. So Advay would come home asking about it and slightly wanting to learn it.