The ancient Indian Gurukul system of education had a holistic approach that focused on shaping the personalities of students into individuals who could excel in all aspects of life. With the advent of the British Raj, the ancient Indian Gurukal system of education gave way to the modern system of schooling in India. While the British system of education prepared Indians for government jobs, it did not have the holistic approach of the ancient Gurukul system where a student's education was based not only on books or scriptures but also on personality development.
Reforms took place post-independence leading up to today wherein physical training, sports, music and other fine arts have become an added optional course. However, these extracurricular activities often vary from school to school depending on the resources that a school can muster and the person who leads it.
COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to further reform the education system. According to GOQii India Fit Report 2020, 20.8% of Indians have low immunity levels. The report also tells us that only 38% of Indians are healthy and that more women than men are unhealthy. There is a need for immunity boosting methods to be taught from an early age. Such methods need to be included in the curriculum at school so that students grow up with requisite knowledge and skills about immunity and nutrition.
An initiative needed is a study on proper nutrition based on regional availability and local, traditional food habits. Balanced diets must be designed and taught to children at an early age. The Indian diet is largely unhealthy and highly carbohydrate based. I have seen agricultural labour leave for their fields by eating white rice with a bit of pickle or a mere green chilli. Hardly a balanced diet! One does not find an attempt at balancing all forms of nutrition into the diet. This is where I expect the school-level education to step in. Children can be taught what a healthy breakfast/meal should be. They can be taught how to make it. Use of Millets like Ragi, Maize, etc can be propagated while that of other ingredients like sugar, sweets, etc. can be curtailed. If taught at an early age, kids will pressure their parents to change. Turmeric, honey, black pepper, millets have been a part of the diets of our ancestors. Today, fast foods totally overlook them. It took the deadly Coronavirus with a huge death toll to make us reexamine the value of teaching our population about immunity-boosting diets and nutrition.
Why does a healthy person overcome Coronavirus and a sick person succumb to it? Yes, it is the immune system, much abused in the name of modernity, which is the answer. I would advocate cookery classes for kids. The use of some ingredients and foods should be inculcated and what better method than "learning by doing"? Discussions on immunity-boosting food and nutrients can be inducted into the curriculum. We are up against corporate advertisements blaring out the delicious taste of chocolate and candies of various hues. We need to counter this vociferously and catch kids when they are young and can still imbibe knowledge.
A fit body and a fit mind help lead a productive and positive life. This also helps a country benefit with greater productivity from its healthy population. There is a gradual movement of Indians towards fitness consciousness but we still have a long way to go. According to recent data, 135 million Indians are suffering from obesity. This number is higher than that of China and the US. India also has the second-highest number of obese children in the world at 14.4 million. Three out of four urban Indians are overweight. According to a recent Lancet report, 34% of India's population is 'insufficiently active'. Another study suggests that the prevalence of overweight people will increase by more than double among Indian adults aged 20-69 years by 2040 while the prevalence of obesity will increase three times. Obesity causes various other conditions like hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, heart problems, joint disease, respiratory issues and even certain forms of cancer. India is often called 'the diabetes capital of the world'. Currently, there are 80 million diabetic patients in India. While obesity can be genetic or hormonal in some people, it is also caused by a lack of fitness activities among a very large number of people, especially in urban or semi-urban areas. Similarly, other conditions like cholesterol, thyroid problems are caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
To increase the productivity of our human resources, we must focus on fitness as a mandatory subject in schools. Many people, despite being well aware of the benefits or the necessity of fitness activities, feel too lazy to follow a fitness regimen. Making fitness training mandatory in schools can definitely help in this regard. The government of India has taken various steps to promote fitness with campaigns like the Fit India Movement. Making physical fitness a mandatory part of school education can be another step in this direction.
Obesity is a combination of 70 percent diet and 30 percent lack of physical movement. Grab them young and teach them. Schools without playground and sedentary teaching techniques should be reconsidered. I have often wondered whether children really understand the type of diseases which lie in wait for them if exercise is not part of their lifestyles. Maybe visits to hospitals will teach them what lies ahead if they are not careful. There is no need for expensive gym equipment. Let us teach our children that exercising is a must. Make them do it. Stretches, weights, walking, yoga, gardening are some ways of maintaining health. Immunity boosting Pranayamas (Yogic breathing exercises) can also be made a part of daily activities in schools.
Another issue that is of pressing concern today is the safety of children. Children have always been vulnerable to violence and crime. Today, this vulnerability has increased manifold. Cases of child trafficking, molestation are increasing at a very alarming rate. Instead of focusing on the fear of harm, or teaching them to be afraid of their surroundings, children should be equipped to deal with danger when the need arises. Making it mandatory to teach self-defence techniques in schools will definitely give them the courage to deal with danger, protect them from predators and will also boost their confidence. Self-defence classes can focus more on girls. While this will make our children bolder and braver, it is equally important to inculcate morals into our children. Boys should be taught to respect girls and should be taught that women should be treated as equals. Censor boards should probably do a better job in disallowing movies where women are shown as the weak and easily exploited.
Finally, any school's curriculum should focus on developing a well-rounded personality alongside being flexible in this fast-changing world.
(Vijayasai Reddy is Parliamentary Party Leader and National General Secretary of YSRCP.)
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