When I was growing up in a government colony, we had a grassy ‘ground’ between the rows of two-storey flats. This meant that in the fifty or so homes surrounding the ground there were enough children to play all sorts of games. The grassy ground was large enough to allow us to play football and cricket. We made our own badminton court in the ground, installed lights and played badminton at night. We also played marbles, gilli danda and many games that involved running and hitting each other with rubber balls. As I remember it today, I played outside every single day after I got back home from school. There was very little money available and so we played with bare minimum equipment which everyone contributed towards.

I see the big expensive playing kits that children carry today and the special shoes and clothes. As if it is not possible to play cricket if twenty people were sharing one bat and one ball and there was no ‘coach’ giving advice. In the huge sports stores that have mushroomed in all cities, every sport has its own special section – badminton shoes are different from tennis shoes. And everything is expensive! In the poorer neighbourhoods children are still playing like we used to play but the intermediaries (product companies and service providers) have wormed their way in and made all of us, rich and poor alike, believe that we need their services.

If we look for intermediaries in the city schools, we don’t have to look beyond the yellow school buses that clog roads and provide the inessential service of picking up and dropping children right outside their homes. The school dresses, the school bags and books, the special water bottles and tiffin boxes, all carry the stamp of the intermediaries. Intermediation looks like something that happens inside all systems as they grow and the money supply inside increases. It seems obvious that at some point intermediation will reduce the efficiency of a system and we have to think whether this has already started happening inside our school system.

Let me conclude this post with an excerpt that remembers an older less-intermediated world…

As children, we grew up learning how to make many types of paper planes (ordinary/ fast/ rocket etc.), boats (ordinary/ with a sail/ catamaran etc.), whistles from leaves or paper, string telephones with empty cans, rubber band powered rolling toys, a jumping mouse from a handkerchief, a boat cut out of a plastic tongue cleaner with a blob of soap at the notch behind etc. I can go on adding to this list. Nobody formally taught us any of this but every child knew many such tricks. This was probably because there was a lot of unstructured free time to play, explore, talk to other children and adults, read, get bored, etc. This has now become replaced by the idea that learning is all academic and structured and there is no space for children or adults to discover such things.
– From ‘Learning to learn – Ideas on Implementation

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