Does Santa Need Sanitizer

Through the park for my much cherished evening walk I sight a cherub little boy, maybe six or seven year old, busy in solitary play with a few blades of grass and some cups and saucers.
As I walk past him with measured treads, he is distracted from his symbolic play and shouts across to me, in a merrily concerned voice.
“Ma’am, do you think Santa Claus will need a sanitiser to clean his hands before coming into my home?”
The question threw me off track and I halted my purposeful strides.
“Why do you ask that?”
The little boy replied, “Well, because my Mom & Dad have put up this rule everyone has to follow it. Be it our Vimlesh didi or Amazon bhaiya or any aunty or uncle coming in.”
Hmmm, that’s a question that had not tickled my adult brain as yet. I turned around and answered him with an open ended question.
“Well, do you think he will need a mask as well?.” I must admit that the little boy had tugged my curiosity to a greater height than the pollution level in Delhi.
He replied, “Of course. It’s a combination, mask and sanitiser. But ma’am how will he travel? Papa says that there are very few planes and trains running?”
Our banter was turning serious now.
“Good question. We need an expert to answer this. Whom should we ask?”
“My teacher.”
“Why, your teacher? “
“Because mummy says so. Every question of mine that she cannot answer, she says, ask your teacher!”
My heart swelled with secret pride at the awesome respect in the little boy’s heart for his teacher. But before I could fly on wings of unadulterated praise, I gave a jolt to my fanciful flight.
“Why did you call me ma’am and not aunty?”
“Because I have heard all mommies discussing in the park that you are a teacher!”
Oh my my! So even in this pandemic the gossip mills were churning at full speed but what tugged my neurons was the little boy’s train of thoughts.
His imagination was running as fast as a deer.
His curiosity was so high that he was questioning the movement of a fabled character like the Santa.
His questions were infinite in count, Covid or no Covid.
His urge to get attention was as robust as a toddler learning to walk. His energy was totally focused on getting the answers to his zillion questions.
Amidst the Covid, the pandemic, the lockdown and the closure of schools, nothing had dimmed his neurons.
That really set me thinking. How were children at large coping up in the year of no school?
How were they expending their humungous energies? At what rate were their neurons connecting or were they not connecting at all?
Were all of them as curious and as hungry for answers, as the little boy in conversation with me.
The school doors have been locked since March 2020 and children have been deprived of a school routine ever since then.What all have the children lost out on? What does this loss encompass?
According to the World Bank, around 1.6 billion school children were affected by Covid-related school and childcare centre closures, which is close to 90 % of the world’s school age children.
Most of us look at the school as a place for text book learning, testing, grading, examination and a Report Card stamping authority.
But if you look beyond the school bags, syllabus and examination, you will see a lot more.
If you look at it from a child’s perspective, you will see even more!
And if you see it from a child’s lens during times of lockdown, social distancing and fear of Corona, you will sight an unprecedented view.
Have we thought of what the school playgrounds teach?

The team games, the leisurely walks, the swings and the eager queue outside the Sports Equipment room? The whistle of the PT teacher to line up to go back to class, to participating in Inter School Sports Events and the thrill of winning a trophy.
They teach you to feel a thrill, an excitement, team spirit and a survival of the fittest attitude, that becomes a part of the child’s DNA.
It’s not a text book that teaches you the above, It’s the experience.
Surely, children must be missing that?
History tells us that even at the Time of the Second World War, Britain closed its schools only in the urban areas where heavy bombing raids could be expected. Schools in rural Britain continued to function though they had to share their grounds with urban evacuees. Universities in Britain remained open throughout the War.
The School Assembly, the march past, the drill and standing ‘saavdhaan’ to the tune of our National Anthem.
The School fete, the Principal’s address, the early morning adrenalin rush because you know you are late to school and the gates may close!
They teach you that there are certain aspects of life that need an order, a sequence, an innate discipline.
I had often heard my school Headmaster quote, “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton”. (It meant that the games and sports played on the sportsfield of Eton college had made the men great soldiers)
Surely, children must be missing that?
Deciding to close schools for a longer period of time is a “delicate balancing act,” more so now than it was 100 years ago when, for example, it was much less common for mothers to work outside the home.
The corridors of the school is the place where camaraderie springs up between class sections and never met before faces.
A walk in the corridor is equal to hearing a news bulletin or the All India Radio broadcast. You get a whiff of what’s brewing by just a friendly peek here and there. It trains your senses and nurtures your gut feel.
Surely, children must be missing that?
What happens to children when schools close in developing countries?

Previous experiences have shown that the longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return (UNICEF, 2015a).

The school canteen and the jostle for that samosa is no less an ordeal than – a survival of the fittest.
Perhaps children get their first lesson in spending pocket money at this edible joint and get a fair taste of inflation, pricing, demand & supply. (The samosa now costs one rupee more!)
Surely, children must be missing that?
What happens to children when schools close in developing countries? During past epidemics, school closings often led to lower graduation rates. This was mostly because teenagers started jobs and did not return to school even after they were open.
That slanting look into the staffroom as you walk towards the water cooler for a drink, is actually ventured to find out which teacher is on leave?
And the thrill of being the first one in class to announce that a free period is coming up, is nothing short of a Captain Marvel moment.
The planning that goes into wrangling a free period from your Maths teacher, I think that’s when negotiation skills are learnt.

The ringing of the school bell and the grudging respect that the child learns to give to this steely authority, teaches them that the day needs to be planned and perhaps compartmentalised.

Surely, children must be missing that?

The feel of sitting on a desk with a classmate and discussing your day, isn’t that what peer learning and sharing is all about?
The Project work, the Flipped classrooms, the Robotics class, the validation look and assurance from the teacher – are so much a part of school routine.
Surely, children must be missing that?
Global data shows that prolonged school closures could lead to increased loneliness, anxiety and depression. With loss of supportive routines and structures, healthy behaviours could decline dramatically.
Undoubtedly, the Covid 19 has been a tremendous loss year
Children need to be safe and back to school. Both.
No compromises on either front.
As parents, Teachers, Educators and Caregivers , let us push our collective energies to ensure that our children get back to safe schooling.
Meanwhile, I still don’t have an answer to the little boy’s questions.
Will the Santa need a sanitiser and a mask in the year of 2020?
Happy parenting!

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