Every child is special

M Nadeem Nadir June 24, 2024
The writer is an educationist based in Kasur. He can be reached at m.nadeemnadir777@gmail.com


An inspiring Urdu columnist of our country, Javed Chodhery in his column, Hazaar Kitabein Parho Aur Hazaar Meel ka Safar Kro, writes: “A single quality film can teach us something that perhaps even a hundred books together cannot.” Films entertain and educate the viewers through cerebral appeal and visceral poignancy in less time and with more comfort.

In the realm of cinema, few films manage to transcend their immediate narrative to become powerful commentaries on larger social issues. Aamir Khan’s Taare Zameen Par (2007) is one such film that delves deep into the ossified educational system, casting a critical eye on the archetypes of good and bad teachers. The film is considered the pioneering first in that it makes our teachers aware of the students’ learning difficulties.

The film presents an eight-year-old student Ishaan Awasthi suffering from a learning disability dyslexia vis-a-vis the unfeeling people around him, particularly his parents and teachers except the one, the empathetic art teacher Ram Shankar Nikumbh, played by Amir Khan. Though the student possesses a vibrant imagination, he struggles academically, particularly with reading and writing, leading to constant reprimands from his teachers and parents. As is the custom here, we quickly jump on labelling such students as no-hopers.

Our education system and society have quantified the standard of academic success — high grades and top positions are the insignia of academic success. Nikumbh exclaims in one scene: “There is a merciless and competitive world out there; and in this crazy world, everybody wants to grow toppers and rankers; each finger has to be pulled until it gets long; pull away until it finally breaks.”

Parents see the actualisation of their own dreams through their children, obliterating the latter’s individuality and freedom. Nikumbh says: “Forcing our ambitions onto the delicate shoulders of children is worse than child labour.” It’s the duty of teachers and parents to identify and hone the individual talent. “Every child is an artist in themselves; what is needed is just to recognise their talent,” Nikumbh says. Schools are to nurture rather than stifle individuality.

A teacher at a school of mentally retarded students, after hearing the maltreatment of normal students, wonders about the fate of her students: “And here we have dreams of settling these little ones in the mainstream.”

Our classrooms and homes are supersaturated with condemnation for such students who are not allowed to go after their heart’s desire. “You will find your purpose where you find your happiness,” says the background song in the last shot. As self-help author Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” That is the Pygmalion Effect — our high expectations lead to improved performance and low expectations, low performance.

Aamir Khan aptly contextualises to the dyslexic student’s choleric father a story of the Solomon Islands. The story says that if the tribal people have to bring down a tree, they simply gather around the tree and curse it for several hours. The tree dries up and falls itself after a few weeks.

In the denouement of the movie, a painting competition is held where the dyslexic student’s painting wins the first position, surprising those teachers who have been hostile to the student. The teachers also participate in the contest, but they fail in the subject of painting. The question runs in the ironic undertones whether the teachers must also be labelled as failures.

Through Nikumbh’s character, the film advocates for an education system that is inclusive, compassionate and adaptive to the needs of all students. One-size-fits-all pedagogy denies the individuality of each student.

A film critic says: “The film touches a chord somewhere in everyone’s heart. We all have been, after all, at least for some beautiful part of our lives, special. The film is dedicated to that special child in all of us.”


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