Why Ukraine doesn’t figure in our classroom

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War is cruelty. War is trauma. War is unnecessary. Yet, it is 2022 and war is still the foremost thing on our minds and on our screens. A quick Google search on the Russia-Ukraine war reveals eight or nine articles on its “latest” updates. However, there is only one article on the war crimes in Ukraine. Therein lies the problem.

We cannot do away with the fact that innocent and civilian lives, upon whom war was imposed, are being lost. Between Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, there are children living and learning in Ukraine, children who are registering the kind of things which, in an ideal world, they should not have had to.

But does that really bother us? Had most people even heard of Ukraine before this armed conflict? Have we become so inured to violence that it doesn’t faze us as long as it isn’t happening in our own backyard? Does it bother us even then?

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With reports of instances of violence, assault, rape, death, summary execution and looting of civilian property coming in from Ukraine, is the wider society and the educational system, both in India as well as Ukraine, equipped to handle the conversations, the trauma, and the process of healing? Should it be the responsibility of teachers and educators to talk about the effects and consequences of war?

Between the two of us, we have been educators for the past many years, teaching History, Political Science and Mathematics in schools in Delhi, and have always been surprised and saddened by the lack of compassion and empathy that is endemic to the way we teach.

Not only do we not understand our teenagers, we also do not understand what exactly we need to be teaching them. Whenever I teach Nazism and the Holocaust, for example, I always need to take extra efforts to bring home the unspeakable horror and dehumanising aspect of war and Fascism.

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The prescribed textbooks are insufficient and lack any discussion on humanitarian aspects. Once my class is over, the students immediately go back to their games, gabfests and general apathy.

My angst is thus the result of realising the flaws in the way I was taught, as well as in the way I am forced to teach. It might also make sense if parents and others close to the students broach these subjects to the students and engage in meaningful discussions with them.

By not doing that, we are deliberately ill-equipping students as the decision makers of tomorrow. In the unforeseen future, they may not be able to understand their own pain, much less empathise with the pain of others.

Today’s children of Ukraine will one day become officers, leaders, educators, sportspeople, international journalists, environmentalists, but we do not really know the ways in which this trauma is going to affect them, the situation becoming even more complicated if they have lost a parent in the war.

And the news is woefully inadequate to deal with the issue at hand. All it does is report the war to offer political insights.

During this war, there is absolutely no remedy that is provided to the sufferers, no discussion on its visceral impact on human rights, and no ethical responsibility that is shouldered by the political war mongers.

But we are not political analysts. We are artists and educators. As educators, we feel and know that the education system is engendering apathy by omitting empathy from the curriculum. They are not imparting the sensitivity and wisdom to students – a requirement to recover from such senseless tragedy.

In India, ‘democracy’ and ‘fascism’ are part of the national curriculum but students are tested only on the facts and meanings of the terms. The toll that the so-called democracy and fascism are taking on human beings around the world are not discussed.

If the conventional education system is failing, I believe that artists – visual and performing – need to shoulder the responsibility and shake the complacency of the general populace.

However, the artists are also a neglected community. More often than not, they lack even the essential resources to bring about the necessary social change to which they have selflessly devoted their lives.

Hence, artists need to join hands with philanthropists and take up bold initiatives that will get the immediate attention of decision makers. Art will not only provide a very important distraction from the immediate, it will also give recognition to the faceless masses who are tortured by the inhumanity of life.

Verma teaches history and Ahmed teaches mathematics at Shiv Nadar School, Noida

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