We face many dilemmas in life. Whether to treat a child as a child or to consider the child as a future adult is among the most contentious issues that confront many of us. This echoes a basic dilemma about the goals of education. Liberalists hold the first view, while believers in social efficiency support the second. Liberalists believe that a child learns and behaves in a manner appropriate to his/her age, and that this learning and behaviour should not be conceived of from the point of view of adults, but of the child. On the other hand, those who support notions of social efficiency are of the view that all education must make a child live up to the expectations and needs of society. They believe that to make a child into a desirable individual he/she needs moulding and correction at every stage of life. These two divergent perspectives represent two extreme views on the purposes of education—one lays emphasis on the child’s autonomy, the other on the needs of society.

It is not uncommon for a very large segment of our population to support the second view. This is more so in a world that is encountering rapid changes, technological advancement and competition in every sphere of life. It may be difficult to question this trend, which is seen to have its positive outcomes. Children exhorted to succeed sometimes manage to do so. However, this should not deter us from questioning the price we have to pay when we try to shape their paths in predetermined ways. We ought to question whether we have allowed sufficient space for the thought process of the child to develop. Endless activities like classwork, homework, project work and assignments leave little time for thinking about life itself. A modern-day child hardly gets an opportunity to make a journey into the worlds of wilderness and fantasy, and to experience freedom and passion.

The kite, an inanimate and inexpensive object, represents as good an illustration as any of a child’s life, and we may draw upon this analogy to respond to the dilemma. The image of the flying kite relates directly to the idea of freedom in childhood. In fact, many a child feels so curious and jubilant at the thought of flying a kite. The colours in which kites are made, the heights they can reach, and the wild journeys they take in the sky make them a valuable treasure, which children like to lay their hands on. Kites are an easily accessible symbol of their own imagination.

While a kite can enjoy flight, it needs indispensable support to do so. It needs a frame and a shape and it needs strings to accomplish this ride. The absence of any of these can hinder its dream of flying high. In my view, parents and teachers largely provide the frame and the shape in children’s lives, and in nurturing them, they operate much like the kite strings. Their role is thus crucial for the kite’s journey towards unscaled heights. They need to provide support, give it a lift and make it fly. While this cannot happen without them, they are not there to chart out, or hinder, its further journey. They must eventually hand over the kite to the winds. The winds, which take the kite with them, reveal themselves when they lift the kite upwards and onwards, at times dipping downwards too. Kites are meant to be up in the sky, enjoying the oscillations, and not getting entangled in trees or transmission lines. Nor are they meant to slice each other or get stuck on rooftops. The joy of life is in flying—and flying endlessly.

A kite and its flight have a lot to teach us. While it is our bounden duty to provide the required support to children, parents and teachers are not there to restrict their ability to grow as free individuals. The role of shaping them, as in the shaping of kites, is to make them ready for their present and future flight, not to curb their journey. The strings that are attached represent only that degree of control which will enable them not to falter or get stuck in unwanted obstacles. As long as the child is doing well in flight, parents and teachers need not pull at the strings unduly. The winds of destiny, which are not in our control, ought to make us realize that we are supposed to do only what we have to do, and leave the rest to the child’s destiny—rather than reprimanding the child for not moving in this or that direction, or not achieving this or that. It is in the interaction of the kite and the winds that there is beauty and immense joy, and we may see this in our children’s lives as well.

The above analogy gives scope for reconsidering our role as parents and teachers, and especially at the present juncture, when there is tremendous pressure on children to perform. Yes, we want our children to progress. But often we expect them to progress faster than they can and do more than they are capable of. The amount of work to be done by children within fixed time limits, with time-bound tests and examinations as the norm, can render the whole effort meaningless. Do parents and teachers have the time to ponder over the reasonableness of burdening children with something they themselves, if they were honest, would never be willing to do? Children end up working under pressure from parents, teachers and peers. It is as if a kite’s flight— which is its essential nature—is restricted by the very string that lifts it off the ground to fly.

If this state of affairs continues, a child will no more be a child; he or she will be burdened by the future role of an adult. The joy of the present will be forsaken completely for an imagined future. We must realize that children too have a life of their own, and should be given scope for enjoyment at every stage, in keeping with their physical, mental and emotional capabilities and requirements. Otherwise, it is like trying to shape a kite so heavy and unwieldy, with a frame so thick, that it cannot even take off

What is required is a fine balancing act that facilitates, without restricting. There is a very thin line between the two, but our judgement matters here. Strings are there to lift the kite and not the other way around. Letting go of the strings is like abandoning the kite to the vagaries of shifting currents, while pulling the strings very hard can derail the very purpose of the kite. It is the flight of the kite that gives joy, not the string. The kite is at its best when traversing its own space in the sky. Let us enable our children too to take flight and find joy in life.