Men in Early Childhood Education: My Interview With Anoop Erakkil From India by Mike Prochaska
Anoop Erakkil was a stay-at-home dad for 18 months after his daughter was born, which made him realize the importance of Early Childhood Education (ECE). He works for Qrius Learning Initiatives, which was founded with the fundamental belief that, “for children, learning is as natural as breathing” (credit to John Holt for the quote!). His home base is in Cochin, Kerala. Read on to learn more about Anoop…
Q. How did you get into this field?
“At the outset, [I] am not a formally qualified ECE professional. My fascination for ECE came in with the arrival of my daughter in 2016. Prior to this, I had already switched tracks from an IT job to teaching through the Teach For India fellowship when it launched in 2009. The two-year fellowship provided me the opportunity to teach grade 3 and 4 classrooms and later to work with teachers and students directly.
“However, my stay-at-home dad stint for 18 months [had] me unlearning a lot about how children learn and understanding the true ‘nature of the child.’ Even as the unlearning continues, I take back this new learning into the work I do with content and curriculum in my current job which targets kindergarten and primary classrooms.
Q. What’s it like teaching in India?
“India is quite a diverse country … it’s going to be different experience living in different parts of the country. I’ve had the opportunity to live and work with teachers across four states and in both urban and rural set-up here in India. While teaching as a profession may not the most sought after and reports may point out to poor teacher quality, I can say from firsthand experience that the teacher is revered and looked upon with hope, especially among socio-economically weaker sections. Most teachers themselves find motivation in the same and put in their best efforts every day, in spite of the systemic constraints and lack of resources.”
Q. What are the advantages of being a man in Early Childhood Education?
“There are not many men around as teachers in primary schools, especially kindergarten. Given the context I worked in, here are few things that come to mind: As far as the teaching-learning within classroom is concerned, I don’t think there is any special advantage being a male teacher. What it does help with is in breaking gender stereotypes and serving as role models, especially for children at that young age who have been conditioned to such stereotypes.
“Sadly though, parents and other teachers (women) do think that the advantage a male teacher brings in is the much needed 'strictness' to discipline kids better. It's again a stereotype and conditioning of the power equation fathers play in the family.”
Q. Why is play important for children?
“The only medium I have seen my toddler learn is through play. Almost always self-directed and always fun. Be it language, number sense, scientific inquiry – everything we try so hard to ‘make them learn’ once they enter formal schooling has been so naturally picked up through play in the 0-3 years of life. Doesn't that make play important? I think as educators we often miss the point of extending this play to nurture them, in the pretext of making them learn a set of pre-decided learning goals once children enter formal schooling.”
Q. What is your favorite memory working with kids?
“My favorite memories have not been while in the classroom, but always how they made me feel outside it, especially how the ones who drove me mad inside the classroom were the ones who were the most considerate and mature of beings outside the classroom. And these were 8-year-olds teaching me life lessons!”
Q. What’s your favorite activities to do with your kids?
“There is ‘guess what’s in the box’ and ‘guess what happened next.’ As the name suggests, both leads to multiple responses from the kids. Such fun it is to see them all engaged with each one of them coming up with their own version, and quite often surprising you with responses you never imagined!”
Q. Anything inspiring to tell anyone thinking of going into this field?
“You’ll learn more than you teach, if you’re willing to!”
Q. Anything else you would like to share about working with kids?
“Observe a child outside of a classroom/school setting and then inside it. Do you see the difference? If you observe deeply enough you’ll notice how different children are in a natural setting, outside the classroom. For example, how long they are able to pay attention to tasks outside while inside of the classroom it’s a struggle to gain their attention. Look out for more such characteristics that are different inside and outside the classroom. Maybe you’ll come up with something that’ll help you connect with them better and in turn help you evolve as a better educator!”