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Why Cartoons Can Effectively Bridge the World Together

Growing up as a young kid we often got nagged by our parents, teachers, and elders in the family to limit the number of cartoons we watch. We’d often hear things like "it’s a waste of time" or "go on learn something instead" or the famous tool of comparison used by parents and teachers, - "look at your friend Rob, he is learning so many things and look at you, wasting your time". "Be like Rob!" I am sure every single one of you has gone through this phase in your childhood. Not a very good experience being compared all the time. If you’re one of the few lucky kids who didn’t have to go through this phase, consider yourself lucky!

Why is this important? It is very important because as kids with young developing fragile minds, we often start building images or beliefs of the things we have been told by our elders. Of course, this is not to say that everything our elders tell us is wrong, most of their teachings are for our own betterment. However, that does not mean they are always right. Elders are simply teaching us things that were taught to them and so the cycle continues since it isn’t questioned. Sometimes it can be a vicious cycle.

I specifically chose cartoons because cartoons are the most underappreciated and underestimated tools of education in my view. In fact, most times cartoons are seen as an object of leisure, and or distraction. Parents normally assume cartoons are necessary to help make their kids happy through movies, television-based cartoons, toys, etc. Famous examples would include McDonald's happy meal strategies, Disney cartoons and Disneyland, and other famous cartoons that I cannot think of as I write. In short, for many parents, cartoons are also an expense.

As I grew older, I came to understand that educational institutions do what parents want. After all, education is a big business, isn’t it? Parents would hate to see cartoons used in education. In fact, some educators are often left with this paradox where they’d like to implement something new, but parents would and can express dissatisfaction about a teaching methodology they aren’t comfortable with. And guess what, education is a business. If a school does abide, another around the corner will cater to parent's needs immediately. And thus, vicious cycles continue.

Credits: Awantha Artigala, Colombo

Why should cartoons be part of education?

Ever wondered why kids fall in love with cartoon characters? Why do they pay so much attention to it? Why they can remember cartoon characters long after they’ve seen it already? Ever wonder why they have absolutely no problem revisiting cartoon shows again and again? Simple. Because cartoons are creative, fun, unique, and give children characters to relate to and emulate. Most education curricula and teaching delivery on the other hand are done theoretically in a boring, rigorous, have-to-do mentality. Sheer loads of homework, extra tuition classes, the pressure of ranking high in class, the pressure of high marks linked with further education, and the pressure of constant exams as if they were the most important thing in a kid’s life. Well, in all matters possible, the system has been designed in such a way that it still is whether kids like it or not.

As Sir Ken Robinson once said, the facilitation of education is done in such a dull manner, the next time you find your kid fidgeting with pencil, paper, or trying to do something else other than studying, don’t blame him/her.

Education should be building blocks of how children are brought up and should enable children to think for themselves, make decisions, understand their purpose in life, and contribute to society in the best way that they can. Using cartoons to facilitate and support education curricula helps in the following ways:

  • Attention: Kids like to enjoy every moment, whether it's learning something or playing games. Why not do both at once? The same applies to senior and higher education students as well. Attaining students’ attention is the key to helping them fall in love with learning. Once a certain methodology of learning is accepted, students can be willing to learn a vast array of subjects, topics not necessarily restricted only to their academic curricula. That is real education.

  • Better understanding: This is because students develop attachments with cartoon characters. If educators are able to leverage the character's association with learning in the right manner students will be able to develop a better understanding of subjects because they are keen to emulate their favorite characters.

  • Moral education: The use of cartoons can not only be helpful for specific subjects but help facilitates and convey our century’s most important topics. If young kids are educated on climate change, equality, gender equality, cultural differences, and other important topics of our times, then we will be essentially raising an informed generation. Looking at the growing misunderstandings in different countries and societies today, we know now, the importance of having a well-informed generation.

So why are cartoons rarely used in educational curricula?

Quite frankly, it’s a lot of work! Imagine having to make new content with make sizeable changes. Educators aren’t getting paid well enough to put in those kinds of efforts, are they? No, in most cases they aren’t. Is it their fault? Well, yes and no. It’s a matter of unanimity. People higher in the hierarchy may agree and some may not, then again that’s nothing new right? Isn’t it a common phenomenon to have elders or someone with higher authority making all the decisions for kids without asking them what they want? It happens in every space of life, from politics to workplace leaders to educational institutions right down to family homes. It is true, that using cartoons in educational curricula will be a lot of work. But isn’t that worth the effort? So many questions. The answers are there. The action is not.

My personal experience is that educators lack the willingness and ability to develop creative methodologies of teaching. I may be wrong and happy to be challenged on this but this is merely my observation as someone who endured unproductive education from primary, middle, and high school. University was a better experience because of some great teachers, friends, and the campus environment. Having said that I still noticed a recurring pattern, each year the content passed down to students is the same, untouched, unchanged in the last 5-8 years. I felt hurt, betrayed, and clueless. Still, of course, this carries on, and as an aspiring educator, I vow to make earnest efforts to change this practice.

What should we do? What should be our why?

Educators around the world might find this article piercing through their pride. But let’s face it, the education we have today does not teach our kids how to think for themselves, how to understand global problems, how to be a global multi-cultural citizen, how to tackle important problems, instead, it teaches kids how to grow up, graduate and finds high paying jobs. So, we need to do something about it. After all, it’s their future at stake. While kids make up just 20% of our population today, they are 100%, the future. We need kids who build bridges across the world. Here are a few things educators should consider:

  • Cartoon-based educational materials to help students understand complex concepts academically as well as social causes and other current affairs.

  • Gamified teaching in curricula so that students can have a sense of healthy competitiveness whilst learning.

  • Creative entrepreneurial education early on. It helps kids understand the things they are passionate about.

For a moment, it felt that ed-tech start-ups had solved this problem, and education as we know it was going to be entirely disrupted and changed forever. Well, what have we learned? Businesses will be businesses. Ed-Tech start-ups made huge promises to deliver a creative experience of education only to price their products and services and make them unaffordable, aggressively pursuit growth instead of value, raising astronomical amounts of funding to increase market share and boasting all the new artificial intelligence technologies being used in their company. Instead, they created a huge inequity in education, lost focus on value-creation and focused on profitability, and completely went against the noble purpose of education. Only China had the political will to stop ed-tech start-ups right in their tracks. The remaining countries are just waiting for their fair share of the pie. Sad.

Why should we embrace creative ways to facilitate education? Because education is meant to take us into the future. The type of seeds we sow today is exactly the type of fruits we bear tomorrow. Simply put, imagine a world where the youth love education the way they love cartoons. Imagine how much can be achieved. We could effectively teach our youth about respecting different cultures, religions, we can teach our youth about being good human beings, and we can teach them how to address the problems of the world through their education. We can teach them to fall in love with learning, and be changemakers, bridge builders who understand each other, work together for collective prosperity. Were you able to imagine that? I sure was. Now let’s hold on to that image and start working on it. Whether you are a student, educator, parent, entrepreneur, business person, homemaker, we all have a role to play. As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

Author: Adit Rastogi


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