Friday, May 30, 2008

Another Brick in the Wall

The results for the board examinations for class X and XII have been announced recently. Naidunia, a local Hindi daily carries a special editorial in the wake of these result announcements. The special editorial is printed on the first page, which indicates the amount of importance that the editor ascribes to this editorial.

The Editorial
The editorial is an advisory for people, especially parents. It states that while the efforts of the so called toppers are to be lauded, the kids who could not make it should not be disheartened. It goes on to give the example of Thomas Alva Edison, who despite being not good at studies made great inventions.

It then goes on to lay all the blame on parents. The article states that it is parents who put enormous pressure on children to perform. When the child cannot perform it leads to huge amounts of disappointment. Often this disappointment causes the child to take unfortunate steps. (The article is alluding to suicides, I believe.) The article advises parents to be soft on their kids and motivate them instead of discouraging them.

In closing the article hopes that the kids who could not perform too well will not be disheartened and will take this as an opportunity to learn. It hopes that these people will ‘work harder’ at the next exam and do better than they did this time.

The Contrast
The very same edition of the newspaper has nearly half its pages full of exam results of all kinds. The city supplement for this day is dedicated solely towards edifying the ‘toppers’. It bears ludicrously orchestrated photographs of ‘toppers’ rejoicing after their results. One photograph that really made me laugh was children looking very happy and playing musical instruments in joy. (It made me really wonder how many of these kids really knew how to play music, how many of them really wanted to play music, how many of them considered playing music to be a respectable occupation and how may of their parents would actually allow them to become musicians of any sort.) There are other photographs of children jumping into the air for joy. I was a topper myself in my time. I never played music when the result came out. Nor dance or jump into the air. The celebration at my home barely lasted a couple of hours and after that all of us went about our work like everyday.

What the media is doing with education is similar to what it has done with every other walk of life. Men and women are unhappy with their bodies because they do not conform to the artificial image that media has created of the human body. Now children are unhappy because they do not conform to the artificial image that media is creating of a ‘topper’ – a successful school going kid.
Are Only Parents to Blame?

The editor of the newspaper seems to believe that it is only parents who put pressure on their children to perform. Has he ever opened his newspaper and read the kind of shit that his city supplement publishes everyday? Does he have any idea the kind of pressure it puts on the child to see his peers being glorified in ways that they don’t deserver (yes, they don’t. I don’t think scoring more than 90% in the board exams merits you to have you photograph printed in the newspaper) and to see himself being lost in ignominy?

Refusal to Look Beyond
The editor also seems to buy into the age old ‘work harder next time’ principle. I heard it being said numerous times when I was a kid and at that time it seemed to be a nice thing to say. Of course, there were second chances in life. If not this exam then the next, if not the next then the next one to that. Try, try and you will succeed.

But does anyone stop and consider what success is? Is topping in exams success? Why? Because you eventually get a good job that pays well? Assume for the moment that earning money is the highest goal in life. (A very stupid assumption but lets make it.) Then, is topping exams the only way to make money? If you top exams are you absolutely assured that you will make lots of money? Hardly.

Why then does the editor cajole kids into doing better next time? Why does he not ask them to sing, or paint, or play music? Why does he not ask them to take up a vocational course, prepare to start their own businesses, learn about the share market and become billionaires? Because the editor is refusing to step out of the system. He has accepted this definition of success. Topping exams is success for a kid. Anything else is not.

A Hard Life Ahead
Unless kids learn to recognize that success is of different kinds and that they can very much define what success is for themselves, they are going to have hard lives ahead. They will forever be trying to do better next time, without thinking if they really have the aptitude to do that thing, or if they really want to do that thing at all. The kid who cares least about Newton’s laws and is more interested in the day to day workings of the market is going to end up wasting years and years of his life trying to prepare for JEE because that is what his parents think success is.

I largely find parents to be hopeless. I have more hope for the kids – at least they should realize it, sooner or later.

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