The months of March to May every year is fraught with the stress and tension of cramming and sitting for exams; come May and June, fingernails are chewed to the bone as school and college exam results are awaited with anguish and expectation, with fear and trepidation, feelings shared by student and parent alike. With the results out, help lines reel under the onslaught of calls from youngsters mired in feelings of failure, of guilt that they have failed their parents and that there is nothing to live for in the face of parental reproach and disappointment. Strange, isn’t it, that at this time, the child is more concerned with the response of his parent than of the handling of his own failure and what steps he should be taking next?
Now follows a mad scramble for admissions into the next level of education. In India there is a premium on quality education as anywhere else, but admission into reputed colleges is often determined by a skewered appreciation of a student’s intelligence or by the depth of the parents’ pockets. Thus, even a very bright child faces humiliation when the college he wishes to join fixes a minimum of say 98% marks as the admission criterion and he is rejected because he has only a 97.8 percentage. What sort of values are being inculcated in our youngsters? What confidence, what sense of pride in one’s achievement? Why should such mindless eligibility criteria force the child to choose an alternative course of study that he has little interest in. This is more so because only the highest scorers will incur reasonable educational expenses in government-aided colleges; the rest will see their parents forking out to private colleges huge sums comprising not just fees, but so-called donations which they can ill afford without resorting to heavy borrowings.
Even as I write, I see in my mind’s eye local dailies crowing over the phenomenal achievement of students from Andhra Pradesh in the supremely difficult all-India IIT JEE (Joint Entrance Examinations) competitive exams; they constitute 25 percent of the successful candidates, with most of the country’s toppers from among them. I see advertisements of various coaching institutions posting photographs of their ‘top rankers’. A cynical teenager remarks, ‘Ah, another big batch of robots, trained mindlessly to learn by rote. Have these guys ever had a childhood?’ Few have ability to think out of the box which explains why so few patents are registered by Indians. Is there a problem with our educational system which allows focus on a single stream, the arts or the sciences, rather than allowing for a wider spectrum of learning across all streams, thereby preparing one for all contingencies?
I read somewhere that Indian parents, more than any other, try to fulfil their own unrealised ambitions through their children by deciding on the course of education they should take. Hundreds and thousands of students find themselves studying for a career path they have no interest in, most are unable to protest or refuse when they learn of the huge amounts that have been paid to professional colleges which would be forfeited should they opt out after securing admission. I feel relieved when my sons commend their parents for not insisting on choosing a career path which they, the parents, think their child should take. That is when suicidal tendencies develop in young minds and statistics reveal that India accounts for the largest number of suicide by young people in the age group of 18 to 25 years.
Parents must be blamed for the mess in their children’s minds. Huge expectations, constant pushing towards cramming and coaching and securing high grades cannot but push impressionable youngsters over the edge. Parents seeking a greater return on their investments by way of dowry are as culpable as the institutes set up ostensibly in the name of education but which are actually pure business ventures (an interesting revelation is that most private educational institutions in every state are owned by politicians cutting across all party lines). Equally guilty is the now highly educated young man who shows no aversion to selling himself in the marriage market, just another commodity available to the highest bidder, whose price was fixed when his parents blew their savings for just such an occasion
All this and more has become the order of the day only because of the commercialisation of knowledge for material gain. When the means to set up private colleges that run on hefty ‘donations’ rather than merit becomes the prerogative of those with illicit means to invest in such megaprojects , true learning and wisdom gained from shared knowledge is lost, and the purpose and power of education for the welfare of the common good is only a dream.