by  Vatsala Vedantam.

So, at last, the tension and anxiety of completing a marathon of 10 and 12 year school programme has ended. But, ended only to make way for another kind of tension and anxiety. Preparing and appearing for the SSLC and PUC examinations took a heavy toll on students and parents. Now comes the next stage of choosing colleges and courses where the rat race for the top institutions and prized streams of study begins.

With the dizzying marks and grades that supposedly separate the best from the average, college admissions have become a nightmare for young people on the threshold of entering a new world of academics.

The admission norms hardly identify the most talented, just as the examination results barely reflect true capabilities. Both are marks oriented, with little or no care for a student’s real strengths.

Just as the SSLC and PUC examinations tested the ability to slog, to memorise and to repeat what was learnt without a trace of individuality, originality or excellence (three things which would not have earned those crazy marks anyway) university admissions are as bereft of imagination and initiative that students are simply pushed from one stage of education to another without the least consideration of their real merits, aptitudes and inclinations. It is an education system that does no credit to real worth.

Geniuses may fall by the wayside, while the mediocre may get promoted. It is a system where real talent in young minds gets short shrift. This is true of many education systems which lack the resources to identify the gifted from the average. The truly gifted are sidelined as “below average” because the very nature of their “giftedness” makes these students fall back in studies that they find monotonous, uninspiring and tedious. They have neither the desire nor aptitude to study subjects which do not interest them or fall below their intellectual capability. The case of the mathematical genius Ramanujam flunking in arithmetic during his high school years is only one such example.

It is strange that with all this knowledge about what is real education, our educators have failed to improve the system. It is equally strange that a society that includes parents, teachers, educationists and even the public feels so complacent with the existing system and all its flaws, that it is unwilling to change it.

Take a look at newspaper headlines. “State records the best SSLC results yet” or “Decade’s best result in PU examination” rival with “60 percent pass in PU exam” or “13 year old cracks IIT-JEE….” The state departments which release these insensitive bits of information are smug about their achievements. For them, the numbers matter, not the quality.

They are also insensetive to the reactions of the ones who failed to make the grade. Such “failures” may also have done their best and reached their full potential. But, in a garguantan system that recognises only the ranks and the first class achievers, there is no space for kids who are “average.”

Is it then so surprising to read in the very same newspapers about a 15- year-old ending his life for not passing the SSLC exam? Suicides like that of young Dileep Kumar speak volumes about an uncaring school education system which has totally failed our children. If it had instilled values in them to face life courageously, it would have been a far better education than merely teaching them to read and memorise useless information that hardly enlightens young minds.

I recently wrote about teenage suicides that reflect parental pressure in these columns. An educationist pointed out that peer pressures also play an important role in teenage lives.

That is true. So do social pressures which include opinions of teachers, extended families and friends. Teenagers are especially sensitive about how they appear to the outside world. They are not old enough or mature enough to understand that they should think well of themselves and be aware of their own strengths. It is the responsibility of parents to instil those feelings of self worth in their children.

A carelessly uttered derogatory remark when the child produces his own achievement, be it an essay or a drawing or even a report card from the school, can wreak havoc and destroy his confidence forever. A derisive comment from a teacher in front of a classroom of children can leave a permanent scar on a sensitive mind. The fragility of a teenager’s personality should have been the greatest concern of educational institutuions.

Unfortunately, it is exactly the other way around. The system – right from school to college to higher studies – does its best to destroy self confidence and promote feelings of worthlessness by measuring every student in relation to another.

Far from encouraging self improvement, it succeeds in generating useless competition. How can the fraction of a mark decide who is “best” in terms of intelligence and merit? How can one examination reveal who is the most eligible for this or that career?
It is time we revised our content and methods of education. Especially school education where young minds are shaped. The goal should be the creation of a happy, well adjusted individual who can face both success and failure with equanimity and poise.

Merely teaching science, mathematics and social studies with three languages is not education. Prescribing a syllabus and “finishing portions” on time is not education either. Making a child wear a formal uniform and carrying a load of books is the least important component of good education. If a classroom can arouse the curiosity of the young learner and make him/her want to learn more, that is good education. If a teacher can instil in students the proper values that matter in life, that is education.

If a school produces a young man or woman who can take on the world with courage and conviction, then that is the final test of good education. Instead of posting police surveillance near lakes and railway tracks when exam results are announced, our governments should consider revamping the school education system to make it more progressive and less exam oriented.

As the poet said, true education must teach young people “self knowledge, self reverence and self control.” The rest is useless if these three virtues are not instilled in them.

Courtesy: Deccan Herald, May 16, 2013

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