It is that time of the year when our young adults are prepping hard for various examinations – regular annual exams in school, the final board exams or even semester-end exams in college. And like every other year, the pressure is mounting. Our education system has always relied heavily and almost entirely on marks for admission to colleges and for securing blue collar jobs. A few reforms here and some fancy terms there, have probably given it a kinder and more student-friendly facade. But the final and compelling dependence on marks continues unabashed. It also becomes a major defining factor for a youngster to find a groove in society. Hence, a vulnerable adolescent unwittingly becomes a subject of the most intense and microscopic critique purely on the basis of the grades he has bagged. Over-zealous relatives, friends, extended family, and even mere acquaintances, do not bat an eyelid before posing very direct queries about a child’s exam score. And god forbid, if it does not match popular expectation, they embark on a long, unsolicited discourse on the whys and hows of this misadventure and draw parallels with other students – brighter ones, in order to psych out the already demoralised child, or weaker ones, in a feeble attempt to offer solace.
At the other end of the spectrum, we have parents of high-scoring students flaunting their wards’ marks card, trophy like, on social media and gloating over their success as some kind of a personal achievement or a well-executed project! I know of children who deactivate their account and switch off their phones on the eve of results, just to avoid this tedious and stressful exercise.
Under the present education system, children tend to get way better marks than what they did, say even 7-8 years back. There is a mad scramble for admission to elite colleges and coveted disciplines. The cut-off percentage stands at an incomprehensible 98 or 99 and in some cases, even 100. Not everyone is geared to handle this kind of sustained and ruthless competition. A few buckle under societal and parental pressure and choose the option of unfair means, or worse still, self-harm, in a last-ditch attempt at deliverance. Nowadays, several schools have appointed qualified in-house counsellors to guide and direct the pre-Board students. Help and therapy are also available online. A couple of recent Bollywood blockbusters have tried to showcase this sad reality and sensitise the general public to this mounting challenge. But the circus of marks continues, unrelenting and unforgiving, as ever. The National Crime Records Bureau data of 2018 showed that 28 students commit suicide every 24 hours and that, students make for 8% of the total deaths by suicide in India. And the figures are rising.
As a society, it is imperative that we evolve and empathise, that we move away from mark-centric accomplishments and evaluate a child for his overall personality, skill set, Emotional Quotient and his viability as a potential human resource. This is particularly true of the current academic session when education has relied almost entirely on the online mode. Not every student has had the means to access it easily. In these difficult times when a global pandemic has held us hostage for a whole year now, our young hopefuls are already caught in a vortex of uncertainty and apprehension. Let us accept and embrace them for all the qualities they possess instead of slotting them into draconian stereotypes of high and low performers, of academic success and failure, of being ‘achievers’ and ‘losers’. Let us be kind and realistic, let us give them a chance to blaze their own trail of glory through the wilderness of effort, emotion and experience.
A slightly abridged version of this piece was published in The Hindu on 14 March, 2021.