One of my post retirement creative flings is a course for parents to raise topper kids. The purpose of this short training in two modules, the second one of which I don’t intend to start off in a hurry, is to make parents aware that they can, through some minor acts of attention, create a huge difference in the performances in the lives of their children as students. Interestingly, the idea was opposed with hostility among parents, student counsellors and the schoolteachers themselves.
Parents were angry at the suggestion of “being taught” on how to do the best for their children. The exercise that entailed them reading through the textbooks of their children were making them the angriest. Why should they d something that their children were supposed to do was the commonest refrain. Many asserted that they had nothing to do with their children’s studies and yet these are the very parents who would go a long way in procuring for the child what the rest of the course said, namely a comfortable study desk and a chair and a well-lighted and more importantly, a well-marked out study area. The other thing they balked at was to peg time slots and routines, and especially tasks like putting down on paper the list of tasks the child needed to jot down. The long and short of this is that while parents did not mind fulfilling those tasks against which they could spend money, they hated to engage in tasks that asked from them, their time, and mental engagements. They were not prepared to give their minds; no wonder then the quality of students despite the gargantuan marks they score is declining in India by the day despite an increase in expenses on education. Parents love to buy but not to give their bodies, minds and souls to the development of the child. This must be strange.
The child counsellors are expectedly offended for they feel that my training course gets in the way of their hold over both the child as well as the parent. Counsellors work on a single model, and which is the parent disciplining the child and the pressures thereof the child must bear. Counsellors aim at counselling parents to take off the pressure as if discipline is the only ingredient of parenting. Ask the orphan please, what she feels when there are no parents around, the overwhelming emotion is that of feeling all alone, abandoned, isolated. Parents are needed to make the child feel chaperoned for the world of study is a rather lonely space. While counselling the child, one often forgets one’s own childhood. Why is my child unruly? Why don’t you try and recall those times when you would be unruly? What made you behave that way when you did? The child who must negotiate through new stuff each day wading through arithmetic, biology and geography faces a harrowing time in these. Studying unfamiliar stuff makes you feel lonely; the children who do well seem to be privileged with some “company” in their studies. A significant percentage of children who fear science subjects usually have parents who never studied science; a child who fears the social studies may not have a parent from the subject or may have poor reading and writing habits and less command over language. The parent must chaperon the child into the weird woods of lessons; a child whose parents know how to speak the language of studies and who are more familiar with the subjects taught in school are likely to do better because they are less lonely since they feel that their parents can accompany them into the world of lessons. This simple fact of life and of growing up would never hit the counsellor because the counselling theories are constructed with a single reality in mind; the parents are trying to trouble the child; the counsellor comforts the child into fleeing from her reality. Its just fine if you don’t get 90 percent in class, so tells the counsellor to comfort the child. But does a poor percentage help the child get into college? I think not. It would be wonderful if the reality was more friendly to the less studious child but unfortunately it is most exacting and punishing. And since we don’t have our alternative modes of lives, we better adapt for, as all educators would know, the definition of intelligence is adaptation.
The third of the triad is the schoolteacher. She is the worst offender here for she tells in no uncertain terms that she hates single minded toppers and would rather have well developed and well-rounded personalities. Schools don’t maintain longitudinal data because were they to do so they would have discovered that one does nothing well unless one is single minded. There is indeed something to the toppers, they can attend tasks, complete these, work consistently at a task and most importantly can postpone instant gratifications. There is nothing more central to a student herself than her acceptance in the class and while this can happen for girls with exceptional talents, for those who are good in studies, such acceptance is easy. Toppers have a better time in class, are less bullied, less scolded, less scapegoated.
As the world demands more and more performance from students, where students with 97 percent may not even get admitted to college, schools have started to rather discourage high performances. This is more so in better off schools, in the sense in schools with richer kids. Here, education like every other thing that is paid for, and indeed higher the fees paid, more so this applies, that education is also to be consumed. Hence, schools should be made into a zone of enjoyment for the wholesome development of the personality. This is a very noble idea, and every society must follow this path but to imagine that the wholesome personality and academic performance are mutually exclusive is to pamper oneself with naivety. Mine is a U-shaped career curve, with a steep success in my early school days, followed by a trough in middle school and eventually a steep rise in the University. I distinctly noticed that those days I was comfortable in my skin about my studies, I also turned out to be a well-rounded personality.
Ever since consumerism has become our culture, education is struggling to be part of that consumerism. Frills like uniform, bags, tiffin boxes seem to take a greater meaning than books, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and so on. This is so even in the government run schools and while these are important, but they are now increasingly taking a turn towards becoming the center of focus. Those who manage education in these levels do not have the adequate brain width to manage both, the education, and its accessories, and because the set of accessories involves larger number of stimuli in the sense of higher tangibility of such stuff. Education, unfortunately which is intangible gets left out. The trouble with a consumerist culture and value for money culture is that education, which is the most intangible of all gets sharved off to the margins as schools offer a variety of activities such as dance, music, arts and so on. These are very important trainings to undergo and that their impact on personality of children cannot be understated; yet these alone are not sufficient to get a child through in life, unless they are exceptionally talented, and which makes the probability of success extremely rare. Schools are meant to study, and any development of the child can only be laid on the firm ground of studies. As said before, it is far easier to become a well-rounded personality if the child is well grounded in her studies.
Unfortunately, no school will ever sell these days if it says that it will promise fine grades to the child. In fact, getting good grades seems to be an anathema for schools as insisting on studies is looked upon as being backward, single minded non holistic narrow personalities. The focus on grades seems to have shifted to coaching classes and online tutorials because schools don’t think that grades matter. So not the best performing child in school but the best grader in the coaching classes get to colleges which don’t seem to be too inclined on wholesome personalities and holistic developments; instead focusses on grades, where only the 100 pointers seem to be assured of their admissions.
Schools bask on their abilities to provide the child a postponement into the world of adulthood and prolong the innocence of childhood. This is fantastic as an idea but not too helpful in a world where grades are the passport to the life out there and such few are issued at that too. Then the schools are riding an anomaly in the sense of promoting education which has few takers and forsaking such tasks of studies to coaching centres, the shameful entities that seeks performance out of students.
The trouble is that the consumerist templates of schools set the template for all schools and hence village schools or municipality schools also attempt pursuing extracurricular activities or else they lose enrolment to private schools and soon after, their posts of teachers. That is how, so many teaching jobs have been lost in villages and corporation or government aided schools.
While coaching institutes are mushrooming in every corner, schools those would teach the extracurricular activities are disappearing. It is not unusual to see the music, dance and art schools collapsing and even their online avatars are not picking up well. That their functions are now taken over by the schools themselves just as the education roles of the schools are now entrusted to the coaching classes is creating institutional reorganization in education with celebrities now adding value to schools in extracurricular activities, but the lesser mortals of coaching tutors are taking over education.