It’s that time of the year in India, when you find students pouring over their books, papers, laptops. I see them with their noses dipped at the building gates awaiting the school bus, in the coffee shop with their ear phones on – to shut the noise out, on park benches amidst cawing crows and scampering squirrels. I see them at every turn. It’s that time of the year when God is busy with requests pouring in from parents of these children.
Its EXAM time! And it’s India – where marks dictate everything. It’s sad but it’s the truth. There’s no escaping it. It happens every year – year after year. It’s happened ever since the inception of schools – children studying and parents fretting. And while the world has progressed in every other way, there’s no change in terms of exams and our reaction to them. Parents blame schools and teachers and rarely blame themselves for being part of a society that builds pressure. Things are so competitive here that while children in other parts of the world are enjoying playing the game at the age of 6 or 7, here parents push their kids to play – to win. Competition begins early. Its the survival of the fittest. Unfortunately, we haven’t evolved much after Darwin’s theory.
But that’s not what I am talking of. I understand children have to work hard and must be taught early that they are not entitled to anything. And that they must work for what they want. What I am talking about is the expectations around exams – that hasn’t changed! Not in India – where marks is not about what children can do but about what parents want. Here exams are still looked upon as the sole determinant of one’s fate, character and life. Its sad but true. There’s a lot of hype around the board exams – the news channels and the newspapers cover the results. As soon as the results are out, photographs of those students who did exceptionally well floods the papers, tuition classes share photographs of successful students. With students getting 99.98%, that becomes the cut-off for some colleges. On the other side are news on suicides that also make the headlines – children who did not manage to get what was expected. And yet we continue to push hoping our child will never be the one whose spirit we break. I am sure if you ask any of those parents who lost their kids, they would say they wished they could turn back time and wish they did things differently. I am sure parents of children who were successful wished they had more fun time with them when they were young. I am sure those children who did well and became successful, wish they had enjoyed their childhood a little more. I don’t have the statistics to prove any of this but I feel certain about it.
How many people do you know who got the marks and are successful? How many did not get the marks and are still successful? What’s your way of measuring success?
While marks determine the universities children get into, options available to them in terms of subjects and the job they will get in future, does it truly predict ‘success’ in future?
What do exams determine then? Is it right for us to obsessed with it?
As parents we get sucked into the quagmire, however alert we are. And before we know it, we end up behaving like the herd. We fail to see what’s right in front of us, what we already know. For in the age of social media, none of us can claim ignorance- there are a lot of stories bombarding us everyday about people who made it against all odds, people who didn’t get the marks and yet went on to do great things, people who got the marks and failed. We watch it, talk about it and forward messages and videos to others. But do we bother applying it to those we love the most – our children? Or are we hypocrites?
Remember the day you decided you were ready to be a parent. Remember the day you brought the little bundle home. You loved it so much, you said you would be different from the rest of the parents – that marks did not matter to you – that you wouldn’t push so hard – that you would instill the values of hard work and honesty. That you would love and protect. Then you sent your bundle of joy to school. And the madness began…
Welcome to the rat-race – the world of teachers, neighbors and competition. Your bundle of joy became a key to your failed dreams and aspirations. S/he became a tool to prove your worthiness as a parent. The marks proved you were doing your parenting job well. So you pushed hard because the child’s report card was your certificate on parenting. You made your bundle of joy work for you – you loved it when s/he got what you wanted. You rebuked it when you did not get what you wanted. At times you realized you were wrong and when guilt took over, you showered them with love confusing them. And at other times you criticized. Is this how you wanted it to be as a parent when you held your child for the first time in your hands? Or have you changed or forgotten?
This post is not about children. Its not even about telling you my opinion of whether I think exams are good or bad. Its also not about success and whether marks actually determine success. This post is for parents – those who love their children so much they’re willing to do anything for them but forget what love means.
As parents what do you want for your children? Is it for them to be happy? To be successful? Healthy? To know they are loved? To grow into confident, good human beings?
I guess as parents we need to answer that and then work backwards. We need to see if what we are doing today achieves what we want for them tomorrow and how we want them to think of their childhood and us, as parents.
As parents, what memory do we want our children to carry of us, of their childhood, when they leave the nest? Is it memories of us yelling, frustrated, giving up and putting them down? Or is it memories of being loved, cherished, trusted and supported and disciplined when they were wrong?
The world out there is a jungle. We all know that. And once they’re out in the jungle, is there any way we would be able to protect them or give them all that we dream for them? The answer is ‘No.’ And if the answer is ‘No,’ isn’t it only right that when they are with us, under our care, we give them everything we want for them? That’s the least that we can do as parents, don’t you think? For if we don’t there’s nobody out there who will.
Through this post, I am not undermining the need to work hard or the need to discipline. I believe children should work hard and should be taught resilience among many other things. I am saying as parents we need to give our children a happy, secure childhood – not one they want to run away from but one they want to come back to once they’re gone, one that brings a smile to their lips wherever they are. When it is ours to write, why don’t we – parents , write a happy story in their lives before they write their own. At- least by doing so we can guarantee them a happy childhood.
Let’s not write our fears and insecurities onto impressionable minds. Let’s not lose out on our ‘today,’ for a ‘tomorrow,’ that we have no control of. For isn’t a strong tree, one with strong roots? Nurture and be there for them. Prepare them to fly -not by pushing but by strengthening their wings.