A student of Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology, Delhi, committed suicide recently and the reason he mentioned in his last note was not being able to live up to parental expectations in studies. Such instances are not uncommon. More and more children and youngsters are joining the long queue of stress-stricken individuals due to the irresolvable heightened expectations of parents, teachers and educationists as a system. It is often very simple to duck, under the vast convenience of blaming a so-called ‘system’ without doing anything to change it. Identified as a major problem of childhood and teenage is the excessive pressure on youngsters which makes them walk precariously and nervously on the tightrope of guilt and effort towards performance. Clinical psychologist Ms. Vijay Bhatt says, “It is the multifarious aspects of competitive times that have created this impasse. Social egos inputs by technological advances, repeated comparisons with the Joneses often lead to multiplied expectations from the child.” Small children of 3-4 years of age often enter school with a pre-concept which is more frightening than pleasant contrary to the play-activity approach so mightily prescribed in books. Long hours of pathetic listening to the teacher and the incessant probing to live up to expectations make educations more of a confinement than an experience.
In a survey of progressive and established Delhi schools carried out by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, as many as 55 per cent of schools relied heavily on the formal education and formal homework system. In most schools the entire content of class one as identified in the national curriculum is being preponed by a full one year at an age when even months make a vital difference in terms of developmental levels. A survey of the medium and smaller schools that have mushroomed all over and are in the race to establish themselves with ‘higher’ and ‘still higher’ standards tend to yield a heavier workload on the vulnerable pre-schooler leading to tuitions and parental pressure to live up to fond dreams of one-upmanship.
But where is the child in all this? “Many children come with psychosomatic complaints often due to being pressurised in a study atmosphere,” says paediatrician Dr. Suresh Kasana. “Children are physically and mentally harmed due to standing up to pressures of entrance tests of those so-called prestigious schools. Problems like sporadic vomiting, pain in the back, shoulders and respiratory tract infections on recurrent periods afflict children who nurse more mental agony than any pathological problem.” Dr. Kasana remembers the instance of a patient about 9-10 years old whose parents complained of his convulsions which actually were traced later by the doctor to be of purely psychological origin to gain desired attention form parents and scuttle out demanding study hours. What starts as childhood problems sometimes stem into teenage traumas, with many youngsters becoming compulsive hypochondriacs and of the nervous type? Says Vineeta, who studies in class XII at Loretto Convent in Delhi, “When parents expect us to do well because they often mention that they are spending so much of money on our tuitions and travel I feel very- very guilty if I fail to do well in the particular subject for which I take tuitions. I have seen so many of my friends, parents telling them to remember that a lot of money is going waste if they don’t prove themselves excellently.”
Loaded with massive guilt complexes at a tender age and fighting with nightmares in the day in terms of competition and rivalry, are the motives of education really being served? Mary D’Souza, Vineeta’s mother and a school teacher with St. Michael’s in Delhi says, “Often parents are justified in expecting children to do well for most of us know that we as persons are foregoing at least something or the other to be able to provide them with the best of tuitions. Even the fuel that takes them to and fro is no mean pressure on any budget.
“At the same time, I do feel as a school teacher that too much emphasis is being laid on lucrative careers, making it the be-all and end-all of parent-child communication at times. Vocational institutes like the Pusa Institute where training at work based on aptitude is imparted are better in creating more harmonised individuals than goading them endlessly to get into the few professional courses.”In this mad race to compare, contrast and try to scale higher and still higher in life we lose many of our budding citizens into lost horizons of mangled personalities. Many adolescents turn defiant and rebellious often making the parent-child relationship sick and mutinous. Parents in such cases often react by either giving up in despair and assuming indifferences or reverting to the authority they posses.
Such confrontation often ends up in the alienation of the adolescent from the adult. Vijay Bhatt also cites comparison of the past of the child with his present as one of the causes of rift. “A child who has done well in a lower standard earlier may fail to perform as well in a different situation and different environment but few parents tend to understand this. It is very unfortunate that schools which aim at maximum development of the child as a person are still too few. “The anxiety level of the child threatened repeatedly with the fear of failure heightens a great deal, often curbing the spontaneous flow of creativity. No person, adult or small can be as productive and fruitful in an atmosphere of parental or school pressure. A tension-free environment is a must for true creative functioning of the child.”
Today’s ‘system’ to use that cliché once again aims only at correctness rather than free-flowing self-expression. We are making more useful citizens through our business consultants, doctors, pilots and engineers and technological wizards with computer scientists but are these ‘good citizens’ and well educated people as good individuals too? No doubt, to quote Russell, “Everybody prefers Newton and James Watt to an oyster, but wasn’t Goethe a less useful citizen reckoned more superior as an individual?”
Rohit Mohan who has done his graduation from Motilal Nehru College and is preparing for his MCA entrance tests says, “The definition of excellence is not a good academic result. Perception, innovation and so many concepts go into making an excellent individual. Everybody expects their children to be over-brilliant because it adds to the total prestige in society if the child is doing well. Many parents have made their life-time motive by being ambitious for their children and pinning down their expectations on them.” While a vicious circle unfolds its grip on modern society today what could lead us out of this trap of prestige and social ego? And pray, why accomplished, well placed parents of today still need their child’s psyches to load their ambitions upon? Isn’t it time we delinked our personal egos from social egos and viewed the whole issue in more objective questioning?
A mom whose smile collapses in a complex feeling of being let down if her child turns up with an average percentage needs to go for parental counselling these days. Dr. A.K. Gulati, pediatrician and president of the sub-committee on pre-school education says, “We need to educate the educationists first of all. Why should education be so teacher-oriented and school-friendly than being student-friendly? Why should schools start at such early hours, why can’t they begin when it is more convenient for the students? There is a need now of innovative schools for only those can save the situation from running into such rigidity which resists change.”
The American way of education has often been accused of making the child “feel good” at the expense of academics, but then success is often related more to persistence and hard work plus a strong self-concept, more than academic intelligence. One needs to strongly underline the fact that parents and teachers are not wholly unjustified in expecting more from the youngsters because as says Mary D’Souza, “Unless one does well for oneself professionally, what is the fun of being mediocre in life? Schools fail to guide children correctly in tune with their aptitudes and work aspirations and therefore we think it is necessary to guide them properly. Parents must definitely not salvage their guilt of not spending proper time with children by loading them with lots of pocket money and then expecting direct frontal returns in terms of their performance.”
Dr. Venita Kaul, Reader, Department of Pre-School and Elementary Education NCERT, New Delhi says in her paper on the subject “Instead of the traditional ‘talk and chalk’ formal classroom approach, the play and activity methods should be followed. The situation in our country is quite the reverse! Four to five year olds are being made to sit for long stretches at their desks in a regimented way to do full pages of writing and number work to be followed by home assignment. This approach is quite contrary to the dictates of child development. The need for radical reforms in this area cannot therefore be over emphasised.”
When Martin Fischer said, “Education is the process of driving a set of prejudices down one’s throat”, he was perhaps speaking about the education system in India which is precisely that. As Jean Piaget, the well known child psychologist, suggested, “There should be positive cooperation instead of competitive rivalries.” We in India need to scrap the subjectivity and arbitrariness of the admission procedure to ‘prestigious schools’ a main cause for pressure on children. If we can manage to look out of the quicksand pulling us into the rut of politicisation, committees and reports, we may sound the bell loudly for the case for the greatest possible freedom in education.
By Aditi Singh