Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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Stop this harassment! A cry for deschooling India

My daughter has never been in the list of toppers in her class. As any middle class parent, my wife and I  tried all strategies on her: Inspirational stories of great people, our own educational adventures with exaggeration, ghastly stories of students who failed to get good marks in public examinations, paper cuttings of achievers pasted all around inside the house, and many more. Our anxiety even led us to tell her about the plight of our maid since she didn't study well in her school. To this, my daughter just laughed. None of these tactics worked so far. She continued to be where she could as per her capacity, interest and inclination.

She is put in a Public School next to the apartment complex where we stay. That has made our life easy since we could go and see the Vice Principal whenever she calls us, mostly after every unit test. As we both wait in the reception of the school like ‘guilty parents’ waiting for the judgment, there is a little solace; the sight of many such couples sitting there, without uttering a word between them or between the couples. Not even a smile was exchanged! All prefer to be busy tracking their office work through SMS. When we are called, we go and sit before the vice principal or the class teacher just like students who are caught for not doing their homework. As we sit on the chair leaning forward attentively, we could hear the heart beats of each other. I have never seen my wife sitting so obediently anywhere. 

After perusing the big file filled with my daughter’s answer sheets, assignments, etc., when the vice principal says, ‘I see a lot of improvement in your daughter’s performance’, we both take a normal breath instantly. But the vice principal continues: ‘But this is not at all enough!’  He will give very sincere suggestions for improvement and we hear and accept every word. We are amazed at the personal supervision on each student and the commitment of the teachers and the vice principal. We assure him that all efforts will be taken by us to ensure more marks for the next test and leave the place thanking him. Once out, we both discuss the issues at length and take important resolutions. The resolutions are the same always: a) Don’t send her for basket ball b) Allow outdoor play only on weekends c) Make her adhere to the home time table d) Exclude her whenever we go for any family functions, dine-outs and so on. 

Killing the creativity
My daughter is passionate about her basket ball coaching. We stopped it and she cried. She is a good athlete. We restricted her outdoor play. She likes to watch TV programs. We curtailed her TV watching timings. She wants to play and chat with her cousins and friends. We curbed that. She loves to go for tours to the houses of our relatives and spent time with them. We reduced our outstation trips. All these restrictions were enforced not because we were convinced of these. We never wanted her to be insulted and ignored by her teachers in the school because of not meeting their expectations in her academic performance. As educated parents, we knew that all these restrictions are futile and would only kill her creativity further. But the schools think that all students in a class are of same competence and all are expected to get high grades. (If you don't like, remove your child to another school!)

Except for our unhappiness because of our fear of reprimands, threats, and dissatisfaction of school authorities, we are extremely delighted with her overall performance and behaviour. She had very emotional and social quotient, very empathetic to others, loving, and has a lot of leadership qualities and social skills. She never utters anything negative about anyone. But we are really destroying her beautiful childhood. The academic pressure from the school, the competitive environment, our own apprehensions about securing a career that would give her financial independence: all these force us to put up the mask of ferocious tigers at home. It is like a battlefield at home in the evenings. I tell my wife, when will we sit and watch a comedy movie all together in front of the TV and laugh until our belly hurts? 

Stuffing everything under the sun
I have started hating the Indian Schooling system that is hell bent on stuffing everything under the sun which they call ‘knowledge’ on the hapless students. Forget about my school Chemistry, I don’t remember anything even of my college Chemistry syllabus. When the Class VIII student seeks help from her father who is a Chemistry graduate to decipher the composition of aromatic compounds, he tries hard to remember what he learnt for several years. Other than a vague memory of Benzene and double bond, nothing else has been retained. How much of what we have studied during the school and college days do we remember now? How much of what we have studied have been useful or found essential, directly or indirectly to lead our life?

Ivan Illich in his book ‘Deschooling  Society’ elaborated upon the absurdity of schooling. According to Illich, the compulsory school education system is aimed at making a society that is consumerist, packaged, institutionalized, and impoverished.

Teachers are policemen in the current Indian schooling system and parents are military officials. Both work hand in hand with the same common objective of making children study. All students are made to slog promising a goal that is impossible for the majority to attain. Even the poor are coerced to learn by giving a false hope that there are secured seats to pursue courses that make them doctors and engineers. Today’s compulsory public school system for all children, indeed gives false promises to the children and ultimately don’t give them further opportunities in higher education. The school uniform, the tie, and the ‘English’ manners and demeanours taught to them become meaningless while they end up as labourers, house maids, etc.

Nurturing de-socialization and personality deformation
Earlier, Socialization and all round development of personality were considered as the main aims of schooling. Now, what is happening is de-socialization and personality deformation. Today, school education is like fast food. It doesn’t facilitate creativity. In the name of creativity, teachers give projects that can be completed only by replicating what is in the web, or by taking substantial help from the parents.  Childhood is the time for children to play and learn from nature and society. This is the age and stage of life when they should ideally spend more of their time with parents, grandparents and relatives, not to hear their yelling, but to hear from them about their life.

The need to de-institutionalize higher education
Learning is actually a lifelong process. It can never be forced on oneself through an institutional process. Isn't it a waste of time if a person studied for 5 years for engineering and another 2 to 3 years for Post-Graduation and then get into a job where he would use just a very small specialized portion of the course? Instead, he could have joined as an apprentice in the area he was interested and he could sharpen his skills later as the job required. He could become an expert in that field much early and save several years which he would have otherwise devoted to class room learning. These courses are deliberately made lengthy just to maintain and expand the business of education and to provide teaching jobs to people with no net productive gain for the economy. It is high time employers test the candidate’s skill for a job rather than selecting him on the basis of the degrees he has earned. We can find even in premier institutes like IIMs and IITs, professors with PhDs and hundreds of research publications, yet with very poor teaching skills!

Let me conclude.  I need to quickly get back to yell at my daughter to push her to the study table. 

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  1. If all the classroom hours of textbook teaching and learning can be changed to anything practical and productive, at least half of the world's problems could be solved. Students are crushed between school and home; but nothing much can be done with prescribed syllabus and books that are meant to be swallowed. I hate to be a part of this crime; as a parent and also as a teacher. But the best thing I do in my profession is that I make sure that the parent is free from teaching and learning. Also, there is no point in killing a child's spirit and making him / her score. If a strict school or teacher fails to bring a student's improvement as result, may consider leaving the student and parents alone without complaining. If there is no fruit, there is something definitely wrong with the planting and tending..

    1. I appreciate your decision not to take the mainstream path!Hope and pray that we have more teachers like you!

  2. hmmmm.........I think every parent is reeling under this burden of pushing their wards up a predestined chart. Whether it suits the nature of the child is a different story, which is not given much importance. One of nieces studying in Australia often tells my daughter that she doesn't have SST, or very complicated science subjects to study. There focus is laid on languages, Maths and practical science. My daughter listens to everything with her mouth agape. After putting the receiver down she often says, "Mom! why can't we go to Australia?"

    1. Absolutely right! Like your daughter, my daughter also compares herself with the her cousin sister Nayana who is in Canberra and says she wants to get admitted to the Canberra School as there is lot of fun over there than in India!

  3. "My daughter is passionate about her basket ball coaching...
    we are extremely delighted with her overall performance and behaviour.
    She had [has a] very [good] emotional and social quotient
    very empathetic to others
    and has a lot of leadership qualities
    and social skills
    She never utters anything negative about anyone"

    Dear Sibichen sir, congratulations, you've just said how truly successful you're as a parent. What more can any parent ask of their children?

    "... But we are really destroying her beautiful childhood...."

    Uh, oh!

    from what I see in the society these days, she will grow to be a great employee in a distant far away land. She will marry, and have kids of her own. Then she will call her parents to look after her kids while she is toiling hard at work. Then her parents can finally sit and watch a comedy movie that should make them laugh until their belly hurts. But, will they really enjoy the movie?

    1. Thanks a lot Paul for pointing out the typo errors. You are right! They will not enjoy the movie! It would be such another bitter 'medicine' to keep them going!!

  4. True. I think I know which particular school you are talking about. That particular school over does it too. I had the privilege of studying there for 2 years and so many years later joined their alumnus community in Orkut. You must see the number of hate comments spewing in the community. You would never have witnessed so much bitterness about school. Lots of people were complaining how the school ruined their entire childhood.

    That aside I fully agree with your point of apprenticeship in professions being more valuable than the BTechs and MBAs. Whatever I use at my job, I have learnt on the job only. Also in case of MBA, I have found some offbeat writers whose books can be read as a weekend reading such as Seth Godin, Ricardo Semmler and Eliyahu Goldratt offer much better insights on the subjects than the regular text books.

    1. TF, Thanks for your comments. I have nothing against the School as such. They must be doing their job to create a few best brains for the country. I am against the entire system that forced even this school to adopt such strategies as discussed by me. There need to be a policy shift accompanied by an attitude change among people. Regarding the books you cited, I fully agree with you that they offer much more than what is taught in the class rooms. 'The Goal' by Goldratt is one of my favourite management books. Thanks once again.

  5. Thank you sir, for sharing a concerned parents guilt feeling on forcing his kid onto the present day school system.

    We all have come through this English system meant for creating the best clerks with Dark skin and White thinking, and yes we have become good consumers and are always fighting to be the number one in the persuit of Money and Materials. There are alternatives, that i think should be adapted by the main stream schools including 1.Sarang in Attappadi by a couple Gopalakrishnan and Vijayalekshmi 2.Pallikkoodam by Mary Roy 3. An effort by Ali Manikfan

  6. Thanks Niyas. Glad to know about the innovations taking place in this field. Heard about 'Pallikkoodam' earlier. Hope readers would find the links helpful to know more about these schools.

  7. I've always believed that everything comes to me when the time is right and couldn't have stumbled on this post at any better time.
    Son, who is passionate about football, is going into 6th std. His school didn't have any home work or tests till 5th. Even before school has started, we have started threatening to withdraw football if he doesn't do well in his tests....right post at the right time :)

  8. Thanks Bindu for sharing your thoughts on this. This is a real test for parents! Should we be liberal on this issue in spite of our mind accusing us being stupid in a competitive world that assesses CGPA based on rote learning?

  9. i am just going to enter this school business and i am really scared for my two kids. They may not have a childhood like what we had. One way these reality shows for kids on TV encourage parents to let kids look outside books though they have their own side effects :) Atleast some kids get some relief when they get a chance to train in music and dance.

  10. There are a few exemplary institutions. But all depends on the people who manage them and teach there.


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