Stress and the Indian Child

The minister of HRD, Mr. Kapil Sibal in 2009 wanted the class ten board exam be scrapped because it is leading to trauma among students. Well by the same logic there is a continual increase in the instance of divorces – shouldn’t then the institution of marriage be scrapped and all couples asked to live in sin? The minister should have talked about curing the disease not simply treating a single symptom. He should have concentrated on giving the entire system a huge makeover instead of merely focusing on the tip of the iceberg and indulging in knee jerk reactions.

Is the trauma only because of board exams and marks or is it because of a number of other reasons for which quite a few sections of the society are to be blamed?

For instance take the syllabi the students have to study. They have huge tomes in each subject with reams and reams of material. The stress is clearly on dispensing information rather than imparting knowledge. Does the child really have to be taught so much at such a young age? Can we not have books which are easier to comprehend and interesting to learn? And for God’s sake can’t the school bag be made lighter. Internationally there is talk about introducing vocational training in high school. But the schools in Indian have gone many steps further. Here the vocational training starts from class one itself. For instance my cousin’s son is all of six and the heavy school bag he carries makes me certain that he is being trained to be a coolie – vocational training at the entry level itself!!

And what about the examination pattern itself. Several surveys have been conducted and the findings are as follows: The examination system stresses on rote learning – a kind of cerebral bulimia. The child has to mug up and vomit it all out in the examination hall and then forget about it till the next exam.

As an expert says, “What is also needed is for board exams to shift from rote questions to those that test understanding. These would have a cascading effect, eventually leading to teachers focusing more on learning with understanding rather than by mugging."

All this is easier said than done. Perhaps we should learn from geniuses such as Albert Einstein who once said: "I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."

The consensus is that there needs to be a shift from facts to skill, from emphasis on memory to stress on creativity. Why can’t the children be taught vocational skills (not of the load carrying variety of course) at an early age? Why can’t the syllabi be made more interesting so that learning becomes fun not a heavy burden?

Stress and the Indian Parent

We have discussed how the syllabus and examination pattern can create stress. Now moving on to the role of parents in creating stress.

Many parents treat their child like a performing animal - someone through whom they can meet their unfulfilled aspirations, someone whose achievements they can wear like a badge on their chest, and someone whose brilliance can enhance their status in the society. Today, competition is the key word and the so-called rat race starts in nursery itself. Every parent wants his kid to be not only the best, but better than his neighbor's or his colleague's child.

The child is monitored every hour and every minute of the day- what he studies, what he plays, what he eats, what he reads, what he sees - to get the best results. It is not academics alone that the child has to excel in - the child of the 21st century has to be a blend of Einstein, Beethoven, Da Vinci and Tendulkar. Coaching for studies, music and painting alone will not suffice, he or she has to also be trained in cricket or football or any other sport which offers the possibility of greater name, fame and monetary gain in future. In this circus of school, tuition, coaching and training the child has hardly any time for himself. But no one cares. In fact we are smothering the 'child' in every child and turning out efficient robots or performing monkeys.

Putting the entire onus on parents is also not quite correct. One should not forget that in today's world of increasing population, decreasing opportunities and cut throat competition the law of the jungle reigns supreme. And in the concrete jungles this law reads: survival of the smartest. Aspirations have risen and so have the needs. Yesterday's luxuries have become today's necessities. In this scenario all the well-meaning parents want their children to do the best to get the best. In this process of aiming for the sky the ground realities are forgotten.

Sometimes I feel all the fun and enjoyment seems to be fast disappearing from our lives. Even before our infants are able to talk without lisping, and walk without tumbling they are being ‘prepared’ to take on the world. The other day I was seeing a news item on TV, which focused on coaching classes
for tiny tots seeking admission to pre-nursery. I was horror struck. Kids who are not even three being forced to attend coaching classes! What is this world coming to?

No. Competition today is the buzzword. The latest virus that has been imported from US of A, the modern heaven and haven is the virus of competetivitis. We seem to be competing with each other for anything and everything and in the process running around like headless chicken.

Where have the values gone?

The other day I was sitting in my child's school, waiting for the PTA meeting to commence. The Principal hadn't arrived. Around twenty parents had gathered. Just then I heard an interesting conversation:

Mr. K.K. Parida: "I don't know why they keep stuff like value education as a subject."

Mrs. Malati Ray: "I agree. The marks are not counted for the rank and unnecessarily the kids have to study a subject that is of no use."

Mr.K.K.: "True, instead the time spent on V.E. can be devoted to Math, Science or Computers."

Mrs. M.R.: "Right, our children's brains will also develop and they will learn important and useful concepts."

Mr. K.K. and Mrs. M.R.'s erudite views provided food for thought. There was a time in ancient India when teaching of values was as important as teaching the art and science of warfare or the nuances of commerce. Vishnu Sharma, the creator of the immortal Panchatantra, had been engaged by the king to teach his sons the art of living, and he had done so with consummate flair by telling fables woven around values. However, in today's world, of apna sapna money money, or sabse bada ruapiah paisa rules the roost, values are being given the short shrift. They are good enough on election manifestoes, in speeches of candidates, in school essays or college debates, but in real life they seem to have little importance.

With happiness being equated with money an average child’s goal today is to become rich as quickly as possible. Is it then surprising that values that would instill peace and contentment have been replaced by feverish activity that leads to stress and trauma?

In olden days a man’s greatness used to be measure by how much he was giving up. Our sages were revered because they relinquished worldly goods and led a life of simplicity. Today the scenario is exactly the opposite. The person who can grab the maximum wealth by any means is the most respected. You must have seen the Hyundai Accent ad. Here the owner is a bada aadmi deserving respect only because he owns a Hyundai Accent. That means that a person’s worth should be measured by what he has rather than what he is.

Last year I had gone to Denmark to attend a conference of Children’s writers. I presented a paper which highlighted the Jagannath Cult. I talked about the values enshrined in the Jagannath cult such as Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, brotherhood of man, love for the environment, dignity of labor, respect for the handicapped. I told the gathering that when the so called developed nations of today were probably living in caves and eating raw meat, in our country, India, we had the Jagannath Cult. They were naturally amazed.

However, later as I roamed around the various Scandinavian countries I realized it was my turn to be amazed or rather shocked. The values enshrined in the Jagannath cult are being followed in those countries whereas we in India have forgotten them.

Just look around you - where is the love for nature, or respect for the handicapped. Do you find dignity of labor? We are fighting among ourselves for every thing from temples to mosques, region to language, caste to creed and lots more. So where is the question of brotherhood of man or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.

Why is this happening? It is because we have forgotten our own values, our own culture. Should we not wake up at least now and teach the generation next these values? Even if it doesn’t fetch a better rank or a higher standard of living – it will definitely give the young ones a more fulfilling life.

As Lin Yutang the famous Chinese philosopher says, "Today we are afraid of simple words like goodness and mercy and kindness. We don't believe in the good old words because we don't believe in good old values anymore. And that is why the world is sick."

Now coming back to the moot question do examinations alone create stress? The answer is a firm know. Stress is a combination of various factors such as parental aspirations, peer pressure, senseless syllabi, insane examination pattern et al. But more than all these is the lack of coherence in our society as to goals and targets. In the rodent race of today we are missing the wood for the trees. The confusion between the means and the end is leading to chaos. In this scenario one possible way out is for all of us to go back to our roots, our values. In the name of globalization we have lost touch with our basics. Caught between mammon and Madonna we seem to have forgotten even our very own Mahatma!

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More by :  Ramendra Kumar

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