I have a Solution that will reduce pressure on IIT aspirants but do not know how to get this across to HRD Minister of India. Suggestions are welcome. - Ram Krishnaswamy

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Stop putting pressure on your children to get high marks or that prized seat in a premier institution - First Post

Janaki Murali  Aug 31, 2016 13:01 IST

When Bengaluru teenager MK Puujitha ran away from home last week she hit national headlines for the massive hunt that was launched by her family and friends. The father was from Accenture and his employers, colleagues, family and friends did not stop with just filing a missing complaint with the police. They went to the press, turned to social media with posts on Facebook, Whatsapp, LinkedIn and even set up a website

These posts went viral and were shared by friends and strangers alike, and it was finally through a Whatsapp alert that the family got to know of the whereabouts of the missing girl after four worrying days. With the help of the railway police they found the teenager in Hubballi on Sunday.

Puujitha ran away when she got 18 out of 30 marks in her Maths paper and panicked after the teacher asked her to get her parents' signature on her answer script. She was studying in Class 8 of the National Public School. She was only 13 years old. What was fortunate was that the teenager did not get into the wrong hands and returned safe to her family. She had only Rs 600 on her and kept to railway stations and even sold a painting and taught English grammar to some students to earn money.

But many other school children facing similar academic pressures at school and at home are not so lucky.

The Deccan Chronicle reported recently of a 17-year-old IIT aspirant, who was studying at a coaching institute in Kota who jumped to her death as she was disappointed with her scores in IIT-JEE mains. The newspaper said that this was the fifth case of student suicides from coaching centres in Kota, the hub for various engineering and medical entrance examinations this year. Last year there were 18 such student suicides.

Representational image. AFP

Come exam time, and every town and city in the country report suicides due to failure in academics or low marks at school or college. Unfortunately, for our young adults in India, academic excellence has always been linked to high marks in their tests. 

Parents, schools and their peers place a high value on their academic performances, and anything below 90 percentile is considered mediocre. For, only a high aggregate total fetches them a seat in the premier professional colleges in the country or abroad. Often, families hopes rest on their young shoulders. With such high expectations placed on them to perform or else, students are prone to depression at a very young age. After government jobs, banking of the 70s and 80s, its engineering and medicine which are seen by parents as those ‘with scope’. Arts and humanities are considered of low value and students taking these streams are considered not to be serious or worse still, 'mediocre'.

Many parents would balk at the idea of their children wanting to take up fine arts, music, theatre or sports as their career. Take the recent Olympics. We found it easy to blame the government, the sports authority and the athletes themselves for not winning us more medals at the Olympics. But how many middle class parents would be okay with their children mainstreaming sport as their career choice. Sport like fine arts has always been relegated to an extra-curricular activity for a child. 'Finish your homework and then play', would be the admonishment of the parent. In the case of Puujitha, it’s obvious that the child can paint well, as she was able to sell a painting of hers. Would the parents now consider sending her to train to be a painter?

I know of many children in my close circle of family and friends who were pushed to academic excellence so as to get a merit seat in premier engineering colleges only to throw it all away years later to take up an alternate career in fine arts. How many musicians, film makers, artists and writers can you point out who trained to be engineers by profession, before they took the plunge to pursue their dreams, once they were away from parental pressure?

The schools in turn play on this Indian psyche for academic excellence and most premier schools take only the creme-de-la-creme and top percentile mark students for Class 10 and wean out the 'mediocre' students, either in Class 8 or 9. The schools are keen to show good academic results and want only the top rankers in Class 10. Tuitions, coaching classes, special classes are the bane of children when they reach Classes 10 and 12. 

The parents of students who don’t reach the top ranks are persuaded to take their children out of the school. Quite often, the parents are ashamed to face the academic failure of their children in their social circles and go through the trauma of looking for admission in a middle rung school.

Voices of Youth, founded in 1995 as Unicef’s online place for young people, has a post from a student about the "prevalent stereotype that Asian countries heap extreme amounts of academic pressure on their youth, and, in my community, that is completely true! Universities in my country don't pay attention to extra-curriculars, hobbies, or your passion — instead of a holistic application process, universities simply request your academic grades. Because of this, schools, teachers, parents, and even students, place too much pressure on themselves to perform well in school."

The New Indian Express reported last year of more than 4,400 students dropping out of IITs and NITs in the last three years due to various reasons including "academic stress". 

The Anandakrishnan Committee report on suicides in IITs also mentioned stress and inability to cope up with the system.

Most premier institutions, colleges and schools have counsellors on board, but do they tell the students that’s it’s all right to fail and that it’s not really the end of the world?

Unfortunately, the examination system in our country does not rate a student holistically — for their people skills, kinetic skills, their linguistic skills or even their experience of travel and learning about different cultures. Why aren’t these skills given importance in the education system, for these life skills are what actually get an individual through life, not just academic brilliance.

But it’s not as though educators are unaware of the problems with standardised tests and exams. The Huffington Post has a blog titled, "I expect the highest scores", by a principal of a school about standardised tests, and how "they provide only a minute snapshot of a child's very complex learning profile". She details how a multiple choice test doesn't address emotional intelligence, or measure motivation or empathy for others, or whether the child is open to new ideas, or a strong collaborator and team member or about the child’s feelings towards issues around social justice and making a difference in the community and beyond.

So, it’s not as though we don’t know the problem. It’s now time to act.

Stop putting pressure on your children. It does not really matter in the larger scheme of life, nor is it important whether your child gets that prized seat in a premier institution. Your child’s measure of success as an individual does not rest on that.
Stop robbing children of their childhood and give them back their innocence. Let them delight in the fine arts, crafts, music and just the joy of being. Let them delight in life and cherish little moments and let the future take care of itself.