09 June, 2016

Denting ardent students

By Divya Sridharan

Children in India are not so much brought up as used as projection screens for their parents' aspirations for them. And that sort of thing takes its toll. Our children are killing themselves. And it’s our fault.

So all the Board and Entrance examination results are out.

Amazingly, many young men and women have achieved “cent per cent” scores. Unbelievable really. How can you score 100/100 in languages, or in English?

Is that a reflection on how much of learning is by rote now. And how little value there is for original thinking. These are troubling questions that we don’t ask ourselves.

Meanwhile, victorious students have been proclaimed the heroes and heroines of the hour. Ecstatic parents have been portrayed kissing their beaming, brilliant children. Full-page all-colour advertisements (from the many tutorial sweatshops that dot this scholarship-hungry nation of ours) have hailed the toppers. Interviews have been conducted, reports have been written, of the manner in which these young men and women, have pushed themselves. Of the manner in which they have denied themselves simple joys and pleasures, to achieve their goals.

And that is all incredibly admirable, really.

But in many homes young people on the cusp of adulthood, have done the unthinkable. They will never smile again.

Look at how many young people have died in Kota alone. Kota in Rajasthan, if you didn’t know already, is the unofficial coaching institute capital of India. There are reportedly 1.5 lakh students enrolled in it’s numerous, unregulated coaching institutes. These students spend countless hours studying. They survive on very little sleep, and God knows, what kind of food, so they can prepare for India’s afore-mentioned Entrance examinations. This year, by the first week of May, eight students living in Kota to “attend” coaching classes had killed themselves. In 2015, 19 students committed suicide.

Why did these promising young people do this? Stressed and anguished, they were goaded — nay driven to despair — by the weight of their parents’ expectations. They were pushed to pursue goals that were not theirs, urged to fulfil dreams that did not belong to them. So they hit back by carrying out the ultimate and final act of defiance. By taking something that was theirs and theirs alone. Their lives.

Things have come to such a pass that the District Collector of Kota, Ravi Kumar Surpur, even published an “open letter”to parents urging them not to force their expectations on their children.

Not that this will make one iota of difference.

Because we parents are hypocrites. We blame the system, we beat our breasts and wail loudly. And we have no one but ourselves to blame.

Because we want our children to excel. And second-best is no longer good enough.

And guess what, we are starting them (on tuitions) even younger now.

Just up the road from my house, there is a bold handwritten proclamation on the wall — “tuitions for all subjects, Class 1 onwards”. In fact, now it is even simpler in cities to get your child in touch with a good tutor. There are online tutorials where the child can be tutored in all subjects, in the “comfort of your own home”.

Have you heard the advertisements for these online tutorials?

One advert has the voice of a young child saying this: “I’m worried about my mother. Ever since she signed me up for ...(name of online tutorial), she’s got so much free time. What if she gets bored?”

Another advertisement from the same company talks about how Alexander Graham Bell was a “bad student” too. But don’t worry, goes the ad, “your child can excel with the personal attention we provide.” I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the drift. The tag line for this company is “Better tuitions. Better results”.

The company is counting on the fact that all parents are intensely competitive. Why, from the day the child is born, we compare, we contrast — “my child was walking at eight months, and talking at 10,” one mom will say. “Oh mine was potty-trained at six months,” another will counter, sharply but sweetly. Well, that’s how it starts.

Then mommy bloggers will post unceasingly about how much they love being “hands-on moms”, about what their little geniuses are up to and their not-so-little successes.

Working moms, already on the defensive for wanting to work and not spend all their time with their children, get — well —worked up. They get jittery. The overwhelming thoughts: “What if my child loses out?” or “What if my child is not in the top one percent in class?”.

Underlying this of course, is the unspoken thought “What if I lose face?”.

So, the next-best option is send the child for “tuitions’. Or better still, enrol the child in an online tutorial. Because, as I said before, “Catch ‘em young” is the mantra here.

These past couple of weeks, the online tutorial provider, has been advertising on my local and very popular FM channel, roughly every hour, every day,.

Not surprising really. Timing is everything, marketing types will agree.

And schools across India will re-open in the next couple of days.

A new academic year beckons.

A new generation of children are being lined up, already.

Their dreams, their free time and their childhood is now at stake.

Let’s not take away their lives too.



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