Board exams and the hollowness of counselling students : The Tribune India

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Board exams and the hollowness of counselling students

What confronts our children is a highly life-killing and mechanised system of education that knows nothing beyond rote learning, exam strategies and success manuals.

Board exams and the hollowness of counselling students

IRONY: As parents and teachers, we give students stress while advising them to be calm and composed. PTI



Avijit Pathak

Sociologist

DURING this season of board exams and all sorts of entrance tests, we seem to be busy advising and motivating young students or ‘exam warriors’, to borrow the term used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Like him, we engage in some sort of ‘pariksha pe charcha’ and teach them how not to get stressed, remain focused, accept ‘healthy competition’, work on ‘self- progress’, ‘recharge’ the body and concentrate on studies with a relaxed mind. Furthermore, we love to console them by saying that everybody is unique and hence, one should not compare oneself with others. Indeed, there is no dearth of sweet words on our part.

However, I am not very sure whether these students take us very seriously. In fact, they know the harsh reality. With their lived experience, they know that no matter what we say in front of them, we have created a ‘learning machine’ in which it is the quantification of ‘success’ — say, 99 per cent marks in the board exams, or a good ranking in the IIT-JEE or NEET — that alone matters. In this hyper-competitive social milieu, their future, they apprehend, is bleak, if they do not manage to opt for the select career options and appropriate courses in medicine, engineering, commerce and business management. Hence, they cannot afford to be ‘unique’; they are required to imitate the path set by the ‘successful’ ones. Yes, everybody loves ‘success’, and what the system regards as ‘failure’ is ugly; teachers and parents loathe it; and the spectre of ‘failure’ often leads to chronic nervousness, psychic disorder and even suicidal tendencies. Think of the latest suicide note of an 18-year student in Kota: ‘I am a loser. I am the worst daughter. Sorry mummy papa.’ As adults, parents, teachers and political masters, we are essentially hypocrites. We give them stress; and, yet, we advise them to be calm and composed.

In fact, amid this business of counselling and sweet talks at the time of exams, we escape from raising a series of critical issues relating to the social dynamics of education. Let me raise three such issues.

First, the system of school education we have normalised is essentially one-dimensional; the importance it attaches to a set of technical and academic skills leads to the devaluation of what makes life truly meaningful and creative-say, the art of relatedness, the sensitivity to nature, or the ability to integrate the brain and the heart, or the body and the soul. The irony is that we have reduced all radical and life-transformative visions of education as envisaged by the likes of Rabindranath Tagore and Jiddu Krishnamurti into fossilised museum pieces. The result is that what confronts our children is a highly life-killing and mechanised system of education that knows nothing beyond rote learning, exam strategies and success manuals. Passing the exams; settling down in life as doctors, engineers, bankers and traders; earning money; and nurturing the same ambition in the next generation — this seems to be the mantra of existence we ask our children to internalise. Hence, our counselling or sweetness at the time of exams is nothing but shallow and hypocritical.

Second, not many of us, including our political bosses, top academic bureaucrats and policymakers, are willing to accept that the world we have created in which these youngsters will eventually enter is essentially corrupt, violent and manipulative. Think of, for instance, the fate of the constitutional ideals like secularism, democracy and distributive justice. Yes, majoritarianism is the order of the day; ethics is a bad word in the realm of politics; greed is normalised amid rising consumerism and market-induced artificial needs; and the cult of narcissism diminishes the spirit of democratic decision-making. Under these circumstances, will the youngsters really accept our sweet words and motivational speeches? Or, for that matter, are we — I mean, parents and teachers — ready to embrace some of these youngsters if they dare to say ‘no’ to what the ‘Kota factory’ symbolises — the production of the ‘toppers’ through the tyranny of the time table, the cycle of the endless drilling and the circulation of aesthetically/spiritually impoverished ‘coaching’ strategies? Can we encourage them if they begin to cherish the spirit of critical pedagogy, debunk what our political masters and techno-capitalists are doing and, eventually, strive for a kind of living based on creativity, simplicity and austerity? Or, will we stigmatise them as idealist fools and send them to psychiatrists to cure their ‘abnormality’? Likewise, how many of us have the courage and integrity to tell these youngsters that they are not ‘exam warriors’, nor are they ‘resources’ to be shaped and used by the techno-corporate world for its irresistible greed and ‘productivity’? Do we really want to see them as creative souls rather than polished ‘products’ with a lucrative salary package?

Third, our counselling seldom bothers about the most difficult examination of life. This examination is not about physics, mathematics and English; this is about the intellectual clarity to distinguish the lamp of truth from the noise of the propaganda machinery; spiritual longing for love and oneness from the manipulative religious politics that causes hatred, division and violence; authentic existential needs like the art of loving and sharing from the selfishness implicit in what social psychologist Erich Fromm would have regarded as ‘having a mode of existence.’

Is it really possible for our political masters or, for that matter, academic bureaucrats to initiate yet another kind of ‘pariksha pe charcha’ and inspire the new generation to choose life, not death; ecologically sustainable living, not the techno-capitalist destruction of mother earth; and freedom, not the trap of the surveillance machinery?

#Narendra Modi


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