The other day I got a very fresh perspective on pressures in studies. My co-traveller was a young man from Surat. As I started a conversation about college admissions and coaching classes, (he was an IITian), he warmed up to the subject. “I had never heard of coaching classes till I met a boy from Chandigarh, who ‘enlightened’ me about them,” he chuckled. He himself had been a +1 class student at that time!
He went on to say that being born in a city comprising predominantly of businessmen and coming from a business family himself, he was completely free of any pressure from his parents and neighbours. “My parents had little idea about the JEE and consequently left me to my own devices.” He gave an amazing piece of statistics too — the year he cleared the IIT-JEE, only 11 students from the state of Gujarat had got selected to the premier institutions and he was the only one from Surat! “I thoroughly enjoyed studying and learning,” he smiled happily. How many of our children can claim that?
In my neighbourhood there is an uneducated cycle-rickshaw wallah who has managed to put one of his daughters through catering college and another through B.Com on his meager earnings. The children only have the ambition of doing well and earning money to pay back their father’s debts, no pressure to perform or perish. The parents only talk of their daughters and how well they are studying. The last I heard was that the daughter who had done the catering course had been sent to Dubai!
By inference, students from the other states and social backgrounds fare very badly — pressures from the family, peers and the coaching classes, not to speak of pressure from themselves to excel. Little wonder then that the children go to pieces and sometimes require even psychiatric counselling to counter depression and other psychological disorders. In extreme cases the kids commit suicide. Result times always make me nervous – to read about some such case.
Parents these days have to constantly walk a tightrope even while keeping a steadying grip on their children. Take the coaching classes: Have you seen children living in constant dread of being shunted to a less challenging group in these classes, consequently losing their peace and sleep? Far from instilling confidence in the child to face the formidable entrance exams, they thoroughly demoralize them. Of course some students thrive on competition and relish the prospect of pitting their skills against their classmates, but not all are so endowed.
It is important to let the students who are preparing for these exams know that they are not any less intelligent if they fail to get in. The line dividing those who get in and those who don’t is so thin as to be non-existent. I had once met a retired professor of IIT Delhi, who reiterated this point. “On the given day, the student who manages to retain his or her cool to answer the paper well, is the one to be selected. There is no magic formula,” he said.
My friend told me about her son who had scored 50% in his chemistry test. “The teacher keeps saying that we’d not get admission anywhere every time we get less marks,” he had apparently said. When I was in school, I remember teachers threatening weak students of the prospect of grazing cattle as according to them that was the only occupation they were good for. The boys would grin at that and dismiss the entire thing. I guess kids had very little pressure in those days and were perhaps thicker skinned in the bargain.
But contrast, today’s students who attend coaching classes are by no means weak in studies. They only go to improve their prospects in the various entrance examinations. One then is left wondering about the damage these teachers do to the psyche of the students by telling them they are no good. No wonder then that suicides are increasing at an alarming rate among students who are unable to come up to the expectations. Who can be constantly performing at his or her peak level through the entire two year period, except the very very brilliant few? Worse, these classes come at a very steep price; the price tag seems steeper considering the toll it takes on the students’ confidence. In their zeal to show ‘results’, they don’t care for the feelings of the students.
It is also important for parents not to have unrealistic expectations from their children in terms of getting into professional courses vis-à-vis their performance levels. I once had a neighbour who was down-to-earth in this matter. “My son has got only 55% in the 12th Boards. How can I force him to get into a medical or engineering college? Let him take any course where he can get admission and do well in that!” she said. How I loved that woman! How many parents can be this matter-of-fact? That boy went on to get his MBA and is doing very well for himself.
Another acquaintance allowed her son to take Arts (shudder, shudder! ) as his subject in the +1 classes and saw him get into the prestigious JNU at Delhi. He wanted to try for IAS after completing the course on International Business Studies or some such thing. Just imagine what would have happened had the mother fallen prey to the entrance exam pressure. We might have lost a great civil servant!
It is true that competition has become murderous these days and one has to be constantly on one’s toes to get into the course of one’s choice. But keeping pace with competition, the number of career options is also growing by the day. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the children, parents and teachers can channel them in that direction so that they can find their niche and excel in them.
That way we can prevent many a square peg in a round hole.