That Time Of The Year When Indian Parents Are Obsessed With…

Posted: February 20, 2019

The average Indian parent is focused on one thing and one thing only, come March. What is it? Your guess is as good as ours.

You must be thinking I am here to talk about that time of the year which is about family reunions, celebrations, feasts and display of silks. That time of the year when everybody dons their best and gets together for the coming together of two individuals.

But no, I am not here to talk about the ongoing wedding season but about the approaching season. As this season draws nearer, the count of grim and serious people around you seems to soar up. There are plenty of adults around you who look perpetually worried and children who seemed to be in no better position. The parks and playgrounds are suddenly becoming empty. The cable connections are snapped off, the Wi-Fi passwords changed and all outings and recreational activities suspended till this season come to an end. Well, you guessed it right, I am going to talk about the exam season.

For the uninitiated, we in India categorize our seasons differently. While the rest of the world uses weather as the yardstick for differentiating seasons, we in India do it on the basis of the events happening around that time of the year. So, you have the festive season, which starts from Janmashtami and lasts till Diwali, this is followed by the wedding season and then comes the most dreaded of seasons – the exam season.

The mood for this season sets in February and peaks as the month draws to a close with the onset of board exams. The season last’s well into April. This after a brief lull, is followed by the even dreaded result season. But for now, its exams or rather the Indian parent’s obsession with it that I want to talk about.

“Then only her board results will be good…”

Last week, I was at my daughter’s school for her sports day. As the races for the day commenced, there were excited parents discussing the laurels of their talented children. Sitting right behind me were a couple of mothers and from their conversation, I could make out that their children were probably in the third or fourth standard. One mother started showing the other photos of a certain state of the art boarding school she had come across.

As the second mother was looking at these pictures, she declared, “I plan to send my daughter here in 9th standard itself. Then only will her board results be good and she will be able to take up science in 11th.” The second mother also vehemently agreed with her adding that of course, her son would also be taking up science in 11th. I was shocked at hearing this conversation.

The children have not even completed primary school, but the parents have it all planned already. Maybe if I had sat through another 10 minutes of the conversation, these mothers would have also decided the courses their children would choose in graduation and the companies they would be joining. What the children actually want to do with their lives, no one is really interested in knowing. On second thoughts, should I really be surprised?

What do the children want? Who knows?

Conversations like these are a very common occurrence in our country. I am sure almost all of you would have come across a similar conversation at some point of time. While at the outset this conversation might seem amusing, imagine the plight of those children, who would be at the receiving end of their parents’ plans.

Maybe these children might find no joy in numbers or solving equations. Those theorems in physics might prove to be terrorizing for them. Their true forte might be in a language or who knows they might have a flair for Geography. But the sad part is nobody is really interested in knowing. Their future has been decided and they have to follow this chosen path whether they like it or not.

With every exam season, it will get more difficult, with the little ones being suppressed under the burden of parental expectations. For the parents, reaching that planned coveted goal keeps gaining importance with each passing year. I know a lot of you would tell me it’s the well being of the children that they have in mind.

After all, every parent wants to see their children lead secure and comfortable lives. But isn’t this process of ensuring the well being, doing just the opposite? Isn’t it creating individuals who are always under pressure and fear of not living up to expectations? Isn’t this slowly making these children into insecure individuals?

The exam results have become coveted social symbols for a lot of parents. They want to be able to flaunt the brilliance of their child’s academic records, which would see their positions raise higher in the social circles. For this wish to become a reality, it is the children who are relentlessly pressurized to reach the top, outdo the others.

While encouragement and motivation are essential, constant comparison and undue pressure only result in negative outcomes. As the exam season nears almost every little pleasure is packed off from the child’s life. Be it their screen time, play time or even their occasional guilt snacks or even cool drinks, lest they catch a cold or have a stomach upset. If these are the children appearing for board exams then they can forget even their sleep time. There are parents who boast about their children sleeping for just 5 hours, because they are busy studying.

But this is no matter of pride but an issue of serious concern as such unhealthy sleeping schedules can cause health havoc. This relentless pressure to stay ahead of the rat race, to always outperform everyone else, to be the best in the game creates a fear in the child’s mind of being left behind or labelled incapable. Is all the bragging about sonny boy’s impeccable academic records worth it, if it is coming at the cost of his self-confidence.

Every time I see this hype and hoopla around exams and parents telling their children to look up to the proverbial Sharma ji ka beta, I am reminded of the Rancho’s popular pressure cooker dialogue from the movie 3 Idiots. Isn’t it high time these children were treated as individuals with choices, tastes, likes and dislikes of their own. Often in the quest for making the children climb further into the coveted 90% club, we have forgotten the real meaning of education. The concept of the joy of learning is slowing becoming extinct.

Parents of children in kindergarten are also busy preparing them for exams. Even while choosing the school, factors like teaching methods, play grounds on campus, the capacity to encourage individual growth are all ignored with just one factor given prime consideration: the results of the students studying in the school. Will the school be able to place my child at the top of the coveted 90% club, ends up remaining the only criteria for choosing the school. While I agree the academic track record of the school is essential, that should definitely not be the only criteria.

I come across parents of four-year olds discussing exam schedules and discussing how their child needs to improve at a certain subject. I see five- and six-year olds around me being packed off to tuition classes every evening, so that their exam results improve. These children, who have just started their schooling should be given the time and opportunity to develop a liking for it. Such young children aren’t equipped to be running the rat race to stay ahead of the competition. They don’t even know what competition is. Why can’t we let them have a normal childhood, learn at their own pace, observe and question? Is a 100/100 from a toddler more important than their happiness and innocence?

A couple of years back there was a movie named Tamasha which hit the theatres, it won a lot of rave reviews but what stood out for me in the movie was the protagonist’s pain of having to live a life in which he finds no joy and the root cause of this is his profession, he has no passion for. Isn’t this a very common occurrence in our country? Come June and you see huge crowds outside coaching centres training students for the professional competitive exams, more specifically the Engineering and Medical Entrance Exams.

Year after year many able writers, artists, singers, musicians or even budding historians are sacrificed at the altar of the coveted professional degree.  These students continue moving on in life, with the sorrow of their unfulfilled dreams hidden in a corner of their heart. At the end of the day, we have that individual with a secure job and an unhappy mind. So, are they really in a happy space?

In the second edition of Pariksha Pe Charcha, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “I would request parents, do not expect your children to fulfil your unfulfilled dreams. Every child has his or her own potential and strengths… It is important to understand these positives of every child. Parents often treat the report cards of their children as their visiting cards and that adds extra pressure on them which is very unreal and unhealthy.”

These words of his sum it all up. Our children are individuals in their own rights and have the right to pave their own path in life, we are there to guide them, not lay a path and force them to walk on it against their wishes. Most importantly we need to teach our children that exam results are only a part of life, it is definitely not the end of the road in case of a bad performance. We have all been in their shoes not very long ago, so let us stop making the Sharma ji ka beta more infamous and the person to hate for one more generation. Let us bring back the joy of learning and enforce the importance of individuality among our children.

Image via Pexels

First published here.

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