Saturday, September 8, 2012

Academic Stress: Myths and Make-believes

Introduction: In this post, I am suggesting that reducing quality of academics  is not a solution to reducing academic stress. Lowering the standards of education will only have detrimental effect on future of students in present day  competitive times .

It is education day today. Education is a very broad term which in simplest sense  is the ability to differentiate between right and wrong . As I see it , sole aim of education is to develop rationality.
Before we take up this issue of academic stress, let me ask you a simple question. With what aim you send your child to school?  What is your expectation from an academic institute at primary, intermediate and highest level?I know most of the people in response to this would say “to make the child literate and a better human”.  If that truly is the purpose than why do we make comparison of his progress report card with the student who scored highest marks in the class? I think every parent should once read and understand the spirit of letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to his son’s teacher . The beauty of letter is, he is never asking to make his son better than his peers, and his request in the letter is not for knowledge but for wisdom. I know Charles Darwin's survival of fittest, is at back of your mind when you make that comparison  but believe me,  no matter however indestructible the soul seems , the damage happens. The feeling of child has recorded an impression , the seed of stress is planted, and surely academics are no way responsible for it.  I read a unique response of class sixth student to excellent film “Taare Zamin Par” focusing on child with dyslexia which really is very educating. The child wrote “ Ending of film should have been different from what it is because in the end everyone showers love on boy when he proves himself to be an excellent painter. What if he was not a good painter, good writer, good sportsperson, good anything , what if he is not excellent in anything , what if he is just average in everything as most people are , shouldn't he be loved and accepted for what he really is ” ?  Doesn't this response tell us something ? The fact is acceptance is what a child needs most and if parents won’t accept children for whatever they are, who will?
There has been a lot of uproar in the recent past about so called  academic stress and some alterations have been done by education ministry . A lobby of thinkers who apparently has a lot of say with our lawyer turned education minister obviously believes in over simplified solutions.In their modus-operandi If something is complex to comprehend remove it from syllabus, if exams are causing stress remove exams , If analysis is problem then test for retention . My domain of teaching is limited to physics so I will give you example from there, take a look a NCERT book of 1995 and 2012 and you will understand what I mean. The level is very peripheral. To add salt to injury, many teachers at schools level confine themselves to lines of NCERT and thus do not develop the topics to their inner essence which is tested in most of the competitive exams. .One thing that honorable minister and his brigade of followers must understand is that how can academic rigor be marginalized when competition is becoming more and more severe. I think dual standards and hypocrisy is part and parcel of our life that is why this ‘Bharat’ and ‘India’ picture shines in education too. “Bharat” of board exams is a cake walk with 53 marks of knowing and 17 marks numerical application  problems in 70 mark theory paper . 30 marks for practical is a free gift that everyone gets from kind teachers. Why these people don’t take a look a mark sheets of students who get on the average 27 out of thirty in practical and 23 out of seventy in theory. The level of questions and concepts asked in competitions demand application and analysis in numerical and there this mugged up knowledge fails. What MIT teaches at graduate level we teach the same things in XI and XII? But, they teach for meaning of words and how that knowledge can be used in making products and devices. We teach so as to complete the syllabus and pass the exam.
In my opinion, the stress truly is not academic but competition and expectation related stress.We are living in a society where 'being seen as good' is more important than actually 'being good'. This sham and pretense of trying to be better than others is leading to stress while we continue to blame academics for it. Every parent wants his ward to be ahead of others and every child wants to get best college that has brand value to guarantee a cushy job . Realizing that everyone cannot get their our think tank of policy makers decided to adopt “bunch the top” strategy, that just aims at making everyone happy . Take a look at boards results of 2011 .The number of high performers in the 90 percent-plus category swelled by 30 percent to 21,665 from 16,563 last year. The number of students scoring 95 percent and above also reached a new high almost doubling to 2,097 from 1,202 in 2010.Schools are happy teachers are happy and students are happy .These disillusioned kids living under the euphoria of their high scores when reach higher classes suffers the perils of provisions line CCE and local board exams . Now instead of curing the root problem of thoughtlessness and non inquisitiveness, they start blaming syllabus for it. schools blame coaching classes and coaching classes blame students for not studying. In this swing of blame game a child is caught up between schools and coaching centers with almost no time for self study. Now, Parents because they are investing at two places want immediate returns and pressurize children. Tell me how can one become wise by listening three times , when one does not apply and practice the concepts own his own even once? A teacher these days is expected to be a magician who could turn a magic wand or a doctor who could give a pill for subject which can be taken every night with milk.
World is truly a global village and our plus point has been the grill that students go through in 11 and 12 class. It truly used to prepare child for tough future but by slowly lowering standard of education by reducing syllabus and localizing exams we are going to build a nation of underachievers . If policy makers really want to do something they have to give autonomy to schools , free them from truss of bureaucratic boards , rules and paper work . Ensure proper implementation of practicals and projects . Make board exams close to competition exam where aim is to test thought and not retention. They really have to see that child gets more time to do self study and ponder over what is taught to him. How right was Ernest dement who said “Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves” Instead of trying to make roots of plant of education sugary and compact they have to make roots bitter and spread so that it gives sweet fruit .
Yes, there is performance related stress but not all stresses are bad, sometimes they make you stronger and more determined, coping up with them is necessarily required for survival in this tough life. After all, We have to survive in troubled seas of competition riding in overcrowded locals and not lavishly live on utopian islands from where we can relaxingly gaze and admire Berkeley and Johns Hopkins model of education.


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