School or Prison?

Modern Education

It is three in the morning. The city is sleeping. Light pours out of the window of that apartment room. There are three people fast asleep in that house. But one poor girl stays up and tries to mug up math formulae while the book facepalms her occasionally.

This is the usual scene in my house these days. And no, I’m not the girl studying. It’s my sister, who is in Class 9. Neither is this blog post about mugging up math formulae. But before I get into that, let me refresh some facts. Typically, a student in class 9 is not older than 14 years of age. 9th standard is, by popular belief tougher than class 10. A student is a teenager trying to find him/herself and recreate his/her identity. Moreover, they are persons requiring about the same amount of rest, food, and the likes.

I have observed my sister growing up, as most people do. I’ve seen her singing and dancing phases. I’ve seen her passionately fangirling over Greek mythology and Percy Jackson. I’ve seen her top each of her classes (except Hindi). I’ve seen her as an active debater- both at home and at her school MUN. I’ve seen the determination with which she does what she does. She nurtured a dream of wanting to be an astrophysicist and looking up colleges offering the course. And today, when people ask her she says she would not mind staying at home. The only reason she continues studying is because my mum threatened her with marriage ideas (almost jokingly).

What is it that changed? Surely not her determination, because she makes do with less that 5 hours of sleep everyday, and lesser than that during exams. She does manage to get good enough marks to stay in the good books of teachers. But what bothers me is this hard work that she does.

I understand, as a final year student of a very demanding course the amount of hard work that needs to go in to studying. Even on your off days, when you’re in college, you need to be attentive. But I fail to understand why a fourteen year old has to, as we say popularly, slog through school. Why is it that she continues to work so hard?

I think half the problem lies in the newest system that has been created for CBSE schools in India. They have class tests almost every other week, internal assessments, practicals, and final exams. That means at least 3 sets of main exams, plus a set of prelims, and a set of class tests. That is a total of five sets of exams every semester, along with additional “completing books” and verbal/oral skills. (Plus tuition exams, let’s not forget) Can you imagine something like that in your school days?

I ask her every time why does she bother with all these exams. She says it’s all apparently added in their boards. All I can think of, in this case is how horrible it is to make little children work like slaves. Combine this with them having to go for school, and tuition, which means about  8 hours of instruction.

I sometimes wonder how my school days would have felt had I not caught those popular TV shows every day. I wonder how it would be not discussing it in school with passionate recounting of every scene of every TV show we collectively watched. And now here, after 5 years is a cohort not being able to do any of it. It is no wonder that these children are irritable and angry all the time. It is their childhood we are depriving them of. It is their right to learn how to feel free, and the right to explore who they are and want to be, that we are depriving them of.

If you have read 1984, you might understand when I say that education has become like The Thought Police, and anything but has become thoughtcrime. Because honestly, even though I am your typical nerd, there are other things in life, that are as important, if not more. And if students feel trapped and suffocated in such a system, where are they going to get motivation to study any longer than what is absolutely essential. Where would be a PhD scholar if they don’t have the motivation to study further than graduation simply because of the chains they feel bound by?

It was Subroto Bagchi that once said, “Success in not the ability to create a definitive, dogmatic end state; it is about the unfolding of thought processes, of dialogue and continuum.” I don’t see education creating children who think for themselves. I don’t see how we encourage children to hone their talents. I see them being in a rat race to achieve the highest marks possible, even if it is by cheating and copying, as their parents are to achieve money.

I think that it is high time we redefine the goals that education wants to achieve, and help these children create a vision for themselves that is out of the boundaries of marks, and jobs, and degree. At the risk of sounding too philosophical, I do believe in teaching them to be human-full with imagination, thought and a sense of self that no textbook could ever teach them.

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About author : Arathy Puthillam is a 3rd year Psychology student (B.A) at St. Xavier’s College (autonomous), Mumbai.

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