What price academia?

With the prevailing stress on todays students, there will be no sweet memories.


 I hear the same litany of complaints from other parents whose children want to get into the science or engineering stream. Of course very few want to do ‘unemployable’ subjects such as English or History. “One can only become teachers, aunty,” is the crestfallen response to my suggestions.

This trend of struggling to get into colleges of one’s choice is not endemic to India alone. My own granddaughter, who has a grade point average of 4.0, plays the piano, takes voice lessons to enhance her ballad singing ability, is a creative photographer specialising in black and white portraits, coaches an academically challenged child in school and is now in a backward Honduran village on a seven week volunteering programme, is finding this whole college thing extremely stressful.

In one college application form, my daughter tells me, Tara was asked to list all the international awards she may have won: national awards would be useful too, it seems! My daughter, usually a balanced sensible woman, looked at another application form and blew her cool. The form asked her for the child’s ‘passion’. And my poor Tara was asked to find a passion in two week’s time and work on it!

So what are we creating? Adults who do not learn for the joy of learning but for creating a portfolio? Children today have no time to be themselves, to play or sing for the sheer bliss of it.

When I ask a stressed out child what his day is like, I shudder. Up at dawn for tuition (for that extra two marks in the dreaded (board), school, back for tuition, then homework and fall exhausted into bed. No time for play, friendships or for smelling the roses.

Parents are caught in a bind, even though they realise the gravity of situation. Standards are set to heights impossible to scale or involves stress of great magnitude. And it manifests in many ways. One young person who sat in front of me cracked his knuckles, over and over, until I winced every time it happened. It was so painful. Some take the extreme step of suicide, and yet the bar is raised higher every year.

I think of my school days with pleasure. What will our children look back on? And with what feeling?

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