It was the one time I gave into the pressure of being a parent of a school going child. My 8-year-old daughter wasn't reading, no Enid Blyton, no Roald Dahl, not even a cursory glance at the golden oldie, Amar Chitra Katha.
So, I landed up in school in despair asking what I was doing wrong because while my daughter was not reading, he classmate was lapping up books double the size of a Harry Potter. The teacher didn't bat an eyelid and told me to leave my child alone adding that she will discover "it" when the time is right. Her reasoning, if the other child is reading so much it means she isn't doing much else.
So, when a girl gets 499/500 in the CBSE Class 12 board examinations, I can't help but remember those wise words. Without taking anything away from Meghna Srivastava and her remarkable achievement or obvious intelligence, it is hard to understand the wow and the how. The topper in her innocence announced that there is no secret, you have to work hard the whole year. But translated in the Indian context of our obsession over board examinations, it means she is just coming out of a long hibernation.
It just doesn't feel right. How can a child get an answer worth just one mark wrong in a system that has increasingly terrorised parents and children alike? Maybe Meghna didn't need to study much and is just a natural mix of Newton and Vishwanathan Anand or then again as is the norm, she burnt the midnight oil night after night while her parents also forgot to have a life of their own, as though they too were on test. They probably were as relatives are more interested in your child's marks than you are anyway.
Coming back to that almost perfect score, those numbers are worrisome on several fronts although the good news is that it has for once taken the shine away from the science stream. In the not so recent past, anyone who wanted to be someone took up science or was forced to by ambitious parents for whom arts was an anathema.
Commerce was just about respectable but humanities, God forbid your child took that! Philosophy Honours and then marriage. It is exactly how a girl who opted for Arts was dismissed. But with Meghna's rank there is a lot of egg on the face of convention, that many can easily get admission into an Economics course but choose instead to do English or Political Science.
While all that is okay, how do you score 99 in English and 100 in Psychology? These are subjects that have an infinite scope for imagination and creativity, to give full marks here is to stifle both, it is to tell a person that what you wrote is the ultimate. How can creative writing be quantified to such an extent that no one can better it? Languages as a subject are like a canvas, they are seamless and should have no limit.
Here instead we have students trailing each other with just a difference of a mark, seven children have tied with 497 marks to come third across the country. How flawed then is our system that ironically puts so much pressure and then goes to the other extreme, hitting the scores out of the park? About 12,000 students have scored above 95 per cent in the Class 12 CBSE boards this year, the implications are even harder to imagine.
Last year cut-offs in Delhi University were as high as a ridiculous 99.6 per cent, this time even if you score in the mid-90s there is no guarantee of getting admission into a college.
At one point, anything in late 70s or early 80s was golden, today that is just plain average. Is this then an education system that we need to spend sleepless nights over, where marks have been inflated beyond any semblance of reasoning? Where does this marking system leave countless other children who didn't score well? By giving so much importance to the marks scored and the toppers are we not dividing our children into winners and losers at a very young age when instead we should be encouraging all as equals?
Depression and anxiety disorders among our students are an increasing reality and these issues are getting burdened with a rather curious scoring system. Students killing themselves due to the insane pressure of studies is a statistic that we register yet refuse to do much about as though we have collectively given up and can't come around years of conditioning. This despite psychiatrists warning that the fear of giving exams is a tangible traumatic disorder among our children.
A couple of years ago, a parent spoke about how he had given his child's paper for revaluation, what came back shocked him as well. From 68 marks his child had jumped to 84 in that particular subject and the father couldn't understand how there was such a big difference in the scoring. This then is also a system that encourages luck. Another student spoke about how he had left a five-mark question unanswered, yet got 99 per cent in the subject.
Maybe there is no short cut to success but why is our Class 12 result considered the biggest achievement of them all? How many of us remember the previous toppers or for that matter when was the last time someone asked you your chemistry marks? It's worth listening to Jack Ma, among the richest men in China and founder of e-commerce giant Ali Baba, who failed countless times in school and was rejected not just by Harvard but even KFC when he applied for a lowly job. The trick then is to not stop dreaming and never try to love someone else's dream.
The world has changed, engineering isn't the only profession around but we Indians will argue that even a cricket team has only 11, that at the end of the day only your marks help. Maybe they do, but at what cost?
Our children are all talented, just not in the same field. When will we realise that excelling in music or dance is as big an achievement and for that a 100 per cent in Physics is not really required?
Our core learning should have been that a child is always more important than the marks s/he scores. Here in India, sadly he or she isn't. Did Meghna in the last one year get any time to dance in the rain or hear the birds chirp? How many childhoods have fallen victim to the question of "Kitne number aye".