in Prism of Life, Redefining Education

I am afraid there are no readymade answers to it.

However, a sincere attempt can be made to diagnose the underlying pathological conditions of exceptional academic performance from the perspectives of different stakeholders namely, Parents, Institutions, Future Employers, Students.

Parents: In India, the sense of pride associated with raising an academically exceptional kid is something that is difficult to express in words. It’s the ultimate validation to prove your worth as a successful parent. In fact, it’s the most desired institutionally validated certificate that helps in covering every other possible flaw in your parenting. Not only that, it also gives you a false sense of assurance that your kid will eventually become an overachiever in actual life.

Institutions: They are more interested in the success of academically bright students for obvious reason that they end up becoming their unique selling advertising piece to attract unreasonably high tuition fees. As a result, they ostensibly end up propagating the attitude of “the dog eats dog” World. In fact, they are as interested in the overall development of their students as any poultry farmer may be interested in the overall health of his farm.

Future Employers: They have complete faith in the system that works tirelessly to filter students based upon their academic performances. Conformity & compliance is something that is deeply imprinted on the psyche of the students who succeed in emerging as a top performer. As a result, the entire process of hiring just becomes a formality to validate the undisputed result of standardized tests.

Students: The most important stakeholder doesn’t have any say in this entire elaborate scheme of things. The exam-centric education system simply expects them to follow the long list of instructions from other two stakeholders: parents & institutions. There is no way to challenge their undisputed authorities.

It’s very unfortunate that kids as young as 8-10 years old have to go through the experience of exam related stress. Exam-centric education causes extreme stress to students because tests are regarded as the only means to prove their worth. The examination system is a filtering process that believes in rejecting a massive majority to select a few for the higher educations. 

On a broader sense, exam-centric system thrives on having stifling control over its students. As a consequence, it ends up playing havoc in the academic and social lives of students. 

Such education that holds examinations as its core component downplays the ultimate purpose of education: critical thinking.

An exam-centric education assigns student aptitude based only on test scores, oftentimes leading to the marginalization, if not outright disregard, of lower- performing students. 

In India, your worth is defined by your scores, and not by your character. Both parents and teachers consider scores to be the only evaluating criteria for the students. Therefore, high scorers garner praise whereas low and mediocre scores lead to public shame. 

This violates the foundational education policy objective of equal opportunities for all merit standards. Exam-oriented education centers around entrance tests and the demand of getting an entry to the prestigious medical or engineering colleges. To fulfill those demands more often than not teachers end up ignoring student’s creativity or ability to reason abstractly.

An exam-oriented education system not only increases a students’ burden but also restricts a student’s ability to learn using techniques that a particular student finds most effective. 

A pile of ten or more books on the desk is a common sight inside any high secondary school classrooms, half of which are exercise books, which elucidates the pressure to pass the entrance examination. Further, most teachers, parents, and students believe admission to engineering or medical college is the only secure way to succeed in life.

In fact, those students who fail the entrance examinations believe they have few, if any, career prospects, a belief that ends up creating a lifelong scar on the motivational psyche of students. 

Therefore it’s not an exaggeration to state that as a primary cause of teen anxiety, examinations stand second to none.

It’s high time these different stakeholders start revisiting their roles and responsibilities to address the issue of systemic failure. Parents should take the lead here and stop attaching too much of significance to their kid’s academic success. There is the whole spectrum of unexplored life waiting outside the periphery of academics. Please give your kid an opportunity to explore them.

As far as developing core competency is concerned parents just need to keep in mind that there are certain cross-functional skill that will always remain in demand. They are

1) Interpersonal skills, like leadership and customer service, and

2) Basic technology skills, like knowing how to use word processing software and manipulate spreadsheets.

These skills are unlikely to be rendered obsolete by technological innovation or economic disruptions.

Having a strong base in these cross-functional skills is important across industries and job titles — it also gives an employee the capacity to pivot careers when needed.

Even in a changing workforce environment, having a strong foundation in these versatile, cross-functional skills that allow people to successfully pivot.

Therefore, any unnecessary obsession with academic performance is something that should be avoided at all cost. Because in the long-run life is shaped by your judgments & choices and not by your marks.

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