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The Unbearable Burden Of Being A Class 12 Student In India

03/06/2016 7:56 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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NEW DELHI, INDIA - AUGUST 24: Students preparing for the UPSC civil services preliminary examination in the last minute at their examination center at a school at Gole Market on August 24, 2014 in New Delhi, India. The preliminary examination consisting of two papers (Paper I and Paper II) of two hours duration each was held without any reported incidents of protests, official sources said. (Photo by Sushil Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

If you are a parent of a teen who has just appeared for her board exams, you will know exactly what it feels like when the results are about to be declared. It's like waiting for your own results. Only this time, you are not a carefree teen but a worry-wart adult plagued by ifs and buts, and what will the world and its aunt think if your child scores an abysmal 85%? Even Mrs Chatterjee's useless son scored a 97%! Oh, the triumphant look in her eyes when she distributed sweets in the neighbourhood. Too bad she got the mithai from a third-rate halwai.

Only 8% managed to breach the 90s barrier. So, where does it leave the remaining 92%? Why don't we talk about them? Why don't newspapers follow their life journeys...?

The thing is, we all seem to think scoring in the 90s is a breeze -- until it's your own teen's turn to appear for her boards. It's then you find out how much pressure we put on our kids by making abnormally high scores the new normal. Fact is only those who score high marks share the news on social media. The rest keep mum. Consider this. Out of a total of 1,067,900 candidates registered for this year for the class 12 exam, 89,000 students scored more than 90% in aggregate. Which means only 8% managed to breach the 90s barrier.

So, where does it leave the remaining 92%? Why don't we talk about them? Why don't newspapers follow their life journeys and come out with reassuring stories that scoring "low" was not the end of their life? I wish more and more parents would tell their children that marks secured in exams do not define them. A child who obtains 78% may have a better grasp of a select few subjects and the ones who score a 99% may simply be able to memorize better. Many school teachers have mastered training their students in the art of answering correctly. Plus, the structure of the question papers is such that some students can work around the format and get high scores. Your exam score is certainly not the only indicator of your intelligence or the lack of it.

It's quite likely that after studying for 12 hours a day for months, you'll secure 95% but will still not get into the college of your choice.

They will tell you high scores allow you to pick and choose the subject and college of your choice. Sadly this is not always true. Those who do well in exams tend to opt for a handful of courses in a handful of premier colleges. There's a mad scramble for limited seats and not everyone manages to get in. It's quite likely that after battling stress and anxiety and studying for 12 hours a day for months, you'll secure 95% but will still not get into the college of your choice.

It's not your fault. You did your best. But so did 7000 odd students who scored above 95%.

Interestingly, despite the mad number of students doing exceptionally well in class 12 exams and getting through engineering and other top-notch institutes, 47% of our graduates and a whopping 80% of engineering graduates are unemployable. According to employers, poor communication and cognitive skills are to be blamed. And yet we have our kids believe that higher education is the only route to success. We are failing our student community, when we make them go through higher education irrespective of whether they are cut out for the grind of higher studies.

Most students end up choosing subjects not according to their aptitude but according to the marks they get and what their parents think is right.

It's firmly ingrained in our psyche that those with exceptional results should go for engineering, medical studies, commerce or law. Most students end up choosing subjects not according to their aptitude but according to the marks they get and what their parents think is right. I mean that's what an ideal child is meant to do -- make her parents happy and relatives jealous!

Ridiculous, isn't it?

Because medical and engineering have become the de-facto graduate degrees for a large chunk of students today and the competition to get into elite colleges is more fierce, there's a huge demand for study centres. But when you put a bunch of kids through gruelling schedules, frequent tests and the unbearable stress of parents' expectations to do well, many of them crumble under the burden. Dozens of students -- including six this year -- have taken their lives in Kota (famous for its coaching centres) in the past five years. A lot of them realize they do not have the aptitude for the subject but are afraid to tell their parents because they have invested huge sums of money despite financial constraints.

When did we stop listening to our children? When did we make them slaves to our own unfulfilled desires or fears?

If you can't trust your son or daughter to take the right decisions, how can you expect them to believe in themselves?

Most youngsters at this stage have little or no idea what they want from their lives. As adults who have experienced the troughs and crests of life, learnt as much from our failures as we did from our triumphs, it becomes our duty as parents to become enablers to help them realize their dreams, instead of dictating their choices under the garb of "we know better." This should stop, shouldn't it? Our role as parents is to help them utilize their capabilities to their fullest and lead a good life as responsible members of society.

Of course the system sucks. There's an urgent necessity of intervention at school and college levels for improving basic skills of students. I don't understand why there's no focus on imparting vocational training alongside theoretical learning that will make them employable.

I could go and on with what's wrong with the system that doesn't let a student flourish. It focuses more on making students slaves of the syllabus. The emphasis is on scoring rather than opening up minds or training them to explore, discover and seek answers on their own. Isn't it the schools' responsibility to equip pupils with life skills that prepare them to function well outside the safe confines of their homes? And now that we have the cow writing letters to primary students telling them why she's such an awesome mom, and each ruling party busy rewriting history, I doubt things will change anytime soon.

If they face burnout in high school... suffer from depression because they are unable to cope, how will they survive the rest of their lives?

Does that mean we should be mute spectators and indulge in a blame game? Absolutely not.

Help your youngster understand herself. Each one of them has a gift -- maybe a flair for languages, an intuitive ability to understand people or a natural affinity for the visual arts. As a witness to her life, it's you who understands her abilities the best. Don't push her into a sea of mediocrity when she can excel elsewhere. Let her explore and discover the choices she should be making for a fulfilling life. I know it's tough to let go. But if you can't trust your son or daughter to take the right decisions, how can you expect them to believe in themselves?

We cannot be bystanders to the lives of our teens. They do need our guidance, sometimes even a firm push in the right direction. They do need to know scoring well increases your chances of a good life. But what they don't need is the unbearable pressure. Especially at this young age, which is just the beginning of a long, arduous journey to seek a life of their choosing. If they face burnout in high school, develop a deep aversion towards studying, suffer from depression because they are unable to cope, how will they survive the rest of their lives?

Think about it!

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