This Children’s Day, Let’s Watch ‘Taare Zameen Par’

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Two different cases in two different cities nearly 1150 kms apart in the recent past tell us the one bitter truth we have ignored for far too long: our school children are under great stress. In the first, a Class XI student of Ryan International School in Gurugram allegedly killed Pradhyumn Thakur, a Class II student of the same school, for nothing more sinister than to get an examination and a Parent Teachers Meeting (PTM) scheduled for the day postponed! In the other, a Class IX student in Surat, in connivance with a class mate, got himself ‘kidnapped’ – and even demanded a ransom of Rs. 50, 000 from his parents – because they frequently scolded and pressurized him for not paying enough attention to studies!!

There was a time when school used to be fun. But now, students – especially in urban, English medium schools – dread school. In our desire to mass produce robotic know-alls, we have burdened our children so much that the fun element has gone out of learning. It has instead turned into a chore that has to be endured by the child no matter what. Studies after studies have told us about great psychological damage that the burgeoning size of the school bag and the growing frequency of examinations and tests are doing to our children. But we remain blissfully oblivious of these findings and continue to press our children to ‘perform or perish’. We keep pushing them to the limits to fulfill ‘our’ desire to make them engineers, doctors or management professionals without once stopping to think if they would like to pursue a career in the humanities, art, sports or something else. We refuse to acknowledge the simple truth that not everyone is capable of scoring a 9 plus CGPA or cut out to study science or become an engineer or a doctor.

Not that parents of my generation were any more considerate. I recall the time when I was about to join college after passing out from school. I had decided to study Arts and had even decided on the subjects I would like to study in consultation with my seniors. But my father and uncle were insistent that I studied science since ‘it would help’ when I sat for the Civil Services later (I never did!). I tried to reason that I didn’t have an aptitude for science and even warned them that the results may be a disaster if they forced me, but they refused to relent. By way of a ‘concession’, I was told that I would have the option of switching over to Arts at the graduation stage if I didn’t do well in the intermediate. As it happened, I dropped the exams, passed I. Sc with moderate numbers the next year and then took admission in BA with English as my honours subject.

I only lost a year. But many students these days are so stressed that they often end their life or – like the Ryan school student – kill someone if they fall short of the unseemly expectations of their parents. The spate of suicides that follows every major school examination in our country is testimony to the stress we are putting our children under. This phenomenon alone should have set the alarm bells ringing and sent us scurrying to undertake a thorough and drastic overhaul of our school curriculum. But alas! No one – neither the parents nor the policy planners – seems to be too perturbed.

Every child is unique. Someone who is not good in studies may be good at painting, sports, music or something else. There is a need to put a system in place that identifies a child’s special talent early and groom him accordingly so that the child excels in the field s/he has an aptitude for. The present system of ‘One size fits all’ is doing incalculable and long term damage to our children. The consequences of this approach are going to be disastrous for the society at large.

This Children’s Day, let us watch Aamir Khan’s moving tribute to childhood ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and resolve to play the role that he played in the movie and set our Ishaans on course!

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