<b>Slice of life:</b> Is it worth it?
The pressure we put on our children as a society is intense, almost oppressive. There is no guarantee that these academic toppers will go on to do well later in life...
This morning at 6.15 am on my usual walk, I spotted an eager father and an enthusiastic tennis coach, giving personal lessons to a boy who looked about 12. The three of them were the sole occupants of the entire courts at that hour. The father watched as the coach yelled instructions to the boy. I was about 300m away from where this scenario unfolded, and the coach’s voice was booming in my ears “You don’t have to hit it so hard. Just return it. Focus. Block. Run.” The boy ran around trying to follow the instructions of the coach. The father applauded sometimes. As I walked on I thought about what ambitions this father might have for the boy. Surely, if he was waking up the boy that early, and bringing him to the tennis courts, perhaps he hoped that his child would make a career in tennis? I also wondered if that was what the boy wanted. Was he enjoying the game or was he doing it as his father hadn’t left him any choice? From the look on the boy’s face, it seemed like he was stressed. But to make a judgement without actually talking to them would be unfair.
It is natural for parents to want the best for their children. It is also natural for parents to push their children to do their best. However, what is unhealthy is if parents try and achieve their unfulfilled dreams through their children. I know a person whose child very badly wanted to join the fine arts stream. But in their family, there was nobody who had taken up a creative venture. The emphasis was on math and science, and it was only excelling in those two subjects that counted. The parents themselves were science graduates, and to choose any other subject was frowned upon. The child tried protesting, saying it was creating art that gave him joy. But in the end, the parents will prevailed, and the child, actually a young adult decided to pursue a course in science. This story is not unusual in India and we come across many variations of it, played out in different homes. Children as young as 12, join coaching classes for getting into IIT JEE. The cycle does not end even after that. Once graduation is completed, the race for getting into a good MBA college starts, with various institutes competing with each other, offering the “best coaching” for the CAT.

Recently the Class 12 examination results were announced and the Whatsapp mothers group that I am a part of was abuzz with declarations of how happy the parents were with the exam results of their children, and how proud they were of them. (Would the love for their children diminish if the child fared badly in exams, I wondered).
Year after year, we see photos of children who have scored the highest marks in the examinations, being splashed all over the newspapers. The rank-holders, the ones who fare well in the exams are the stars, the winners . The other who do not do so well are relegated to the side, mostly ignored. It is a phenomenon, which is prevalent mainly in India. I haven’t come across a single instance of this in countries like UK and US, where the academically bright kids are made into some kind of heroes.
Every year, the stress of the exam results is so much, that we hear at least a couple of instances of children committing suicide just before the declaration of exam results or soon after, as they feel they have let down their parents by being unable to score good marks in the exams. The pressure we put on our children as a society, is intense, almost oppressive. There is no guarantee that these academic toppers will go on to do well, later in life. Often, the most successful people are the ones that discovered and followed their passion, and most importantly who did not give up when confronted with failure. Life rewards perseverance.
Good performance in any field deserves recognition. There’s no doubt about it. Excellence and hard work do need to be honoured. However, what I am against is making such brouhaha about the results. There are other values like kindness, being considerate and polite, being humble which are far more important than the academic percentage someone scores. And the sad fact is there is no measure for that.
(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books, the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)
Preeti Shenoy