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How My School Stood In The Way Of Education

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In the past few days, the news has been full of articles and shows on examination results. I recall the days when I used to wait for my results. Invariably, the day on which the results were scheduled to be announced would turn into a doomsday.

I spent 10 long years in the same school. When I was admitted to the school, my parents told me that I had been admitted to one of the best schools in the city – a privilege which only a few received in the country. Followed by my parents, the teachers told me that I had to be disciplined, hardworking, obedient and regular.

We followed the instructions as they were supposedly for our good. Years later, when I moved to a university in a new place I realised how I was taught to be what I wasn’t supposed to be.

The worst nightmare for us at school was the ‘diary entries’. I had weekly tests at school. The passing marks were kept high, as were the expectations. Failure meant ‘diary entries’. So the diary had sections like, “Date of offence”, “Subject failed”, “Teachers’ signature” and “Parents’ signature”. Failing was a serious offence, no matter how hardworking you were. The daily and weekly tests were so boring and burdensome that a huge section would fail. Failing twice meant going out, while failing thrice meant that your parents would be called. I too had to ‘move out’ once – and this remains a shameful memory even now.

Though I never pondered upon the meaning of those tests back then, I now think about questions like these: Did passing all the tests make me a good student? Was I supposed to perform well in every single test? Are tests so important for my education?

We were supposed to behave in a disciplined way. We felt proud over the fact that we were disciplined, besides getting the best education in the city. And every kid outside the school premise was a ‘savage’!

The discipline had a lot to do with our personalities. We believed whatever the teacher said. We were taught only those subjects which were deemed to be necessary for our future. We obeyed them happily. Only the ‘bad children’ disobeyed their teachers.

I remember – once we had a free class, as the teacher was absent. We didn’t have any sports. So, we asked the vice principal whether we could go and play games. This courage was construed as our dislike for studies. Consequently, we were asked to complete every single exercise in all the subjects that had been taught till then. It turned out to disastrous for us. The mathematics exercises deserve a special mention here; the exercises for the other subjects were burdensome too. I remember students waiting till four in the evening, sitting in the class and figuring out the giant task to be completed. We didn’t sleep that night.

The day of the results was also a day of mourning for us. No matter how hard we studied, our results were seldom up to the expectations. Even when we scored well, the next time, we had to do better. Progress was reduced to numbers, and we were bound to lose the war.

The principal, whom we considered to be the strictest man on earth, used visited us on the day of the results. There would be an eerie silence as we would see him visiting different classes and calculating the time by which he would reach our class. A deep state of mourning would prevail after his visit, and a similar sorrow would wait for us at home.

We didn’t learn the way we should have. The biology classes were all about a set of diagrams. The chemistry classes left no impression as I seldom understood the lessons. I still remember that class where I couldn’t make the sense of the distinction between an atom and an element. Both were synonymous for me. The fear of the teacher going mad at me led me to mug up the definitions of both.

However, the physics lessons would turn out to be interesting, as I could relate them to the world around. The history classes also sounded interesting, as did the geography ones.

With a few months for me to pass out of secondary school, we were told to decide for our future. The 11 subjects would get reduced to three or four main subjects after we went to the next level. Some wanted to be engineers, some doctors, a few of them IAS officers and others chartered accountant. I wanted to be none of these. But I had to choose among the four career options. I still hadn’t decided for myself what I should aim at.

At the end of it all, I was left with either science or commerce. In my area, arts or humanities were mainly pursued by those who studied in government schools. I was contacted by private coaching academies with their attractive packages for becoming doctors and engineers and what not. I was left with no choice – I had to stay within the limits set upon me. Schooling, in many ways, stood in the way of the education I wanted to pursue. It created a binary where there was no room for the third option.

Years after I left my school, I wondered whether my school wasn’t actually meant to educate or create narrow passages within our minds. Sometimes, I still think about the meaning of the Sanskrit prayer that I recited daily in the morning assembly. I still wonder if the education imparted at my school had anything to do with my future at all.

Must the low marks I scored back in school stand on my way to success? Also what is the nature of success we are taught at school? And why do we have to think about all these after we have finished our schooling? Isn’t it better that we think about these issues within the school premises itself? It’s time for us to introspect.


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