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Advice From An ‘Ideal Middle-Class Topper’: Do Not Pay Attention To Classes In School

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I fit the ‘ideal middle-class Indian boy’ image. I was a topper in school, played a little sport, but focused on studies, got into a top-tier engineering college, then got a dream job with a six-figure salary. I have travelled to Amrika, and six other countries. But, Amrika. Now my parents are looking to get me married, they tell me, “Shaadi karlo, fir life set hai (Get married and then your life is set).”

Being entitled so, I’ll give you advice. As already explicitly mentioned in the title, it’s really bad advice. You should not be reading this. But then, if you’re a teenager reading publications like these, things aren’t going great for you anyway. On the upside though, you can read English.

I have one advice to give to kids in school: DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLASSES. Why? Because our education system is not just bad, it actually makes you stupider. Please note, I’m not saying don’t go to school. You must go to school, but try not to pay attention to the classes.

As my parent’s income rose, I went to two types of schools. First, where speaking English was the focus and a big thing. Second, where maths and science were a big thing.

I do give credit partially to my school, more to my parents and mostly to my privilege for teaching me how to read and write at a very young age. I was writing sentences in two languages and had learned basic maths. So all said and done, I’d still give credit to the classes till about 5th standard. After that, it’s all <insert f-word>. In my first school, pseudonym English-Makes-Me-Climax Public School, I was hailed as a hero for my ability to speak English so fluently at a young age. Well, school had nothing to do with it, “Titanic” did.

One afternoon, while watching TV at home I stumbled onto “Titanic”. Two things immediately followed: I started trying to sketch, and I found a whole new world of English movies. The sketching didn’t go very far (or anywhere at all), but watching English movies every afternoon for one academic year was enough for a young kid to pick up very good conversational English. One year, some real inspiration, good content, that’s it. From there, it became a virtuous cycle of confidence, opportunities, curiosity and learning.

But how much did the actual English class contribute? My grammar isn’t that perfect, as the more sharp-eyed readers reading this will perhaps realise. The movies covered pronunciation, vocabulary, and sentence structures. Guess the one thing that the English class is supposed to teach? Yup, grammar. After all these, I still keep learning that the grammar taught was not only inadequate, but very often outright wrong. Had I not paid attention to Kundu Ma’am for those three years, my grammar would have perhaps been better.

But my bigger problem is not with how languages are taught, but how other fields aren’t.

Starting in my first school, but growing exponentially in the second, supposedly “better” school, pseudonym: Engineer-Doctor-Dharti ka Bojh Public School, the overvaluation of maths and science can only be explained by the startup people who come from such schools. For eight years, from class 6th to 12th, you are taught but one thing, ‘how to solve the question’, nothing more.

Take science for example. If you are reading this article, it’s likely that you studied it as a separate subject for a minimum of five years in school.

Created by Satya Mithya

Can you, without Googling, explain what is the Scientific Method to a 11-year old?

How many people who do go through this same system do you think confidently can answer that question? Scientific method is not a fact, it is never asked as a question in exams, yet it is the very basic foundation of science. It is arguably as basic as knowing addition in mathematics. Yet, most students are never taught this. Far more problematic is the fact that they’re never taught how to practice it, not just to answer the question but as a way of thinking about anything in life. It stings even more because if you actually study science further, everything you ever studied early was either actually wrong or in most cases, an astounding oversimplification.

My science classes taught me that there’s one right answer. And I must learn that answer. Period. I never questioned if what I reading was true, The way I was taught to answer questions was to erase all other questions from my head. Believe what’s written there, learn it. Do not question. If you want to understand how dangerous that is, ask WhatsApp how much it costs to have a full page advertisement in every newspaper in India, just to tell them that what they are reading might be wrong.

Another good example is math classes. I never struggled with maths, thankfully, though it took me a long time to understand why my friends did. For most, mathematics was not about learning problem-solving, but pattern recognition. All you’re taught are 60-80 odd patterns of questions that are asked in exams, and how to solve them. If you recognise a pattern, you follow a set of fixed steps, and as long as you’re okay with basic calculations, you’ll get the answer. I remember my disenfranchised friend asking me what’s the point of ever learning trigonometry while playing a computer game. It was neither of our faults that we realised the irony of the situation only several years later.

However, my #FirstWorldProblems in maths were an interesting perspective later in life. Again, for four years of my high school and intermediate, my maths teacher struggled to teach me three things:

  1. There’s only one right answer, but that’s not as important.
  2. There’s only one right way (read steps) to the right answer. If you don’t follow them, you won’t get marks.
  3. There might be other ways, perhaps more efficient, of arriving at the right answer, but that doesn’t matter, because for that, you won’t get marks.

There was no room for creativity in maths, which in perspective, is both tragic and hilarious. Mathematics is nothing if not creative. There was no idea of different perspectives to the same goal. I was just taught to answer the question.

So, all things considered, the more attention I paid to the classes in school, the more damage I incurred. I wish I had spent more time talking to girls, playing in teams, picking up fights, understanding emotions, listening to music and above all, value the 60 confused souls sitting around me more than the book in my hands.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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