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Opinion: Why the madness for marks is terrible for our children

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It should never be about marks. What about excellence in other fields? What about acquiring skills for life? What about teaching children to be good human beings?

Opinion: Why the madness for marks is terrible for our children
There’s something dreadfully wrong.
Politicians are gloating on Twitter about their children’s fabulous marks in 10th and 12th boards. It is as if marks are the sole proof of being a wonderful parent and an added feather to their politician’s cap. Just before the board results, Priyanka Chaturvedi tweeted: Remember, marks do not determine your knowledge, wisdom & intellect. You are the shapers of your destiny, make it happy”!  Yet, right after the results were declared, she tweeted:  “And the boy has made me proud with 96%!
Priyanka, kudos to your son. Kudos also to Arvind Kejriwal’s son and Smriti Irani’s son. All your children have done you proud.
It’s not just the politicians. The media is abuzz with this craze for marks. Parents are going wild, to put it mildly.
As a mother of two myself, I would feel the same joy if either of my kids did so well.  And perhaps shared the good news with my close group of Facebook friends, if not on Twitter.
Spare A Thought!
Maybe not. In this frenzy on public platforms though, we forget the damage inflicted on children who are feeling deeply inadequate because they haven’t scored “good” marks.  I know families who have sunk into depression because their child did not score — hold your breath — 90 percent.
The number of students who secure 95 percent plus has doubled in recent years. The highest score has swiftly moved to 99.8 percent in CBSE from 99.2 percent and 100 percent in the ISC  board since 2015. One headline screamed – “400/400! ISC Topper makes history”. Seriously?
Such is the travesty of this race to max marks that children are choosing to end their lives even before they’ve celebrated their 18th birthday.  There is media coverage of that as well, but minus the hysteria or the outrage that our terribly flawed education system deserves.
Exams have become synonymous with dread and despair for children and parents. Ask any student. Ask any parent. Ask any school. Score well, or your future is dark is the message these children are bombarded with.
There are schools like the one which my children attend that believe if they do a strict evaluation in internal exams in the run-up to the boards, the children will be scared enough by their low scores to study harder for the 10th and 12th boards! The operative words here are “scared enough”.
In other words, fear is the weapon they use to draw excellence. Then there’s another lot.
Some schools liberally hand out 20 out of 20 marks in internal examinations to all their students. Why? So that when added to the board percentage, their students’ academic performance will make headlines!
This fad for astronomical marks has made a complete mockery of HRD minister Prakash Javadekar’s announcement in April 2017 that 32 school education boards have decided to stop the practice of unfairly increasing marks to amplify higher-scoring marks. Don’t be surprised if the CBSE topper in 2020 scores 100 percent to match the 2019 ISC topper’s perfect score 400/400.
On Your (High) Marks …
It should never be about marks. What about excellence in other fields? What about acquiring skills for life? What about teaching children to be good human beings?
Emphasis on high marks is a systematic destruction of independent thinking.  100 percent in English literature? Oh, give me a break! This is only possible if there are pre-determined model answers to each question. And if the child is able to cram the answers and re-produce them verbatim.  Isn’t the beauty of language creativity and original thinking?
A concerned citizen has commented below one of the many topper articles, “It is a foolish education system that will give 100/100 in languages and social sciences.” Indeed,  more than 11,000 children across the country have scored full marks in CBSE social studies.
Hundred percent is definitely possible in the sciences.  There are several students who score a 100 in physics.  Most of them though don’t have a clue of how to fix a simple short circuit in their homes. It’s all in the books, and almost nothing in practice.
Learning by rote and the race to score marks have made it almost impossible for accommodating children’s creativity and children who learn differently. One of the counsellors at a so- called progressive school in Delhi exclaimed in horror when a friend’s “normal” and “intelligent” child expressed her desire to drop one of the academic subjects and take fine arts instead. “But that’s for children with special needs,” was the response.
What We Are Doing Wrong
We are labelling our children. We are boxing their minds. We are killing their creativity. We are depriving them of a voice and independent thinking.
Worst of all, we are filling them with dread. They are shackled at one of the most beautiful stages of life. And then we wonder why our children are lashing out at us. Why are they so angry all the time? Why are they anxious and depressed?
Though wrong at so many levels, there is hardly a conversation among parents, schools, educationists and policymakers about this madness for marks. Time and again, the flaws of marks obsession have been pointed out, but it’s worth recapping them.
The Marks Trap
Every parent, every child hates the “marks” trap. But almost no one is able to break out of it.  Do I have an answer to what the solution is? Perhaps there isn’t in a country where the demand for coveted higher education far exceeds supply. Elimination is the most handy way to shortlist, who gets in.
I’m only going to suggest what we the parents can do. We have to stop living in fear; of the fear of marks that our children bring home. We have to stop passing our fears on to our children. Our words have to be chosen very carefully. Our body language has to change. We have to be conscious in every interaction with our children, “Am I judging my child?”
As my 16-year-old son pointed out recently, “Mom, you say and act like you’re cool with my marks. But I know you’re not if I don’t score well.”  There’s something in my body language which he is sharp enough to catch. They all are.
There are many things that I as a parent am doing wrong. It’s my battle and every parent’s to first fight and fix that, before battling the system. For the economically weaker parents, marks and a good college for their child may be the only way to economic freedom. There’s no disputing that.  But why are we, the well-off and so-called liberal thinking parents, falling into that trap?
Pramath Raj Sinha, the founder of ISB and Ashoka University, on  CNBCTV18.com’s parenting podcast, says, “Never in the history of humankind has a country had to educate so many young people at the same time. Neither our school nor our colleges are equipped to do that.”
What Parents Must Do
Which means the mantle of equipping our children and making them future ready falls on us, the parent. It’s worth listening into that conversation where Sinha speaks about cultivating 4-5 key skills and habits in our children to equip them for the future.
“Teach your children to think; to read, write, and reason. To process information and come up with their own point of view. Future problems that our children will be expected to solve will be far more complex. Teach them how to approach new and unknown problems and solve them, even if they have no prior skill sets to do so. Our children will not have just one or two careers in their lifetimes. They could have up to 9 0r 10 rapidly changing careers which will need them to reinvent and reskill themselves constantly. Also, ask yourself, how well does your child communicate?
There’s a huge premium on strong communication skills, both written and spoken. And finally, let them learn how to work and engage positively with other people.  When your children go to work, they won’t be doing things solo. While teamwork has been around for a long time, today it’s even more imperative. These behaviour and habits for future success, are not necessarily taught in any course of school,” says Sinha, one of the leading education thinkers of the country.
There is a bunch of parents who have realised the limitations of our schooling system and have taken the bold decision to “unschool” their children. One of them is Natasha Badhwar, author and filmmaker. “We took the plunge after we met a community of unschooling parents in the Learning Societies UnConference in Bangalore. Once we met parents and children who seemed to be doing really well, who seemed to have chosen a different way of being and were thriving in it, we knew that we were not the only ones and that we were not going to be isolated in our search”.
It has been a year and a half since Badhwar’s two daughters have stopped going to school. They read incessantly, figure out their own projects to do, hobbies to follow and seem to be thriving beautifully in this completely unboxed learning path, according to her.
“Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better,” wrote Adam M Grant in his bestseller Originals. “Shapers” are independent thinkers: curious, non-conforming, and rebellious,” Grant wrote.
Let us internalise these lines and believe in our children to raise independent thinkers and not perfect scorers.
Manisha Natarajan is the group editor - Real Estate & Urban Development at CNBC-TV18