maidinmalaysia on a rant


The fav. niece scored an astronomical percentage in class 12. She plans to
include my name in her thank-you speech when the TV cameras come to her interview her. Else she’s off my India-shopping list.

No seriously.

I have three problems with this whole percentage thingie.

1. It doesn’t say anything about you.
But the world somehow thinks it does.
Like the girl who scored a 99 per cent has a halo that’s far glowy-ier than
the one who got 69 per cent. It just says that you can stand up to an
academic challenge without cracking.
It doesn’t say how you stopped your music lessons, or stopped attending
weddings and social do’s, and put your life on hold.
It doesn’t say how my niece’s biological clock went bonkers with her studying late nights; it doesn’t show a year’s worth of Carnatic music training
missed, it doesn’t say that she’s polite or witty or childlike.
No. It may be a reflection of her hardwork and consistent discipline, but that’s about it.
I once met an IITian who behaved as if her GPA was stuck on her forehead. Percentages give children all these faux superiorities and inferiorties.

2. It’s not a judge of how well you will do in life.

I cant say this often enough. First who is a judge of “doing well”?
One much feted classmate committed suicide before his graduation. Another one, was clinically depressed.
One IITian, I know well, is clueless about paying utility bills. And he is 35 years old.
The boy who topped my school and found a place in a top engineering college, didn’t come back to collect his medals.
None of his classmates clapped for him, when his name was announced.
What’s academic superiority, when not even one of 40 children doesnt’ like you enough to even politely clap for you.

3. The professional Option.

WHY IS THAT THE DEFAULT OPTION IN INDIA? Of the 100 or so toppers that i met in a popular school in Chennai, five years back, only ONE had chosen to study literature. Everyone else was in Enginnering or Medicine. Wha?

Why does it seem like the only option to parents?

What about working with children? What about teaching?
What about special education?
Don’t we need brilliant minds there as well.
But our whole society is monomaniacal that way. It sets in to place hundreds of stereotypes:
“you did literature because you didn’t get into some other course.”
“the arts are for dull-heads”
“there’s no scope for people who choose arts etc”
And in classes X, XI and XII, there’s no time to know more about a child’s likes and tastes; the child is trying to cope with all the pressure from school and home.
Academics is now a one-way street, with an Engineering or Medical College at the end of this rat race.
And it’s only when they are well into their career, do some people really grow up into who they really are and say “Excuse-me. I can’t take this bull-crap anymore. I want a change.”

(sorry for the book of a post. but couldnt stop once i had started. grrrrrr.


39 responses »

  1. Happiness to measure success; Sensing and celebrating differences-rather than glorify only the popular, visible and measurable stuff. Easier said! Children don’t fail; Tests fail to measure what children are capable of:)

  2. umm.. i mnot going to be very popular here.. but here goes: While marks are NOT an indicator of anything else, they ARE an indication of the relative academic performance of a child. That performance may be a result of one or both of these – intelligence and persistence.

    From these marks, all we know is that the child is capable of doing this – being intelligent, and /or being persistent and disciplined.

    But more than anything else, i love the marks system because it exposes the child to pressure early on – when its easy to learn the right coping mechanisms.

    It challenges children to challenge their brains – multiple subjects, all far from each other, each with varying levels of difficulty and you have to perform in ALL to get thru.

    Yes, marks are NOT a function of future success, and it is wrong to let people feel that they have a halo if they got good marks.

    Re. why ppl dont opt for other courses of study, the answer is simple – how much does a teacher get paid? It is the more difficult professions that do not get paid – the defence forces, teaching, childcare professionals, manual labor.. the greases that keep the wheels of our society moving are not paid. THAT is the problem. Start paying for all professions, and sure, ppl will follow their heart.

  3. THAT was a rant- and one that i completely agree with.

    Thinking back,we were in the threshold of having to choose a career path at class plus 2. Frankly, i don’t think i was knowledgeable enought to make that decision then. At twenty, i knew my calling. Thankfully it matched with the education.
    I know countless classmates who are exactly hat you described..well into their career and regretting their choice.

    I hope, and pray that i have the courage and conviction to tell V to follow his heart- and be the best at whatever he chooses to do.
    Same for your niece too- let her be able to follow her dream.

  4. I must say, I agree with How-do-we-know…

    Here in the US, these debates are just starting up – from the other end. In this economy, folks are starting to realise that degrees in some non-professional fields simply don’t lead to jobs that pay enough to live on. That is a separate problem though, and one that is the direct cause, IMO, of the popularity of professional study.

    As for marks, there is *always* going to be differentiation – based on some criteria (wealth, fluency with languages, caste etc.) In all the years of formalized education, educators there haven’t found any other means to determine teh rersult of a course of study. Marks, while very imperfect, do provide some kind of idea.
    Standing up to an academic challenge without cracking shows that the person might be able to handle similar challenges when working – deadlines require prioritizing your activities all the time.

    I do agree that India as a nation has become unhealthily obsessed by marks, and many people go to ridiculous lengths to obtain them, but that is the natural result of a large pool of people competing for a small pool of resources (admissions to college or jobs).


  5. loving this post and the comments.

    and i know more than on IITian with CGs stuck on their foreheads. one chap (topped at both IIT and IIM) couldn’t ever assemble ikea stuff or do simple stuff like changing plugs/switches. not kidding, we used to do it for him.

  6. i back u up all the way!

    wat is it with the damned grades! its not the grades that should assess u for how smart u r!

    n pls tell me how much a doctor in india gets paid?! i know of teachers who earn more than doctors… n its because of teacher that u get doctors who think they r hell of a great n that they’re God’s gift to the human nature.

    to all the doctors who think they r smarter than the non doctors… go fly kites will u!!!

    i could go on n on talking about this… but u get the drift already dont u…

  7. my nephew just got his 10th std results and i had made up my mind that i’d be rooting for him no matter what he got…he did very well, and had enjoyed school too…i do hope he goes through the next two years the same balanced way…

    really loved this post…came here from Asaaan’s space

  8. dipali: and you have been a teacher yourself, havent you?

    Bhu: that’s what i like about you. your unshakeable faith in a child’s strengths and capabilities.

    How do we know: Hi! you are a first-timer here arent you?
    I see your point on the merit of academic tests, but I don’t buy your “money” argument. There’s no such thing as ‘enough’ money.
    The guy who has a nano says he doesnt have enough. and the guy who has a volvo also says he doesnt have enough.
    Money is not a good enough reason to shake off your dream.
    I believe, the money WILL follow the follower of the dream.

    In love: that’s my rant (part 2) that my talented niece didn’t have time to come up for air and explore her tastes. She was rushed into the default option. GRRRRRR!

    M: the unhealthy obssession with marks is just going too far. Even here, in KL, I see school-gate conversations centering around marks. And some kids are only in class 2:-(

    choxulu: Exactly! What’s the point becoming an engineer (even an IIT qualified one) when you dont have the aptitude for it?
    see, i didn’t forget the ulu

    chumi: you are on a roll, lah! I agree. Everyone of us remembers that one special teacher who shaped our personality, honed our interest and treated us like we had some talent.

  9. A very well put-together point of view. I agree with what you have to say, coz I have lived through it, studying something…and realising that I did not want to do it as a profession…but I did not know how to exit from it and take on something that I liked….
    The %age that you earn after slogging hard, often gets you to do what people expect you to do….rather that what you the person who scored those marks wants to do…
    Well my quest is still ON, but for my child I know what I will do, and not do….by not repeating mistakes of my parents.

  10. this post and the comments it has inspired are great. Thanks for giving me so much to think about. My oldest is finishing middle school and we are thinking through all of this. Thanks for the different perspectives!

  11. suma: i think the best part is that he enjoyed school. great!

    Neelum: beats me, why parents want the same ol’ for their kids. And 16 is too early for most kids to decide on a lifelong career path. At least kids in school should take psychological tests and find out what they are naturally good at.

    Era: a zen mum like you? you could have skipped this post. am sure you’d do the right thing

    choxulu: i already read it off your forehead;-)

  12. also what about the fact that lots of kids cog (as in copy) in the exams/etc? where does that feature in this whole grades and ranks business?

    p.s.: thats possibly the single reason why i’d get my GPA tattooed on the forehead if ever – every bit of it is mine and mine alone.

    *getting all senti now, so off to cool off with a chikoo..*

  13. If I agreed anymore with you, I’d just morph into you (and wouldn’t I be cool then?:-)
    Seriously, this is insane.

    @ How Do We Know: “But more than anything else, i love the marks system because it exposes the child to pressure early on – when its easy to learn the right coping mechanisms.”

    I’m sorry, but children need a childhood – not pressure. Thats why there is childhood and there is adulthood. Kids are also offing themselves with alarming alacrity – especially in my home state. They are not learning the right coping mechanisms.. they become termilly depressed in very many cases, they have tragic self-worth, and they define themselves almost solely in terms of their academic performance because – lets face it – there has been little time in their lives for anything more than academic performance.

    The HUGe problem with this system you valorise is that its about survival of the fittest. Its not about fairness or inclusiveness. And please don’t say the world is like that, becuase its not. There are countries and societies in the world that don’t operate in this way and that operate on more inclusive norms. What room does this system make for a child with Cerebral Palsy (not all of them have mental retardation), or severe forms of dyslexia? Why do we Indians go so Jai Ho over the regular rote learning which tests your ability to regurgitate more than anything else?

    Most of the “successful people” i know today were pretty decent in college and blossomed when they were given the time and space (post 20) to figure out what they wanted. I don’t how many of the super-acheivers ever go on to feeling they are good enough?

    Long rant. Sorry, MiM. Willg et my own post:-)

  14. I want this posted and put up in my house: even better, tape it in your ranting voice and send it to me so I never end up using these measures for Nino. I went through all of these myself – and even a good GPA is as killing in its pressure – and I’m so scared I’ll repeat it with Nino.

  15. Agree with everything you’ve said! I personally know people who haven’t done well in school have a brilliant career and those who’ve done great in HSC are not doing as well. It all depends on how street smart you are and how well you make use of the opportunities given. Marks are certainly not do or die in your life! There are far more important things.
    However I do believe not many kids have an idea about what they want to do that early on in life! So that’s where the parents play an important role in guiding them, giving them just enough knowledge and letting them decide. If they still have no idea then I suppose choosing what they think the child would do well in is not wrong!

  16. Have been nodding away while reading your post! I totally agree with everything you say.. Our education system in India lays too much importance in learning stuff and memorizing things as opposed to understanding things..

    Marks certainly do not add help identify children who are smart or exceptional.. I also have an issue with the reason why our competitive system is lauded – they say it prepares us to handle pressure! Well, I have known people, my classmates who performed extremely well in junior classes, thanks to parents who kept the pressure on.. but later went on to get depressed as they grew older when they could not match up to their own previous performances.. Instead if they had been allowed to grow into their comfort zones – I am sure they would have grown up confident and ready to take on things – at their own pace..

    And the thing with professional degrees – it all boils down to the fact that they are perceived to be the most ‘profitable’ careers. I remember how a close friend of mine had to fight his parents to do his graduation in English. He finally did – and he is very successful now.. but it was a struggle for his parents to understand that..

    And beyond all that, I really feel that a child’s childhood gets compromised with all this competition.. I know of a 6 yr old child who is busy from morn 8:30 till 8:00 at night with school, dance classes, kumon classes.. I mean when does the poor child get to play???? I think parents are a lot to blame as well for this huge obsession with marks and performance and professional degrees..

  17. Can’t agree more to what you’ve said. Exams are so overrated. As you mentioned, when I opted for Arts after ICSE, my relatives and friends were flummoxed . Even the vice principal of the institution I had applied to for my plus 2, asked me if I was sure I wanted to take up humanities – because she said students with 5 points never take up arts! 😛

  18. you know MiM – the NGO i volunteer for is working on a project where we will bridge-school kids (around 30,000) and get them into mainstream schools in a year (hopefully).
    when you check out those kids, all this stuff abt marks/ranks/grades seems like Martian stuff.

  19. I’m reminded of the line in Liar, Liar where Jim Carrey tells his kid that “Real beauty is on the inside” is just something that ugly people say to feel better about themselves.

    Viz, I disagree with this post mildly.

  20. you know yesterday i was walking past a nursery school and i did a double take – why because it was a play group, nursery and kindergarden. right under the name – there was “For tutions call xyz no”. wtf!. thats how early this blasted indoctrination starts. marks at playgroup.

  21. boxulu: the ones who copy are the ones who are the most muddled…
    integrity, like charity, begins at home.
    you go girl!

    MGM: (u want to morph into me?)
    I should post my profile pic, someday and you’ll eat your words quicker than you ate that frozen pizza.
    And do a post pls. (will show it to my niece)

    sole: good point

    Smitha: “…if they had been allowed to grow into their comfort zones – I am sure they would have grown up confident and ready to take on things –…” very neatly put Smitha. And that sounds so kind, too. 🙂

    Mystic M: you must have been the uber weirdo on the block.
    ICSE??? and then humanities?

    Era: going right over

    choxulu: your point makes me see my rant in perspective.
    our country is unequal, unfair and discriminative. and the sheer enormity of numbers can defeat even idealists.
    That’s why I believe it’s necesary for more students to choose to be in the ‘humanities’ stream and be the ones fighting the system.

    Perakath: men! bah! they never get it.

    cyn: lol!

  22. Pingback: A space of one’s own

  23. Liked your rant! Am aghast at the pressure parents of my SEVEN year old daughter have been putting on their kids, actually some of them have been tutoring their kids since PRE-NURSERY! I just leave Divya alone, figuring she’ll start hating studies if it becomes a matter of marks. For me, her knowledge base is important, and understanding the ins and outs too, if she doesn’t score in the top 10% of her class, hey, no skin off my back!

    I think emotional intelligence and social skills are as important as academics, and help a person during their careers and lives.

  24. Nino’s Mum: since we are on the subject, what are your thoughts on the delectable moong dal halwa.

    starry: ”… emotional intelligence and social skills are as important as academics.”

    very sensibly said, as always.

  25. really MiM, you should put a warning before you write stuff like ‘moong dal halwa’.

    thank god i just hogged gongooru pappu, so i can take it.

  26. Ditto, ditto and ditto…. I mean, some 20 years ago when I took arts and thereby literature after scoring what was then a humungous percentage in Std X, my poor mother was harangued by well wishers attempting to convince her to convince me not to throw my career away. Thankfully, she didnt bother….

  27. yeah well. late on this bandwagon thanks to, you know. i just saw a sign for a coaching class that said ‘Centum Guaranteed’ must go tomorrow and figure our or else what…

  28. sigh! tell me about it.
    I loved Litt and used to score too, wanted to take it up for my degree, but was dissuaded on the grounds that “bright students never take up Litt.”
    Duh! Was dumb enough to be sidelined then.
    But brightened up to opt for that for my PG. never mind the disapproving looks.

  29. The comment by “How do we Know ” makes me laugh at the ignorance of the statement . If at all we are looking at high paying career then why not try entertainment or sports .Is there any career that gives money , honey and fame better than sports or entertainment.

    The whole ranking concept is feudal .It is equivalent to slow poisining and demoralizing kids. Move to percentile which will much better.

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