The Futility of the “Study! Ranks!! Grades!!!” Brat Race

“Study, study, study!” “Marks, marks, marks!” “Ranks, ranks, ranks!” “Grades, grades, grades!” 

#YouRemember? For anyone who grew up and underwent their “education process” in India, these words and associated memories (often not too fond) form an inseparable and intrinsic part of their growing-up experiences. In fact, for most, these words are the only memories they have associated with their childhoods, where all that mattered was to the early entry to the rat-race (shall we call it the brat-race?) and slog to be at the top of the class somehow, anyhow. Looking back at those formative years, all that you see is a big black vacuum littered with broken dreams of a lost childhood. The education system in India has ruined lives of many a generation, continues to ruin lives of this generation and will ruin further generations. But it looks like we have seemingly learned nothing from our own childhoods sacrificed at the altar of ranks and grades and percentages as the frenzy continues unabated even today, as we subject our kids to the same torture we went through. The only thing that matters in a child’s life is marks, percentages, grades and ranks and this is destroying our country. How? Let me start from the beginning.

As soon as a child is born, all preparations will be made to ensure that he/she will get a rank or nothing short of 100% (or more, if possible, because there is nothing you can achieve if you “work hard enough”) in their matriculation examinations some 17 years hence. Some parents would want the first words their child utter not to be “Amma/Maa“, but “a2b2=(a+b)*(ab). As soon as the kid can barely crawl, it is packed off to fancy “before-schools” which will “prepare” the kid to get into a good “real” school later on. These schools go by fancy names as pre-prep school, prep school, foundation school, pre-school, pre-KG and so on. The poor kid will be baffled at being thrown into the brat-race long before it can even grasp what the intricacies of the world are all about, when all the feeble little mind can understand is the warmth of the mother’s breast. And all this from people who were brought up by the system itself, who very well know what its pitfalls are! People believe that they ended up IIT/IIM and greencard-less not because of the system, but because they didn’t make use of it well enough, as there were no pre-schools in their times. So they try to extend that level of goodwill to their wards, doing irreparable damages to their psyches, no matter if they achieve that “greatness” in life (in the form of “cent-percents”) or not.

Thanks to many generations brainwashed by the entire Macaulayan system of education, Indians are taught to judge, measure and scale every human person by a set of parameters, grades for students, salary for professionals and dowry for marryable guys and girls, and the more the numbers are, the better they are perceived to be, and anyone who is not at the top is considered to be a loser. Indians somehow cannot comprehend that marks and grades do not matter for anything in real life today. I have seen parents going ape-shit about “less marks” in pre-KG and how they believe the future of the kid is ruined! LOL. The loser here always is the poor kid who is sacrificed for the parents’ bragging rights and are actually made to believe that because of poor grades they are useless and talentless and rot away from inside, growing up to become depressed, frustrated and unproductive individuals only because they aren’t good at rote learning and vomiting bullshit on “answer sheets”. They might be good, very good at something else, but in this country all that counts for shit, because if you don’t score 100%, you are shit.

You mean we don’t have a chance at life unless we score 100%?
Image Courtesy: New York Times

The first thing we teach our kids as soon as they can start to comprehend language is:

Unless you study well and score good marks, you will never get a good job and your life will ruined!”

This is the most widely believed statement in India, though the correlation between “good marks” in matriculation and “good jobs” and “success in life” have never been satisfactorily explained. But anyway logic had never had any traction in this country. The poor kids are not allowed to even question this and have to cram their way through lost years of childhood trying to find x, limitlessly sunTanned Costhetas and the volume of random cylinders. What they ultimately are taught will be to put one over and get ahead of the other at any cost, never let anyone pass you no matter what and use any trick in the book to pull the other one down. Use any opportunity to squeeze ahead. (Sounds familiar? Do you still have doubts why people driving in India behave like they do?) They are told that it is not just a question of their future, but that of their family honor as well (“How will I look at the faces of the others in the club/office/community?!“). Children in India are the vehicles through which their parents will achieve what they could not, the losers they are. And all this can be achieved only by “topping the class”. Nonsense. Kids, don’t worry. As a veteran, I can assure you the grades in 12th mean shit about what you become in life. These percentages will mean nothing when down the line your manager shouts at you for not laughing at his jokes.

No one cares what the kids study, what their passions and talents are or how they are molded to be the future and all that. In fact, all we do is mug up whatever is printed on text books and vomit that on our answer sheets. Apart from acquiring skills of basic mathematics and language, there is not much that children who undergo our ancient and outdated education system takeaway from it, something that will help them when they are thrown out into the big bad world. And it does not matter that different children have different levels of learning capabilities. Some might be a little slow in paper pushing, but might be good at something else. Does not count. You either are good at studies or you are a total useless dunce. Yes, we are just producing empty-headed, glorified paper-pushers, just like the British envisioned when they created our education system that we still follow, 180 years since! The means and end of our “education” is only to somehow move abroad and/or become a “manager” of some sort, nowadays of the software kind.  And one’s worth will be proved by the mother of all litmus tests, “the Boards”. The pressure and stress children undergo is unimaginably enormous, as they shoulder the responsibility of the “honor” and “dreams” of parents too!

 

The final board exams are days of reckoning, when the kids finally get to face head-on the apparent reason for their existence, the judgement day. Board exams mean war! You can almost hear the sound of conch shells blowing and the sounds of army troops moving into position in the background, as students go to war for glory, prestige and honor for the school, parents, teachers, family and the local paan-wala. Tempers will run high, pulses will quicken, sleep will vanish and brows will sweat during those weeks of mayhem which will decide their place in the Universe, though what lies beyond the “boards” is mostly unknown. But what is known it that “boards” are some sort of initiation into adult life, post which one will be set for life. But how exactly the performance of a person in board exams will be related to his/her success in life remains sketchy at best, even after the results are out. The winners (top performing 1%) will take it all and will be hailed as national heroes for God knows what, while everyone else will be automatically branded losers. The “toppers” will then pump up their chests thinking success in life has been guaranteed and they can now sit back and enjoy the spoils. But usually these numbers amount to nothing.

It does not matter whether you belong to the ICSE, CBSE or lowly state syllabus (SSLC), the facts remain the same. The brat-race lasting 12 years, the rote “learning” of mostly pointless shit and at the end of it all, the hype, hoopla and celebration of the “toppers” continue unabated, as our society is one which always celebrates “dikahava” and mediocrity and not real achievement and talent, often the victor being celebrated at the the expense of the vanquished. Like everyone else, I too went through all that and that was during a time when the everything about a person was judged to be depending on only one thing – if he or she scored a rank in the SSLC exam. In my next post, I recount those days of the ridiculous SSLC-rank-race and looking back today, the absolute ridiculousness of it all. Read on.

PS: This video is really insightful. Please watch.

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