While reading the article of Deepalakshmi in the Open Page (January 1, 2012) I felt immensely happy to have grown autonomously during my school days! (I am an octogenarian today).
I lost my father during infancy and my mother was spared the tyranny of formal schooling. Yet, she was knowledgeable and wise. The advantage of growing up in a large joint family of several cousins, aunts and uncles lies in a kind of unfettered freedom to study or not to study, to play all the time, attend school or bunk classes and go to matinee shows surreptitiously and several such escapades!
I went to school more to have fun in the classroom. Honestly speaking, I felt I had no brains to understand science or maths and my interest in history was moderate. As I was clearly out of the race with a bunch of front-row creamy layers, I used to daydream in the last row, awaiting eagerly the last bell so that I could rush to the playground to play my favourite game: volleyball. My drillmaster trained me to be a spiker because of my tall stature.
Looking back, I wonder how I survived the onslaughts of scores of exams to become a college professor! I thank my mother who allowed me to grow all by myself, neither reprimanding me for my poor scholastic performance (I failed in my Std VIII because I secured single-digit mark in maths!), nor rewarding me for passing exam after exam! I set my own priorities, my own goal and my own way of living unhindered by intrusive parentage.
Much water has flowed under the bridge over several decades. Parents today are overzealous in shaping the future of their progeny. Every examination for a youngster is a traumatic experience because of the surveillance by mother and father. Just watch the faces of people at the announcement of results. One could perceive the bearing smiles of the “rankers” and the bleeding eyes of those who missed the honour by a whisker, not to speak of the despondency of those left far behind.
Winston Churchill had a dig at his teachers and exams. He said: “They are more interested in knowing what I do not know than what I do know. While I would have willingly displayed my knowledge, they sought to fathom my ignorance.”
Have we inadvertently brainwashed students by blowing out of proportion ranks and grades as the sole yardstick of schooling? Has it not reduced schools to mere coaching shops where a relentless grinding replaces rejuvenating teacher-pupil dialogue?
The excitement of discovery, the exuberance of experimentation, the ecstasy of participation in debates and, above all, the eagerness to read for fun and enjoyment seem to be sacrificed at the altar of sharpening one's skill in responding to anticipated questions with tailor-made answers. In this process, creative thinking is decimated, convergent thinking promoted and pupil participation eliminated!
Eminent jurist N.A Palkhivala, in his convocation address at Bangalore University, observed on January 15, 1972: “As regards those who have not been as successful in their exams as they thought they deserved to be, I can only recall the words of Prof. Walter Raleigh, that the college Final and the Day of Judgement are two different exams! They may also take some consolation from the fact that A.E. Houseman, the great scholar of Greek and Latin and better known as a poet, once failed in the papers on those very languages at the Oxford University. His biographer commented, “The Nightingale got no prize at the poultry show!”
(The writer is a retired professor and his email ID is: firstname.lastname@example.org)