Greener Grass

I was just reading this about the National Geographic Bee and the comments on it.

Quite a few of the comments pointed out the fact that all the three finalists had Indian parents, and speculated that parental incentive and involvement probably played a large role in the results.

Going by what I’ve been exposed to, India does have a great affinity towards contests such as these. Spelling bees, quizzes, olympiads…any sort of contest to pit our mental abilities against each other has always been very popular. Remember Siddharth Basu’s Quiz Time (the quizmaster’s decision is final!), Bournvita Quiz contest on the radio (and later on TV), and of course, BBC’s Mastermind? All prior to the TRP-tripping Kaun Banega Crorepati, of course.

A lot of it had to do with being able to ingest large quantities of trivia and spew it out at the right time. Memory played quite an important role, though quizzes later played up the jigsaw angle more — you could figure out the answer if you could put the clues together.

In some ways, I see this ability as a direct offshoot of the way our education system is set up. There always was and still is an over-emphasis on the ability to deliver a properly-worded answer relying more on memory, never mind if the concept itself is still wrapped up in a fog. The clear demarcation of theory and practicals is one of the banes of our education system.

The other link I see is the parental involvement. In India, parents are closely involved at every stage of education. Right from the rush to procure a seat at a “good” pre-school, to the stampede to get into a “good” school, and from then on, to push and prop the child to top the class consistently…parents are on top of the game. The competition is intense, the pressure and stress is severe, the Damocles’ sword of marks dangles perpetually over young lives, and parents, terrified of an unsure future, will simply just not let up. They are, to put it plainly, not just involved, but excessively involved.

Many concerned parents are now in the same boat, thinking of the academic pressures children face, and how best to lighten the load without losing out to the competition, which is a fact of life. (Having just witnessed a niece and a nephew go through the ordeal that is the twelfth grade, I can personally attest to the magnitude and gravity every single mark possesses. I have come away both shaken and stirred. I shudder to think of going through this some years later for Lil D. It appears to be just too much based on too little, and it is scary!) Many folks bemoan the fact that our education system (and the professional scene) is still behind the West in terms of granting the freedom and encouraging children to pursue their true passions.

That is why I felt it was rather ironic that the comments on the article seem to be impressed by the very qualities that we in India would like to replace!

Is it a case of undervaluing what our education system does give us, and overvaluing what it does not? How do we strike that happy balance for our children — the ability to be part of the system, yet stay over and above it? Is it even possible? I guess only time will tell.

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