Education of the self

The end of summer means the beginning of admissions. For us as teachers and members of “admitting institutions”, it means sifting through the forms, speaking to parents and (sometimes) prospective students, looking at marksheets and certificates, making judgments…. It’s an iffy process that pleases few and leaves many dissatisfied and unhappy. As was evident during the recent furore over the high cutoffs announced in some Delhi colleges, there’s plenty of heartache and wringing of hands at the time of results, and even more during admissions. Grade inflation is criticized; school boards are slammed for granting high scores that lead to unrealistic and unreasonable expectations among students of themselves, and depression among those who fail to make those percentages – often not for want of application or ability. The fingers start pointing backwards, and heads begin to shake vigorously: “The entire education system is flawed!” “School education needs to be overhauled if higher education is to be reformed!”

And while the debates rage in the media and in drawing rooms, our children suffer in quiet desperation – will they make the cut or not? Will they get into the course they want or not? Will they get in anywhere? What will happen if they don’t? We all agree that marks are not the ultimate test of merit. We have no quarrel with the fact that today’s world offers many more opportunities for children of diverse abilities. Yet, we judge on the basis of marks. And on the basis of getting into this particular course or that. The judgment, coupled with the pressures and expectations placed upon young shoulders by peers and other adults, can be crippling.

We have little control over how board examinations are evaluated and the direction and nature of college admissions. But we could influence how children – and parents, perhaps – deal with the outcomes. All through the school years, if we work toward building a self concept that is to some extent independent of external evaluation, a sense of confidence in (coupled with a realistic estimation of) one’s abilities, we could help children deflect the effect of the disappointments they may face during later years. We think of the syllabus as a big responsibility, and do all we can to “cover” it. But maybe we should really be paying attention to something beyond this?

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