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Archive for July, 2013

Education

I can’t read a computer screen and never use a calculator. It’s all in my head and by hand.
Simon Reuben

Every now and then, I have nightmares of sitting for an exam, unprepared and totally petrified at the sight of the question paper. Of course I wake up with a start and reassure myself that my dreadful exam years are in the past.

I wonder if it is just me or every other person with an exposure to the Indian education system that is plagued by such recurring nightmares throughout their lives.

Exams, entrance tests and high scores have been the bane of not just my childhood but most students and even parents too from middle class families in India.  The mind numbing pressure to excel academically has been drilled into us at such an impressionable age that education in the end is all about grades and very little to do with seeking knowledge.

Ever seen a sugar cane juicing machine in action, especially the flat, lifeless crushed cane stalks after the juice has been extracted?  That’s how I think most children and their parents must feel once they have been through the merciless grind of the Indian education system.  Given the cutthroat competition for limited slots to quality education and professional jobs, there is very little one can do differently.

After migrating to Australia, I made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to subject my children to an upbringing striving at academic excellence.  Even though it is second nature for most Indian families to push their children with additional home coaching and tuition, I decided to stick to my decision; however tempting it was to emulate other parents.

 I was thrilled that the Australian education system encouraged independent thinking and practical knowledge and still believed in a childhood not weighed down by excessive homework.  Mostly I am content to allow the children to progress academically as per the school’s curriculum.

Occasionally I would feel a twinge of guilt at my easy parenthood, especially when I come across my child’s appalling spellings or grammar and around national assessment testing at school.  Perhaps the children needed some extra help at home but I would pacify myself that academics excellence did not get me any extra perks.

From my own experience, being on the Honours list or winning scholarships seemed to be empty accomplishments in the long run.  At times, it is pointless to have put in all such efforts in striving excellence at academics and having very little to show for it in terms of a career or the monetary benefits associated with it.  So I have learned to quell any voices in me urging otherwise and conditioned myself to breeze through my children’s education.

But lately I have been questioning myself if I am doing the right thing.  I normally would not let such incidents sway my decision but at times observing the teenagers manning the sales registers who struggle with simple math calculations, I wonder if parents can afford to stay as passive observers in their children’s education.

The other day at a major chain store, I found three junior sales assistants struggling to do a simple 30% discount calculation as they had no access to a calculator.  Nobody resorted to using mental arithmetic or even simple paper and pen to do the math; one of them was even amazed at my mental capacity to do sums that I did a double take and started questioning my own mathematical aptitude and the complexity of the calculation in question.

Given the intrusion of technology everywhere, children today rely more on spell check and calculators that they seem to struggle even with the simplest of calculations and spellings.

Perhaps it is time for parents like me to invest some time and effort into their children’s studies and not simply relinquish their responsibility. Gonski or no Gonski, it becomes essential for parents to work alongside with schools towards a solid foundation of knowledge and skills for everyday life without the aid of technology crutches.  Perhaps that way we would instil a healthy appreciation for technology rather than a blind reliance.

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