It is heart breaking for a teacher to see adolescents killing themselves over an online virtual game which challenges them to do self-harming tasks in real life. It is equally heart breaking to read about the exam, admission, IIT studies, NEET etc related suicides. What are we doing to our youngsters? Are we driving them to kill themselves? We, educators and parents cannot shrug our shoulders and put the blame squarely on social media, peer pressures, game makers and depression. These young impressionable minds are ours to mould and how do we mould them? By making them believe that good grades, a good rank are the only ladder to success.
Our education system is neither learner centric nor teaching centric, truth is, it is evaluation centric. Any teacher in the country would agree that the amount of time spent for evaluation (setting question papers, class assessments, unit tests, term exams, corrections, report card making etc) is much more than that is spent in teaching. Almost all middle and senior school teachers struggle to finish the syllabus, so there is hardly any time or motivation to teach creatively or to generate interest in the subject. As a result, students do not connect to the classroom teaching at all. And since the whole exercise has the focus on examination, teaching and learning takes a back seat. A child spends between 5 to 7 hours in school and is taught one subject after another and is expected to have immense retention power, when we are in an era where we know what are the attention spans of children and adults.
The whole focus on evaluation has given birth to another blue whale- the coaching classes. A child attends schools and then goes to tutors, or tutorial homes to get good grade and qualify in competitive exams. There is absolutely no time left to play or self-learn or assimilate what is being taught. Since so much time and money is invested, there is pressure to perform well. On top of it there are handful of medical and engineering seats for these scores of students who have invested time and money. Isn’t this as worse as blue whale challenge? We too are telling them to perform or perish.
The challenges faced by the majority of poor school students in government aided schools are more difficult. The curriculum is different, textbooks are boring/incorrect too, the teachers teach really large number of students and it is virtually impossible to enable good learning in a big classroom, the discipline management takes away all the time and energy. On top of it, evaluation is a bigger challenge. These students cannot afford private coaching for competitive exams and their syllabus does not match the competitive exam curriculum so they get marginalised. There are limited number of government colleges, so a large number of poor students who are mediocre literally have no scope of higher education, whereas the middle class and rich mediocre opt for private colleges. The education system itself is creating a class divide which no reservation bill can bridge.
The blue whale challenge related deaths and aspirant student suicides are a result of collective failure of our society in nurturing young minds. We are making school education a basic right and compulsory across the society but what about giving them a right to higher college and university education? A poor labourer’s daughter who scored brilliantly in the board exam but failed in the NEET did not see any other future and took her own life. Why make them face one challenge after the other?
Even the students who qualify NEET and IIT have been killing themselves. We do have number of drop outs who realise that courses are difficult, not interesting or their passion lies elsewhere. Most youngsters do not have the right kind of exposure, they do not know how to set a life-goal, what to aspire for, what kind of a person they are, what are their true talents or capability. In short, the education which is meant to empower them with knowledge, leaves them handicapped/maimed/ depressed. Parents too set them high unachievable life-goals. It is these depressed ones who fall prey to sadistic online games or drugs.
We are creating disconnected generations, because we are disconnected ourselves. The Indian education evaluation schemes have eclipsed all knowledge based learning modes. No amount of B.ED training, digital classrooms or hands on tinkering lab will bring in a revolutionary change unless we, educators and parents back off and allow the children to be, to learn, to play, to tinker and to gain knowledge at their own pace without the examination threat looming large. We need to make a paradigm shift from marks/grades, evaluation centric school education system to the knowledge based one.
Madhuri Katti is a Physics teacher and a blogger/writer with a keen interest in literature, movies, art and photography.