Over the next six weeks, a group of parents will share a closed circle of experience: the board exams. If you’ve never been a “board parent”, you will not know what I am talking about: The board experience must be felt and no matter how much you read about it, you will not know what it is all about until you live it when your child is in class X or class XII.
Theoretically, we had been prepared. It’s not a do-or-die exam. It’s not the end of the world. Don’t stress too much. Let the children relax. I took all that advice to heart. I would not stress out my 10th grader. No tuition. No study circles. No nagging.
Then in late December the panic set in after a chance encounter with another “board parent”. How were my daughter’s studies coming along? How many tuition classes did she have? How many hours was she putting in every day? How many times had she revised the course? Was she doing practice papers?
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With every question, I began to feel more and more nauseous. From promising myself that I would not impose unrealistic expectations on my children, I now asked myself: What if I was not pushing at all? Was I being a bad parent?
I began asking around. Every child had some sort of tuition, even those who routinely scored high marks. Many had enrolled into study circles, or group classes where they were learning the finer skills of cracking the boards. Media reports didn’t help: One report in The Times of India informed me that parents were spending as much as Rs50,000 for extra coaching, reference material and online educational portals. I had not spent even Rs5 and now it was December.
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The better-known study circles began their enrolment early in class IX, two years in advance of the big exam. Don’t even try, the mothers told me.
The only option left, therefore, was private tuition. I began making the calls. The first tutor laughed outright, but the second seemed more sympathetic. “Please sir”, I said in my most pathetic voice, “don’t punish my daughter for my mistake in not contacting you earlier”.
Corny dialogue, yes. But it worked. At Rs600 an hour, I had a tutor for my daughter.
In an effort to correct my negligence over the past few months, interaction between me and my 15-year-old now seems limited to two words: go study. And yet, I can understand the sheer tedium of remaining cooped indoors with the end nowhere in sight (the last board paper gets over towards the end of March).
I long to take her out for a movie; long for her to hang out with friends and in order to relieve what could be unmitigated boredom, am quite happy to allow her on Facebook as well as on television to watch Heroes. Later this week I am headed for the literature festival in Jaipur; restricting myself to only two of the five days. Last year, I forced my daughter to skip school in the belief that it would be a great learning experience for her. This year she’s staying back. Life, as it were, is on hold.
The public debate on lightening the load on our children is an old one. The problem, however, isn’t the syllabus. It’s what happens after the board exams. It’s what happens when a single mark or a half percentage point stands in the way of a student’s college of choice. The problem is that at the higher education level, there is way too much competition with too many students vying for admission to too few quality institutions.
The gap between what we tell our children in theory and what we inflict on them in practice is huge. In theory, we tell them that what matters most is that they try. That they will be judged as human beings by the values they adopt not by the marks they get, which divides them into good students and duffers. But in practice, we know that a bunch of three-hour papers is what stands between them and the college of their choice.
So, what I tell my daughter is this: I know you’re sitting for a mind-numbing exam. I know this is a soul-defeating exercise. But it’s an exercise you can crack. And if a few months of your life make all the difference in a career that spans 40 years, then why not play the game by its rules?
Namita Bhandare writes every other Tuesday on social trends. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org