‘Education is Supposed to Enlighten, Not Frighten’, Says a High School Teacher

One upside of working at a school is to get an insider’s view of how cruelly and easily, over a long period of time, the education system hardwires children into believing that they’re nothing more than educational assets.

Their sense of worth solely rests on a certain percentage, and everyone around them is happy as long as they keep achieving it. It’s nothing less than the intricate work of an evil genius: to completely reprogram the mind of pure infinite potential and carve it out into a glass jar of big double-digit numbers and tell them how there’s no real world outside academics. All in the name of returning profits.

I was working quietly in my office the day the ICSE and CBSE board exams results were going to be announced. Suddenly, the entire teaching staff of the 10th grade burst into jubilant cheering and screaming. The results had come.

I rolled my eyes thinking how many kids the system had successfully screwed into thinking that they were geniuses just because they had managed to float above the 90% mark.

Also read: My Classroom Was Sexist and Undemocratic – And I’m a Product of It

What really caught my eye was a girl standing in the corner, right next to her twin brother. It looked like she was going to cry. I heard her telling a teacher that she she had scored 92%, but less than her brother.

At this point, I didn’t know if I was angry or sad or just wanted to give her an earful for being so foolish.

Later, I realised what was even more pathetic: she wanted to score more than her brother. The system had pitted her against her own sibling because that’s what it does – it ruins friendships and dents relationships.

The ever-so divisive ‘marks’

Friends drift apart over grades and get into lifelong tussles and siblings end up in conflicts that turn into resentment and jealousy. They start contesting for more parental love which evolves into future self-esteem and self-worth issues. All for an absurd competition: who gets more pointless marks?

But, to be honest, it wasn’t easy to prolong this observation because years ago, I was in the same boat as the girl. I would pray to get a good score just for validation from family and non-existent friends. I had a belief that maybe a high percentage would protect me from getting bullied.

When a bullied student scores really well in one of the country’s major examinations, he or she suddenly becomes too formidable to be bullied – almost like a ticking “knowledge” bomb. The kind of thing you see in Hollywood teen-centric movies.

There’s another side of the system and it’s hard to understand how it works.

Actual hard-working students are ridiculed for being teachers’ pets and bullied for “not having a life.” Some of them are the ones who genuinely want to score the best because the education industry takes a screw called ‘brainwashing the student into believing there’s no life outside academics’ and conveniently drills It into their minds. But I guess bullying is a conversation for another day.

How education became a commercial venture

Back to my staff room.

During my shift, I heard something really disturbing. While going through the results, my boss said that they had little time to decide who the best among them were as those kids would be selected to talk about their achievements and studying tactics to the media. When someone asked her the parameters of deciding that, she simply said anyone who scored above 93%.

Generally, those who get below 89-93% are not recognised. And years later, when they rise to an acclaimed position in an esteemed organisation, the same school scrambles to reclaim their association with that student. Students who get your school’s name in the newspaper become an asset. And those who cannot, morph into merely a forgotten marksheet.

The sad truth is usually the toppers are the the first ones to forget what they learn because, in most cases, they are forced into doing something they never wanted.

On the other hand, those who don’t score well hold themselves together to have decent lives and eventually become names everyone wants to be associated with.

Also read: Will the Entrance Exam Rat Race Ever End?

However, there could be exceptions too.

Somehow, in the middle of all this, the system is the first one to back-out and gaslight parents and students, especially when the kid falls into the deep abyss of failure, self-loathing and introspection.

The system makes parents doubt their upbringing and values if their child fails to get that official gold star. They take the blame on themselves and learn to compromise with a ‘less gifted child’. Students start doubting their sense of self-worth, intelligence quotient and purpose of life if the decimal point or double digit number goes even slightly awry. Relatives start mocking them for years to come. We all know that ‘Sharmaji ka beta’ meme didn’t become famous for nothing. It’s the most subtle and satirical jab at this festering toxic academic black hole.   

The education system has deteriorated greatly, now that it has become a commercialised venture. The more toppers, fame, media coverage, admissions and money to consume and discard, the more innocent lives get messed up and destroyed. Not to mention the hordes of insignificant academic awards that sit and rot in countless offices into pointless oblivion.

Education has evolved into a dangerous festering business which destroys lives before they’ve even started.

Ambalika Chaudhry is an aspiring journalist and writer who likes to rant about social issues and make people feel uncomfortable.

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty