“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”_ Plutarch
I sat beside my fifteen year old son, in the midst of other parents and children, clapping for the school toppers of the ICSE examinations 2012. For the record, there were a whopping 124 children that got between a 90 and a 98.8 % in ICSE this year from our school alone.A host of thoughts flew through my mind: the clapping was mechanical. Sure, I was really happy for the children and their proud parents: watching success and achievement being appreciated and rewarded is inspiring; uplifting. We clapped for all 124 of them. I am sorry to report that the claps slowly died down somewhere below 94% and only a constant goading from the comparing teacher ensured enthusiastic applause into the 90’s!! I think I clapped loudest for those who were brought up last on to the stage (the children who got 90%). I kept thinking how horrendous to work hard, get more than a 90% and then not be clapped for the way you deserve!!
After the honours came the lectures. We were counselled by teachers who told us how organised study in a stress-free environment was the key; parents of successful children who told us how good food and rest as well as regular stock-taking from the parent was required; and then by the children themselves who each gave their take on “how to crack the ICSE exams”, in short how to score above 90%. All the speakers laid emphasis on the fact that participating in extracurricular activities, and spending time on play and rest, was important and did not come in the way of their success.
My child is now in the position these children were last year: He has just entered the “10th” standard, and it is my duty to groom him, support him, aid him, feed him, look after his every need; as well as reassure him, motivate him, correct him, teach him, and not “stress” him, so that he can reach that “magic number”.But what if, after all our effort, he doesn’t? Unfortunately, no one talked about the approximately 200 children that did not get above 90%, but did well anyway. They were not invited to the presentation, their parents did not share their thoughts and the teachers did not make an example of them. I have been a proud parent of a child who scored 82% in the ICSE a few years ago, and he worked really hard for that 82. Being an aspiring musician, he participated in all the music competitions and events that year, enjoyed play time and other outings with friends, and made adequate time for hard-core study. But he did not score a 90, and alas, that is all that matters when we appreciate children and their efforts.
The word “Education” comes from the Latin “educere” and literally means “to lead out”. The role of the teacher then, is to lead the pupil out to where the light of knowledge exists, or to draw out the hidden talents of the student. Socrates said “I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think”. Unfortunately, education today seems to be just a never-ending series of assessments and judgements; and instead of increasing the capacity for independent thinking, is in fact enforcing a standardized curriculum and replicable reasoning.
When all the time is spent memorising lessons and practising “previous years’ papers“, how can the teacher light up the child’s imagination with the fire of knowledge?