Entrance Exams Bypass Childhood To Adulthood Rat Race

These days, the conversation about the kids starts with the only question: “Which School?” We answer that our six-year-old twin daughters do not go to school because they are children. Invariably, regardless of the background of the person, the second question tossed to us has been “But then what about the entrance exams?”

The follow-up questions could have been raised about their learning, education, exposure, interactions, experiences etc for they do not go to school. We, parents, could have been grilled about our thinking and approach for not sending our daughters to school. However, none of these queries gets raised. The second question has always been about the entrance exams.

I don’t get this, at all. Why should anyone raise a question about an event that is a decade down the line? That too, with an air of certainty that the said event is a must-happen occurrence which the child should/must/ has to compulsorily get through. Why the rush? What’s the hurry? Why the unreserved single-minded focus and dedication for entrance exams?

Entrance Exams Are The Reality

I agree that the people who raise a concern about our six-years-old daughters’ lack of preparation for entrance exams have a valid point. In the Indian context, that’s the only point. It is true that unless for the entrance exams, the child does not seem to have a future in today’s India when s/he grows up to be an adult.

Be it the JEE/NEET/CAT/CLAT/CA/CS/IAS or whatever/wherever, there is no escaping the claws of the entrance exams. The private institutions, not to be left behind, have entrance exams of their own. The Institutes of Eminence need to be Eminent. So, how do they go about it? Entrance exams, of course (if only, the world rankings were based on the number of students taking the entrance exams).

There is nothing “New” in the New Education Policy (NEP) to make tomorrow’s India any different from today vis-à-vis entrance exams. When there is no alternative, when there is no notion of a substitute, what really is left to be done? Fall in line and fight it out for the endangered seats. It is a dog-eat-dog world when it comes to college admissions – public/private, JNU/Amity, even fly-by-night!!

All these mean that as soon as a child is born, s/he starts getting wired to be prepared for the impending entrance exams. That’s what the “well-meaning” people ask us when we tell that our children do not go to school. Just that the meaning remains limited to the future of the child decade from today and not today per se. What’s the fuss about childhood?

The Double-Standard Adults

Ask any adult. What’s the life-stage they would want to re-live? What are the memories they cherish? The answer will be childhood. There is a distinct possibility that an adult of today might have an abused childhood. In this case, re-draft the question: What’s the life-stage they would want to re-live “better”? The answer, again, will be childhood.

Today’s adult (parents and grand-parents included) attaches utmost importance to his/her by-gone childhood. But, the same adult has scant regard for the childhood of his/her children. S/he cannot think beyond the entrance exams. What else?

Ask any adult. What do you think where would you be a decade from today? Please list out the sacrifices for today basis the deliverables to your family in future. For example, save on your OTT subscriptions so that the child’s future can be invested in. A realistic question: What’s the contingency plan should you lose your job/vocation? In all probability, the said adult will laugh/scream out.

The adult that cannot plan for his/her future, essentially no thoughts or at best, some hazy ideas, has already thought through the child’s future and put into action. Entrance exams. What else?

As adults, we say that we prioritize creativity, fresh ideas, out-of-box thinking (I would have used more jargons, but I left the corporate job 4 years back). We say that individuality matters. What’s more, we want our child to be unique, just like us!! To back the pretending parents, the schools, with assembly lines (pun intended), promises to churn out exceptional and exclusively chiselled, only one of its kind, child!!

So, how do adults/schools go about this project of raising/schooling a “distinctive/innovative” child?

Common Entrance Exams for all the children, with not a single child left behind. Mission Accomplished.

The Missed Childhood

It is the sign of the dysfunctional and dystopian society wherein the success of the individual gets decided as early as the coding taught to a six-year-olds. What if STEM learning does not teach a child problem-solving skills? How will a child cope unless s/he is skilled and qualified to excel in the future entrance exams?

We are almost made to believe that if our children are not prepared for the entrance exams, we are doing a disservice to them. We are robbing them of their chance to have productive adulthood and setting them up for a failed future. Fair point.

I have not been able to raise a counterpoint that the child who is being groomed for entrance exams, throughout the childhood, can/might raise a minor query sometime in life that s/he was robbed of his/her growing up years. Won’t a childhood endowed with stress-free play and learning, along with, lead to a better chance of being a well-grounded adult? Isn’t this a fair point, as well?

What’s your view about the fait accompli of entrance exams on children’s formative years?

Ministry of Education Should Be Renamed Ministry of Examinations

Recently, Ministry of Human Resource Development was renamed Ministry of Education by Government of India. A well-meaning gesture, one would say. A long-winding name, hard to decipher, gets replaced by a sweet and short one. The new name connotes the priority and objective of the department – what it upholds and works for. However, basis the actual actions of the department, I propose to rename it as Ministry of Examinations.

Under normal circumstances, actions of a Government department do not come to a layman’s notice unless it does something truly path-breaking. But these are not regular conditions. This is the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the Ministry of Health, if there is one Ministry that would be of utmost importance to citizens – it is the Ministry of Education.

It is the actions during this pandemic that signifies what the Ministry stands for and acts for. This is the time when the students need help, the parents need support for their children, the schools and colleges need back-up aid. Ministry of Education could have taken steps to justify and come true to its new name. It could have been the supreme champion of Indian education and become the most celebrated Ministry in the Government.

In reality, what has been the Ministry up to?

Guidelines and Guidelines and Examinations

Ministry of Education has released umpteen guidelines on online education. There is no follow-up on the efficacy, students left out, execution by the schools etc. The Ministry claimed to circulate a number of online modules for teaching. Again no data on how many students, teachers and schools actually benefitted, the reach etc.

Once the pandemic started to subside, the Ministry released guidelines on reopening of schools and colleges. Post the guidelines, the Ministry went into hibernation with no report on whether the States are following the directions. As on date, few schools and colleges have opened in bits and pieces or they are going to reopen now.

What happens to students left out by online education/unable to cope with the demands of screen-only learning? What about parents that are unable to pay the fees? How about the schools and colleges that do not have the bandwidth for online classes/reopening protocols? What about the well-being of teachers in private schools?

No answers. No ownership. Now, compare this with the self-righteous zeal for JEE/NEET/final-year college exams.

At that point of time, COVID-19 had just about started to recede, but the exams were held nonetheless. There were a big hue and cry by the students and the parents, but ultimately in the dog-eat-dog world of ultra-competitive entrance exams, they had to fall in line.

Though, nothing much has happened post the first-year admissions in engineering/medical colleges. That’s fine. Entrance examinations were mandatory. Final year college exams were a charade and after the graduation, students have few jobs on offer. That’s fine. Final year examinations were mandatory.

What’s the learning from the above-mentioned real-life actions by the Ministry? Mention the word Examinations and the Ministry swings into action. Else, it is the case of some guidelines here and there followed by a prolonged slumber.

No Alternative To Examinations

Indian education is infamous for the single-minded focus on rote learning that can be evaluated only by writing exams. Ministry of Education, coinciding with the name change, released the New Education Policy (NEP). However in that too, the focus on examinations has not got diluted any bit. Apart from the dreadful suggestion of primary education in mother tongue, it has nothing new to offer, least on exams.

The students are told to think out of the box, re-imagine, re-invent and all such theory. However, when it is about coming up with an option to the rote fest, the Ministry is devoid of ideas. Leave aside coming up with an option, we are made to believe that there is no alternative at all.

In regular times, nobody would discuss discarding the fossilized notion of exams that we have. If even during this unprecedented times, we cannot let go of our perception that there is no alternative to the normal exams; what a new normal are we talking about?

To reduce the students’ stress, what has the Ministry done? Reduce the syllabus by 30% but it is the exams for the remaining 70% that will matter. The syllabus can be worked around, but not the exams. The Ministry has let known the priorities to all.

Ministry of Examinations, It Is

All through the COVID-19 pandemic, what have been the maximum interactions of Honourable Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal about? Announcing the examination dates.

What did he speak about other than exams? I have not come across anything. If you get to know, please do share. His Ministry and his good self know nothing other than the exams, exams and the exams. At least, that is what his and the Ministry’s actions show and prove.

In light of the above, I propose to rename the Ministry of Education as Ministry of Examinations.

What are your views on this subject?

PS: PS: I am a stay-at-home father to six-year-old twin daughters, neither an educationist nor an expert. The above thoughts are an expression of parenting is having an opinion, getting involved and trying to better.

COVID-19: A Helpless Parent, JEE/NEET/UGC And An Indifferent Government

I am a parent in India. Like every other parent, I try to keep my children safe and away from danger. This, seemingly an innocuous task, has turned out to be an onerous one beyond my capabilities. I do not know what to blame and how to take corrective measures in this unasked for situation. I just know that this involves my children, the centre of my life. They are at risk for no fault of them and I am just a helpless parent; who cannot do a thing to help them in any manner.

India’s tryst with coronavirus started in March 2020. The Prime Minister ordered a national lockdown in the last week of March 2020. The cases were in three digits, nationally, at that time. We were told to stay home, stay safe. Like every other citizen, I scared my family, children and parents to stay at home for their well-being and safety.

On the education front, the Government shut down all the schools and colleges. The exams were going on at the time of announcing the lockdown; all of them got postponed citing the safety of the students. Later, the board exams, CBSE, ICSE, States, got cancelled. There was a consistency in messaging – the children’s safety is paramount.

And now, suddenly, with the coronavirus cases hovering above 60 k on a daily basis and cumulative cases in excess of 31 lacs, the children are being asked to come out to give entrance tests and final year college exams. The Supreme Court has also ruled that NEET and JEE won’t be postponed. I don’t suppose their judgement will be any different in the UGC case.

No improvement, only deterioration

What has changed from March/April 2020 to August/September 2020 for a complete reversal of stance? In March/April 2020, I told my children that they should stay at home. In August/September 2020, I am expected to tell my children that they can go out to write exams. Leave aside my loss of credibility in front of my children, how do I allay their fears about their own lives?

Please get this straight. The children, no matter their age, are human beings in their own regard. They understand the goings-on around them. They comprehend that adults are fixated on a certain issue and that their parents have deviated from a normal life-style to keep everyone in the family safe. And, now, with the risks increased exponentially, why should they put their lives at risk?

There has to be perceptible progress in the circumstances to warrant a different decision. Here, we have none. Rather, the state of affairs is worsening. 1000+ people are dying daily due to Covid-19. The adults are not able to think beyond their lives and livelihoods, and we expect the children to think nothing beyond their exams!

Live with the virus, not die from the virus

The Government says that we need to learn to live with the coronavirus. The Supreme Court has said “COVID may continue for a year more. Are you going to wait for another year? Do you know what is the loss to the country and the career peril to the students?”

We signed up as parents to raise healthy children and not COVID warriors. The soldiers know that they might have to sacrifice their lives to protect their motherland. The doctors know that they carry a professional risk when they treat their patients with infectious disease. But children? What have they done to deserve a risk to their lives? They are not even adults. On what basis are children expected to put their life on the line? Children are surely not essential service workers.

I do not know whether COVID continues for a year. I know that it is the duty of the Government to keep the country safe. If the Government is not able to rid the country of the virus, how can it be the responsibility of the children to return to so-called normalcy? How have they failed that to pass the exams they have to put their lives at risk?

57000+ people have died due to COVID to date. And, more will die. Is this not a loss to the country? Who is going to claim this blood on their hands? Does the Government guarantee a career to the students who venture out to give exams in this scenario? If no, how can it ask the students to vie for an illusory career in exchange for a real-life?

 A helpless parent and the lonely angst

The Government knows that it is coming from a position of power, a position of unbridled brute dominance. The Government knows that in the dog eat dog world of the Indian education sector, where the elite medical and engineering seats are at a premium, there is no option for parents or the students to not give entrance exams if ordered to. They will have to fall in line, and they will.

In the Indian political landscape, each caste, each industry, each interest has a lobbying group to influence the decision-making process. But parents? The most-widely disseminated group has no unifying force that can speak in a single voice to get heard. The net result – The Government rams its way through with no opposition and the Supreme Court of India as a lead cheer-leader. Why should anyone bother for a helpless parent and her/his children?

Go ahead, my children. Give the exams. Though it is my duty as a parent, I cannot guarantee your safety anymore. Some of you may die, some of you may suffer from the disease, some of you may carry the scars for the rest of your life.

I am sorry for letting you down in the face of the Indian Government’s indifferent and inept handling of the pandemic. I am sorry.

A Helpless Parent

PS: The Government considers opening of children’s parks as a threat to life, but not giving exams. New Education Policy gets released and advertised, but we cannot look beyond the 3 hour rote fest.