“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a question we are often asked through our childhood. My mind perpetually oscillated between the fantasies of unearthing history buried deep under the sands of time to retracing the footsteps of the authors and poets I read about. However, it was not lost on me that the expected answer to that question was an engineer or a doctor.
It came to my understanding early in life that it was easier to blurt either one than speak my mind. When formulas and theories in Physics whizzed past my head with the same velocity that it was thrown my way, the engineering dream was secretly nipped in the bud. I occasionally mulled over the thought of reviving and relieving people out of their maladies, but proclaiming undying love to Biology was only the pointy tip of the humungous iceberg of chasing the ‘doctor’ dream.
However, I did what was expected of me and the marks kept coming, keeping the flame of hope in everyone around me burning. I even topped in Kannada — the local language that was part of our curriculum. Never mind the fact that I could not speak a word of the language.
Marks superseded it all — learning and understanding too!
I cannot deny the fact that many of my friends who burned the midnight oil and reaped the fruits of their hard work have steadily climbed the career ladder. But so have the back benchers who did not waste precious time tangled in complex equations or the wars won in the past, but have still managed to achieve as much as those who did.
The marks that we once strived for are now mere numbers on a report card that join the many relics of our past.
It is often argued that the rote system of education that gives priority to marks and is enslaved by stiff competition has worked over the generations, but on this day, will these little minds growing up into a future ruled by AI and creativity reminisce their childhood as days spent slumping over books and screens weighed down by tall expectations that are perpetually on the rise with rare happy moments spent sneaking in a game of PubG or Fortnite?
Are the methods of yesterday robbing them of their tomorrow?
The school that my son, Sid, is studying in has replaced the first term examination with Challenge Based Learning where teams of students delve into identifying and finding solutions to problems faced by the people and the environment around them.
The pressure of marks having lifted off them replaced with the responsibility of tackling problems that they have otherwise been too busy to notice, the children are in a frenzy of enthusiastic learning, observations, discussions and research. These little steps are that of change that foster learning giving little minds the freedom to expand their minds and widen their thoughts.
Time to rethink
With depression and suicidal rates spiking in the aftermath of examinations, is it not time we rethink our methods and focus on learning between teaching our children to pick themselves up when they fall than leave behind a fragile generation that can thrive at the very top of the competition ladder but are unable to foresee the practical difficulties that loom large outside their academic bubble and break down at the very first hurdle they encounter on their way up.
Change is the only constant and the only way forward.
Coming back to putting the question of — What do you want to be when you grow up, to my Little Princess, she first exclaimed — firefighter, but after careful consideration post difficulty extinguishing the candle on her birthday cake, she is now considering joining PJ masks to save the day.
She baffles me but at least she is speaking her mind!
—Pranitha Menon is a freelance writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @MenonPranitha