When 14-year-old Noor Hayat entered the room bearing a gun, she assumed he wanted to celebrate his exam results by shooting into the air. After all, he had finally managed to clear the sixth grade after two futile attempts in the last three years. What followed was beyond her wildest imagination; something that will likely haunt her forever.
March 31, 2014 will forever be remembered as a dark day at the I Sakhakot Government School in Malakand, KPK. It marks the loss of an innocent, young life. More importantly, it marks the day parents, teachers, society and education system once again failed to protect our children.
Unfortunately, Noor is but one example of a child succumbing to academic pressure. His story lends credence to the burdens we unknowingly put upon our offspring, with the hopes of making them accomplished individuals. In this race, the child loses the status of being a child. Instead, he must be a walking talking superhuman who excels in academics, sports and extracurricular activities and doesn’t associate with anyone whose report card may bare a red mark or two. He is elbows deep in homework to be completed before his 5pm Taekwondo class so that he has ample time to rehearse the dialogues for the upcoming school play. He will be exhausted at night but at least he will make his parents proud.
The point is, whether parental or societal, the pressure to meet expectations is slowly killing our children or at least, making them machines through which parents can live vicariously and boast about to other parents. “In Pakistan, the emphasis on grades is directly proportional to the worthlessness of the degree,” says Abbas Husain, Director and the Teacher’s Developement Centre in Karachi. “Our flawed education system lays too much emphasis on grades. The irony is that these grades mean nothing. They show nothing of a child’s talents or ability to succeed in the future.”
The relentless pressure to do well in school starts early on with three or four year olds being sent to tuition classes for admission into a prestigious school. Some parents enrol their toddlers in preschool so that they may learn to read and write well before they are required to. Mothers toil away into the night, helping their children study and the same children arrive at school sleep-deprived, exhausted and unlikely to absorb anything that is being taught to them.
“The issue is larger than parents,” suggests Abbas. “Parents hail from a defective education system which worships grades but pays little heed to actual learning and development. Except for a few exceptional institutions, most of the local education is just rote-learning. A child’s ability to reason, think independently and solve problems is rarely nurtured.”
The tragedy manifests itself not just in the form of post-result suicide but a generation of youngsters giving up simply because they are made to feel inept. Constant comparison to successful students begets inferiority complexes and take a toll on a child’s emotional wellbeing. It propagates the idea that our children must perform in school to keep their parents happy and so much pressure is difficult to bear, especially by young minds. “This is a waste of human capital. It isn’t just suicide, it is intellectual suicide,” stresses Abbas.
Granted grades are an important factor in a child’s climb up the career ladder but they are not the be all end all of life. In a rapidly changing world like ours, any knowledge we acquire is likely to become obsolete within a few years so it is futile stressing over grades this much. Instead, parents ought to encourage co-curricular activities like sports and arts that will spur their child’s growth and help him become a well-rounded individual. They must understand that their child may not be a straight A student but may have other qualities that should be celebrated. The sooner they accept this, the better.
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, April 13th, 2014.