Schools-are they too competitive?

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Schools - are they becoming too competitive day by day? Are they focusing more on numerical scores and quantitative grades than developing a child into a fully-functional individual? Are the topmost grades, only criteria for judging their own students? And if schools are getting more inclined to such factors day by day, perhaps, our society is somewhere demanding such kinds of “levels” from the schools. These days parents are focusing more and more on their child getting “renowned” in school and basically, in the academics and scores rather than recognizing their own child’s talents.

After all, most of the parents want their child to stand first in the class and score highest in all the subjects. This is the only criterion where all –the parents, teachers and our Indian society agrees- to declare that such kind of children are really bright students. But are these students really the “brightest” of all the students as it is believed by the masses? And what about those students who were not the “brightest” lot in their schools, yet they are exceptionally doing well in their practical lives and later these are more renowned than their favorite and bright scholars? Live examples are available like Azim Premji- who had to leave his engineering education midway after his father’s death to take over his family’s business. Though, he belonged to a wealthy family and he was supposed to take over his family business of vegetable and hydrogenated oil or soaps and toiletries but he chose to diversify his business and stepped into the field of Information Technology which led him to the “Wipro Technologies…” and now he is known as the Bill Gates of India and finally the second richest Indian.

What are your views about Sachin Tendulkar? Recently, he almost broke the record of the cricket legend Don Bradman. He is now supposed to be the best batsman in the world, starting his cricket career from just the age of 15 years and still achieving highly even at the age of 37 years. I know , every Indian is proud of his achievements and till date when most of the cricketers retire when they are about his age or their glory of achievements starts declining even then he surprises the world through his amazing achievements. Do you know his one secret? He is a school drop out, not even able to qualify his exams still he is so extra-ordinary for all you. Why an ordinary school failure is a star today? Can you call him under-achiever or “retarded”? I can bet nobody can in this whole world. Though, he did not meet the criteria of all of you to survive the academic theoretical education of becoming a bright scholar, he even did not qualify to be a dull scholar, still he is educated. Yes, educated differently. He has been coached for his cricketing right from the schooling days. Probably, there was something which kept him motivated for this game. And, it is not that he got this success in one shot. Initially, he tried his luck as a bowler but he could not impress his coach about it and so finally the coach only guided him to choose for batting. Now, see the difference his bowler coach guided him what was the best suitable for his interests. Even in cricket, one could not be successful in all types of abilities like one could be expert in fielding, other in batting, another in bowling(that too could be fast or spin etc.), or in wicket keeping. So cricket is one field but still so many options where you could excel in.

Now, you could say that these people are selected, trained and encouraged for sports. May be that is true. But what about school drop outs who excelled in science, technology, mathematics or writing and so on, which is supposed to be developed and nurtured by only those “bright students” who proved academically (rather theoretically I would say). What you have to say about Ramanujan, who just excelled in Mathematics but denied the scholarship to continue his studies further as he failed in other non-mathematical subject. Ramanujan who discovered his own theorems of mathematics at just at the age of 12 years only got later renowned because one of the Collectors, who himself was a scholar of mathematics, during the British Regime in India, discovered Ramanujan’s talents by chance and made attempts for his international recognition.

Not everyone is so lucky though to be recognized that way. For example, I could recall one of my own classmates, who just migrated from Punjab to a small town in Uttar Pradesh and his father was an illiterate farmer, who came to Uttar Pradesh to avoid the burning Punjab of 1980’s and got his son admitted in the so called “best school” in that town. He happened to be my classmate. A very tall fellow, who never used to speak much but used to observe everything sharply. We were in class VII then. We had our quarterly exams after three months of the start of this new session and this student –named as Bachattar Singh – failed in all the subjects –not just failed but he got “zero” in all the subjects- except for Mathematics- where he score 100 out of 100. And then we kept on beating exams after exams for the whole year, he kept even the toppers in mathematics always behind him-for he never scored less than 100% in any of the class tests or any exams. Finally, the session ended for that year and class and we wrote the final exams. He again scored 100% in mathematics but again nearly “zero” in all the other subjects. Reports cards were handed over the students in the presence of their parents-teachers “judging” their students abilities and drawbacks- giving suggestions how to improve in certain “weaker subjects”- but Bachattar Singh was expelled from the school. Our class teacher just told him, that you are brilliant in mathematics but still to continue your education you need to score at least “passing marks” in the other subjects. Alas, the great talent in Mathematics, who could have been another Ramanujan, if and only if, he was allowed to continue his interests in mathematics, perhaps ended only in the geometric dimensions of his the agricultural fields and his interests in mathematics which was just reduced to manage the accounts of his crops being sold, but never had of any such chance to get recognized in mathematics.

Just think of many other talents, in your own locality, amongst your own relatives and acquaintances, amongst your own school and most importantly amongst your own children. Have you ever thought of about these extra-ordinary talents which if given little encouragement and direction in life may do wonders. These talents are not so rare as you think .Usually people think that these talented people are “too lucky” and “extra-ordinarily gifted” and perhaps you could not accept your own child to be that gifted because he cannot take the “risk” your child’s career in these extra-ordinary pursuits as it may not turn out to be that fruitful. Of course, it is little risky if you are still in doubt of your child’s talent and especially if you are not an ordinary family when you cannot afford to give him the education of that “extra-ordinary” talent on your “extra-ordinary” expenses. But at the same time who is responsible for all this? You may blame the educational system and educational policies- each one of you-whether you are a parent or a teacher or even you are a student. Aren’t you responsible for it? Who has made this educational system, it is one of you. May be you can say that whatever the policy and system is ,one as a school teacher, or a parent –they have to accept it and follow it. Why you need to accept anything blindly? If you accept anything blindly, then again you are also responsible for its establishment, as you have accepted it blindly without thinking over it logically. Please do not be so irresponsible to avoid your responsibilities. Not only the policy makers but each one of us are responsible for it, only few made the policies but all of us accepted it and not only accepted it followed and implemented it in our day to day lives. Being a democratic country, having complete rights of expressions, how can you just be transferring your responsibilities to the policy makers only. You share an equal part. Don’t give excuses. At the same time I do not believe that anyone kind of demonstrations or road blocks, closure of markets etc. would help this cause or any cause. You have to think logically, debate it with the qualified professionals and take a little bold step ahead of others protect your child’s or student’s rights.

I would like to first describe your responsibilities as a school teacher. How do you evaluate your student who is extra-noisy in the class? A student who cannot sit patiently in the class on his respective seat, who does not follow your instructions in one go and asks lot of questions like “why do you do this, act like this or why it cannot be this way…why you tell us this way only?...why we cannot describe things some other way?” Teachers usually call such student as a naughty, indisciplined child and so on. But did you ever think actual why he or she behaves like that. He or she might be just specifically talented, extra-curious child with divergent thinking who could not think in the class because he or she gets bored of those extra dozes of teaching which he already knows and is tired and bored of learning again and again. Sometimes, such children do not prefer to answer those boring questions in the school exams because they feel these are “below their standards” but they do not think of the term standards or something like that –only they find it too boring. They keep getting bored by those less appealing, sort of average or normal tasks for these above –average and abnormally intelligent who are exceptionally talented and gifted in some way or the other. All the more they could not tolerate lot of revisions of such tasks-as this loses their interests further in those topics. For such reasons many exceptionally talented children refuse to write exams for those boring topics or if forced to write exams may fail or turn out to be a drop outs like Albert Einstein or Thomas Alva Edison- who were actually unable to clear formal exams in schools but known to be the scientists and their inventions are well known to the world. Some others children find out the alternative ways to keep themselves interested in answering those questions like writing little different answers which are actually not wrong but is beyond your syllabus and finally got discouraged by their surroundings-parents, teachers or even the seniors.

Here I would like to narrate cases whom I was sent for counseling or advise or addressing their problems efficiently. Either they were labeled as “mentally retarded” due to their low scholastic performances or they were named to be fit in highly complex disorders like learning disabled or autism or attention deficit hyperactive disorders or some times even labeled as having behavioral problems amounting to conduct disorders. Though, teachers and parents are increasingly getting aware of these terms but unfortunately they are not “trained in those professions” to make such diagnoses or labeling such disorders. Of course, they have full right to suspect such disorders but I have a request that before any professional assessment by a qualified and trained professional one could not claim such labels. So please be patient before labeling them for such complex terms just on the basis of your suspicions.

I would like to explain here a case of about five year old student who was labeled as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder commonly called ADHD by his school teachers. The child was the student of UKG in a renowned school but because he was able to grasp things very quickly than his other classmates, he used to get up tried to help his little weaker classmates, he was labeled by his teacher as a distracted child. His parents getting fearful about this classification brought the child for my advice. I found the child extra-ordinarily intelligent, at least three years ahead of his normal age and his mother told me that he could read the story books meant for 9-10 year old children and could read and understand the head-lines and high-lights in newspapers. How can you expect such a child to restrict himself just to write only three letter words starting with the letter “A” and not more letter words. His mother told me how his other words which was for about 6-7 letters, all starting from letter “A” only where encircled by his teacher only to be labeled him as an “average” or “under-performer”. When his mother gently asked for explanation, the teacher said “The question was very clear-to write just the three letter words starting from letter “A” and obviously if he writes something which is not asked for , then it would not be accepted. Also, these words were never taught to him or any of these are not even in his course books”. The child’s mother got stunned but did not know how to respond to this unnecessary description of the criteria of performance. The irony was that his mother informed us that he could maintain his attention at a stretch for about 90 minutes, which many normal adults find it difficult to maintain unless it becomes their habit or demanded in their profession. It is disgusting that people call these children as ADHD when even at this age they could concentrate for so long.

If you want to think or act in a little different manner than most of the other people are doing then do the other authorities have the right to label a child or an individual like this? But it is not the fault of the school or teacher either. The only problem is the proper awareness about these kinds of problems. So here I would like to request the school authorities to have some kind of periodic training for your teachers about “knowing about their students” and also holding some kind of workshops that are involving both the students and teachers as staff where they could have some interaction in a little relaxed discipline where they could understand the particular student as an individual. May be if due to work pressure it is not possible or for some reasons, at least you could enquire more about such children whom you suspect to be little different from others. Also, enquiring from the parents in detail about their other interests ad activities rather than just the academics would help teachers to understand their student as an individual as such and his or her perception about that student would not be limited to his or her academic activities.

There was another student whose parents came to seek advice for the similar reasons. His teacher also labeled his as ADHD but actually he was a normal , active child with average intelligence that too on the higher side. Whenever, he got free time he did some adventurous activities like climbing on the window grills in the class, or running over or standing over the desk , but otherwise he could concentrate on his class work or homework even for more than half –an-hour. He was again five years old in age. Also, he was said that since he could not complete his homework or class work unless and until somebody like his mother at home or teacher in class especially paid attention to him. In fact it is quiet normal for many children of his age.

Though, the above case indicated that teachers and parents are becoming aware of these kinds of problems but you have take every account of the other situations also in context. The problem with this student was that he came from a very small town from Haryana where he lived in a joint family earlier. It was only three months back that his parents shifted to Gurgaon to explore better employment opportunities, for their own restaurant. Parents themselves found it difficult to adjust in that National Capital Region where they were never exposed earlier. And now they had to help their son also to grow in a proper manner. Knowing the reality, that restaurant just opened, three months back would not give us any kind of profit, the mother took up a job near by her residence. Also, aware of their responsibilities towards their son, father used to spend time early in the morning , while mother used to reach office by 7:00 a.m and then father used to go for his restaurant business. When the mother returned back to home by 12:00 noon, picked up her child from school and fed him and then she prepared to go back to her 4.00pm duty leaving the child to tuitions till 8:00pm their until she returned back home from duty. It was difficult for them to balance the physical activities of their son, who had the facility of a huge house and a playground with lots of cousins and friends from neighborhood and started playing by climbing on the window grills, rather than tree at his home town for which he was used to. So we have to understand the child’s full context before making a diagnoses.

I would like you to narrate you another case where the teacher called the child as “abnormal” because he did not speak much and did not answer exactly what the teacher wanted and moreover he had no friends in the class. His school counselor labeled him to be “autistic” and “retarded”, who herself was a qualified counselor and trained in Psychology! When I spoke to the child, amazingly, this eight year child spoke to me about food pipe and large and small intestines and digestive juices explaining me clearly its role and how we get energy from the food we eat and even the residual part which gets excreted and what part is responsible for it. Also, he spoke to me about how the electricity is generated. He explained me further of inhaling oxygen by human beings and exhaled Carbon-di-oxide by humans later inhaled by plants for themselves to prepare their own food with the help of sunlight. He spoke to me how rockets are prepared, how they get fuel and how they are launched which I did not even understand as I was never interested in knowing this “rocket technology”. He spoke to me about touch-me-not plant and other insect eating plants. Imagine just a third standard kid and having that much of knowledge. His mother revealed that he reads those books related to science and ask questions related to science , interested in Discovery Channels or National Geographic Channels and never interested in cartoon networks etc. An amazing painter and apparently great knowledge of science his only problem was that he did not like to write answers much in detail- perhaps that is the reason why he was called “retarded” and since he could not express himself properly to his fellow classmates- so labeled as “autistic”. I can bet had he been autistic he would not have been able to relate to me in just half-an-hour, would not be so comfortable with the surroundings etc. Also, perhaps he could not get along with the kids of his own age because he did not like to participate in their cartoon film discussions and he loved to believe in real concepts of science and geography and history and perhaps nobody tried to pay attention to him when he spoke such things in front of them. And “mentally retarded”- no way-even any lay person- not knowing the meaning of intelligence as such would never call him retarded!

My dear friends, these are just the glimpse of cases which I have come across in real life. So, please do not ignore this fact also if someone tries to point fingers on your childs’ capabilities but also do not follow any professional just “blindly”. Just think logically. If you some doubts about your student’s or own child’s talents or abilties then contact some professional efficient to handle this situation in a better manner. May be your child might have some of the problems which many others are thinking but even then do not get disappointed, because even the children with many kind of disorders also have something or the other which is unique special about them. And who knows, these apparent problems are not problems at all as these might have been appearing on the surface due to some other deep rooted talents, abilities, aptitudes and interests. And even if your child is weak, remember about Sachin Tendulkar, Ramanujan and many others- they were also weak in many things- so why not now start thinking about- what actually your students or children are especially good at. As you all know, nobody is usually remembered in life by his or her weaknesses but the fondest memories and the most beautiful and cherished moments are when the person whom you are remembering had done something great or special at least if not to others but to you. Remember those moments of your students and children and try to move them ahead in their natural strengths and talents. Why overstressing so much overcoming their shortcomings unless it is not harming to the society by and large.

Look into yourself, are you able to overcome your own shortcomings, for you have been criticized so much and even if to some extent whether you are still able to excel so much that you could still compete with those who were supposed to be the “best” in that. And at the same time if you spent even half the time overcoming your those weaknesses that you have been pointed out from time to time then certainly you would have been exceptionally well in that talent which you still secretly cherish!. So teachers and parents, please first try to look at your own strengths, rather than weaknesses, try to discover your own talents and then only you would be able to understand its special significance. May be the similar incident/s might have also troubled or discouraged you in the past for which you could not become what you wanted to be. Please do not repeat those mistakes to this younger kids! Let us join hands for their cause and may be we have many more Sachin’s or Ramanujan’s. It is still a dream but you can all make this dream to come true and convert it to reality!
*Dr Smita Pandey Bhat is a Counselor and Clinical Psychologist. She has completed her M.Phil and PhD in Clinical Psychology, from Central Institute of Psychiatry (C.I.P), Ranchi. She has seven years of experience in this field at different places. She provides psychological counseling, psychotherapies like, Supportive Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy, Social Skills Training, Assertiveness Training etc. as per the requirement of the people. She also provides assessments like Intelligence Tests and Personality Assessments for Children as well as Adults.

The areas of problems that require her services is ranging from mild emotional problems to severe mental problems. She provides counseling to children for the problems like, lying, stealing, truancy, identity problems, low self esteem or self confidence, poor performance in school, learning disabilities, autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity problems, emotional outbursts, anger outbursts, crying spells, sadness and depression, problems regarding the choice of career, problems in sleeping etc. She also provides counseling to parents called as Parental Management Training and counsel them for good parenting strategies.

For Adults she provide services for work related stress, stress within the family, tension, anxiety, depression, low self esteem or self confidence, problems in dealing with stress or coping or making adjustments, problems in married life, problems related with sleep, boredom and stress burnouts. She also provides management for obsessive and compulsive behaviors. She teaches them techniques so that they are able to cope better in their lives and have a good quality of life. She also provides cognitive rehabilitation to the patients of chronic schizophrenia, dementia and brain injury patients helping them to learn self help skills and help them refine their cognitive abilities like attention, memory, organization and planning etc. through cognitive retraining and other behavioral techniques.

Dr. Smita Pandey Bhat has given lectures on clinical psychology for nursing students and staff, as well as M.Phil students. She is a clinical psychologist of repute and has made appearances on several live television shows and appeared as Celebrity Guest on

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