High School Dilemma
As a parent of a young teenager who is transitioning from middle to high school, I am bombarded with demands, offers and proposals from various sources relating to chalking out her trajectory for college. I feel the pressure pervading me as peers and teachers are constantly showering me with statements such as “It’s time to pull up one’s socks!”, “Put on those skates”, “Let’s get cracking”, and “Roll up your sleeves”. Everyone seems to have jumped on the bandwagon leading to college admissions to procure the best opportunity and admission.
As I witness this bustle all around me from coffee table mornings to parent teacher meetings, I am beginning to question the evolution of the education system. The factory model of education gifted to us by our well-wishing rulers, the British, was a scalable and standardized model that prepared the youth for the industrialized society. Yet, the true essence of human potential — wisdom, creativity, compassion, and critical thinking were significantly compromised. Since then, we have observed shifts in the learning process from mass produced textbooks to a range of diverse materials, from rigid seating arrangements to more flexible ones, and from an authoritarian teacher to a facilitative guide. In addition, the digital revolution has created wider accessibility and made individualization possible in education. Moreover, with the mushrooming of International Schools in the city, we saw the infrastructure and amenities being revamped to meet the needs of varied students. Yet today I find myself questioning whether these modifications are merely an upgrade or a fundamental shift in our philosophy and approach to education.
A child entering high school in an International School is in effect entering a 4-year marathon to secure a seat at a foreign university for his or her undergraduate degree. This is meant to open the avenues and networking required to be ‘successful’. We are implicitly implying that every student must follow the same course regardless of one’s passions, interests, motivation, and financial status. The only expectation is for each student to be a well-rounded individual who is proud of his or her academic mastery, his or her ability in a sport, an art form and displays concern and interest in the environment and people less fortunate to himself or herself. So, basically every student must meet all the requirements laid out by universities while simultaneously having clarity of purpose coupled with confidence in their skills and abilities. Now, this makes me question some of my fundamental beliefs as an educator and as a parent.
1. Uneven Learning Profiles:
In my work with children with learning difficulties, I understood the uneven learning profile of every child. Each one has areas of strength and other areas of growth. The task of an educator is to leverage the child’s areas of strength in a manner that his or her areas of growth can be nurtured further. This allowed me to become more appreciative of diversity in individuals and value the uniqueness that each one presented. Yet, is it reasonable to expect our children to be maneuvered into a particular shape or size to fit the demands of higher education within a fixed timeline?
2. Knowledge versus Wisdom:
As part of my education journey, I was expected to engage intensively with a range of books, articles, research papers and journals. However, it was during my postgraduate studies that I became cognizant of the difference between knowledge and wisdom. While we can provide our children with an abundance of knowledge and ensure they have all the academic grades and degrees needed, do these marksheets or certificates guarantee that they have developed the wisdom to use that plethora of knowledge in a manner that benefits and creates value for society at large?
As T.S. Eliot rightly quoted, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
3. Institutions exist to serve Individuals:
Being a member of the Soka Gakkai International Organization, I have learnt that organizations are created to serve individuals rather than the other way around. Nonetheless, we are expecting our children to be tailored to meet the requirements of institutions offering higher education. Should we not demand our institutions to be structured in a manner to create flexibility so that they can cherish the uniqueness of each student within a broad framework? Are the institutions invested in drawing out the potential of each child or does the focus continue to be on creating a product with impressive resumes?
4. The Journey Matters
Walter Hagen stated, “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way”. As a yoga practitioner, I have learnt to be mindful of every step of the journey rather than being solely targeted on the end goal. Reaching the destination is exhilarating, yet it is often fleeting. Nonetheless, when I have basked in every micro win and loss, I have relished the experience much more. It makes me wonder if our children are taking thrill in this process or are merely hooked on to the finish line? And what really is the finish line? Does success have an end goal?
5. Purpose of Education is Happiness
Lastly, after grappling with this question for decades, I now truly accept that the purpose of education is to create happy, joyful children. Still, I find that we continue to send messages related to the transitory measures of success like admission to an IVY league college or a well-paying job to our children. These implicit messages not only provide the breeding ground for emotional problems but also results in nurturing a generation of power driven, stressful and self-centered individuals. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and breathe! Reconsider our definition of success! Respect our child’s interests, needs, passions and abilities! Remember the primary role of a nurturer is to love!
As I stand at another crossroads, fighting the urge to not cave in to yet another one of society’s definition of success, I am reminded of the lines of a poem by Robert Frost,
“Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference”.