I have an acquaintance who has a 9 year old son studying in a reputed school in town. The boy, it seems is unable to concentrate in class and lags behind in academics. While I feel he should be given more time to realize the need to put his heart into his work, his mother's anxiety was equally justified.
"Not a day goes by without my getting upset didi." she said. "Give him a mobile phone - the very latest model - he will understand its functions in no time. He is equally comfortable using the computer and would keep playing computer games all day if he could. But ask him to sit for an hour with his books and he finds all sorts of excuses to avoid working on his home work. Rarely does he note down his home work and completes it on his own. I have to stay up till 11 at night after finishing my work and personally check if he has understood his lessons and completeted the assignments given to him. I took him to a counsellor and she says that he is fine and is just plain lazy. She wants me to stop helping him and let him fail his class tests once or twice. You will see that he will learn to work on his own. He would certainly not wish to be left behind while his class mates move on."
I wonder if it is that simple. A cousin of mine was very good at sports and other extra curricular activities. He was not a bright spark in academics but managed to pass his exams without any extra coaching. But of course in our times academics could not be compromised and no one cared if he played basket ball well enough to represent the school team. Or that he was a good orator and possessed excellent social skills. The boy had no option but to feign illness. He'd come home complaining of head aches and would want to sleep in a dimly lit room. His parents got an eye test done but the specialist in his home town could not make out what his problem was. He was referred to a famous ophthalmogist in Chennai who realized that the boy was actually trying to avoid his studies and home work and trying to gain sympathy by pretending to have some severe eye problem. In reality there was nothing wrong with his eyesight. Constant nagging by his mother regarding his average class performance was driving him nuts and lack of appreciation for his co curricular activities was equally frustrating. Luckily the eye specialist counselled his parents and they realized their mistake and made amends well in time and today the boy is happily married and doing very well in life.
Another little boy known to me was a natural left hander. His mother thought that it was somehow wrong to allow him to write with his left hand. At a very tender age she would insist on him writing with the right hand. The boy found it difficult to write with the right hand and his writing would be barely legible. With time he did overcome the problem but his initial years in school were nothing to remember by. He lacked speed in writing and would never finish his class work in time or note down his home work. His mother would go to the house of a class mate to make a note of his home work and the little boy would often act pricey. His mother would find sadistic pleasure in making her wait saying that her son needed to finish his home work and could give her his book only after that. The mother would vent her anger on the little boy and immediately compare him with his smarter younger sister. I agree that with the passage of time and a lot of help from his mother the boy finally answered his boards and came out with flying colors. But I also wonder if a lot of frustration could have been avoided if only the boy had been allowed to use his left hand and let him be as nature had made him. I am perhaps over reacting but I do feel that the importance accorded to academics is quite a burden on our youngsters. This is exactly why I welcome the proposal by the CBSE board that a student be assessed not only by his/her curricular proficiency but also take into consideration, their extra and co - curricular interests and give due credit to these too.
We recently had a seminar on "Teen age suicides - a burning problem faced by society". Some of the points highlighted were interesting. Not all these suicides are the result of unrealistic parental expectations. But some are. Our teen agers are facing tough competition and a lot of peer pressure. They may not show it but they do realize that parents spend much beyond their means to educate them and it is not easy for a child to say that he/she would prefer to study a subject of his/her choice at a pace suited to them. As a result we have a generation of engineers who would rather be free lancers and/or doctors who'd rather take up a research oriented career. So it is imperative for parents to refrain from imposing their will on their wards and support them in their choice in whatever way they can.
A family friend had two sons who are into biological research at an age when their friends are minting money as IT professionals. Both the boys got admission to medical colleges but refused to join. Their parents encouraged them to follow the dictates of their heart. But their extended family was heard to whisper that the boys were perhaps poor students who had no option but to work as poorly paid research scholars. After all did not the soft and hard ware jobs absorb even the average and below average students and train them for jobs? All this talk of the boys being oriented towards research went over their heads. According to them the boys were worse than the very average among their peers. So what if they qualified for the prestigious Junior Research Fellowship/ scholarship grant and worked under eminent advisors and guides or if they published paper after paper in internationally recognized journals? They were dudds and that was it. In fact the older among them could not get married initially because parents of eligible girls found his scholarship money inadequate for their daughters. The boy is now happily married to a fellow research scholar who understands his passion for research work. So, at least in his case, rejection actually worked in his favor. To be stuck up with a demanding wife would have been worse than remaining a bachelor all his life.
Well, all I can say is this. Each child is unique and deserve to be treated thus. Let us be their props if possible. If not, let us not act as their detractors. They'd be better off without us deciding for them and on their behalf.