What is Schooling For?

Image courtesy Lisha Menon

In ancient times, the students were taught by the guru in the Gurukul. The shishyas (belonging to a particular Varna) were prepared to learn the basics of a livelihood option. In this, from what I have read and understood, the shishyas did not compete for success; nor were they pressurized by the society to be the best and get a “gold” medal.  The expectation was to learn, earn a living, seek “Brahman” and be a part of the society. The interdependency was part of this system.

Compare this to the system of schooling that we have now. I am not saying the gurukul system was perfect. All I am saying is that a long term, sustaining relationship got established between the guru and shishya wherein the guru treated his shishya as his own; Shishyas learnt to help out in the household chores of the ashram, to meditating, to learning the Upanishads, to learning the art of war … all these, I believe, taught them to live life.

The present schooling system, in my opinion focuses more on competition in exams. “We all do need to compete in life because if we have not been exposed to competition then we won’t be able survive in the society.” This statement, we hear more often from our parents and teachers. Have we taken the time to examine this statement? Is competition the only way to survive in this society? Is collaboration, a possibility? Do we want to survive? Or do we want to live?

I am not saying that all competition is bad. I sometimes feel competition makes me push myself, set goals and achieve. “Competing with myself”– this I am okay with. What I detest is the cut-throat competition; pushing, shoving, degrading, cheating so that I can stand first in the queue.

This is what I want to talk about, the effect of this kind of cut-throat competition has on our lives.  I have seen that competition leads to increase in stress levels. I also read recently that suicide rates and depression has gone up among teenagers. I have personally experienced the ill-effects of competition. The competition is not just in terms of marks, it’s like people are competing everywhere from real world to virtual world; from the type of shoes they wear to the kinds of friends they hang out with, to the cars that their parents drive, to the vacations they go to during school break, to the number of friends they have on FB, it’s like competing constantly and comparing too.

Competition had pressurized me so much that I, at times, feel like I am filled with pain and stress within me. It feels like there is a huge weight in my chest which I can’t get rid of. As Diya Kumar was saying, competition and the ensuing stress lowered my confidence more, which made me do even worse in my exams. Since I do ‘bad’ in an exam, there is more pressure to do well in the following exam, this shakes my equilibrium, my confidence level goes for a toss and the cycle repeats.

The bottom line is, this need to compete, compare myself has taken a part of me out — these ideas of interdependency and unity, compassion for all things I used to feel is slowly getting eroded. Thus I ask myself and you, What is schooling for?

One of the things that baffle me is this that we try to control things in our life that are not in our power. For example, many adults try to control their children’s future; as to what they should pursue as a career. Then we have the mighty Boards who control us in terms of what to study and how much to study.

Future for me is unknown, this very moment is real. The next moment is unknown. How can I plan for a future, 10 years down the line? The information I have today, I think is useless to address the thing called Future.

From all these expectations that people have of me and this baffling thing called future, I am caught in a constant war between what I want and what others want me to do; who wins? who loses? Is living in the present more important or planning for the future? At the end of the day; whose happiness counts? Mine or theirs?

I am sure many of you, my fellow students are facing this struggle. If this is the struggle of every student, then how can we bring about a change in our current schooling system?

If schools can teach us on how to find our passion and how to achieve them, rather than focusing only on achievement of a kind, competition and comparisons, then there is hope for an academically mediocre student like myself, to find my voice.  Schools are made on the basis of one universal belief on education rather than catering to each individual’s strengths and dreams.

The current education system is not entirely bad because it gives us some grounding in some of the basics such as the ability to manage time, being consistent, work hard, and to understand that some boring / repetitive work is part of life too. But the need should not be to take the thread of interdependency and unity, kindness and compassion off the table.

Every student is different and if enabled the right way, he/she will surely end up making the right choices for himself/herself.

It’s our future. You have lived your life. Let us live ours, now.

Diya Mallapur – Class 9


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