Last week I was at my daughter’s school, meeting the teachers. Mr. R ,her physics teacher told me that he was disappointed with her test scores because that he had expected her to top the class. Now, this came to me as a surprise because I know her abilities in Maths and Physics.
When I came home and shared what her Physics teacher had told me about her she was most amused! I wasn’t so sure because I felt that the gentleman genuinely felt that she had potential in Physics. “Oh mummy it is just that he is fond of me” she told me. “So what makes him fond of you? I am sure it is because he feels you are good at his subject” I challenged her. To this, my wise thirteen year old pointed at her two long plaits saying “Mum he is fond of these…! In his scheme of things a girl with long plaits like me is a good child and is serious about her studies. So he automatically assumes that I would be good in Physics.”
Now, that is probably the best “gyan” that I have received in years..!
In a class of thirteen year olds she is one among the three girls who have long hair and probably look like they dropped out of my generation! Though she is known to be outspoken and argumentative, in terms of appearance she fits the archetypal image of what is called a “nerd”!
The question that bothers me is whether NERD = NOT BEING OVERTLY CONSCIOUS ABOUT THE WAY ONE LOOKS = BEING GOOD IN SCIENCE SUBJECTS= BEING A GOOD STUDENT?
My sister a humanities student says “YES”! According to her, most science students do not have time for anything other than studies and grades resulting in a lopsided development of their personalities. When I think back to my student days, I cannot but agree with her. I was a science student right up to my post graduation when I suddenly revolted, dropped out of a M.Sc program, kicked my scholarship aside and went in for an Arts program- probably the most controversial thing that I have done in my forty odd years (besides, the revolutionary act of marrying a man from another religion- but then that is another story)
Right through my school years, I was what can probably be best described as a “NERD”. I was very much into my lessons and my grades using my extra time for reading. I did not participate much in any extracurricular activities and was definitely not into sports! Ofcourse, my passion was writing but outside of being on the school magazine editorial committee I was not really much into anything else..!
Getting good grades automatically made both teachers and parents assume that I was destined for higher education in science. Though secretly I had dreams of being a writer, I never dared voice it because I was afraid of letting these people down.
As I went into college, I found that the course was so demanding that I did not even have time to watch movies. I studied at an agricultural university which involved over an hour’s commute twice a day. I used to leave at 7AM and when college got over at 2.45PM my only aim in life was to catch that university bus and get back home to complete my records and study for the various tests that were scheduled. I did not have what can be termed a “LIFE” ! Four years of science education also introduced me to the image of the “good student” which influenced Professors to a large extent in doling out marks in the internal assessment. A girl with long hair in a sari or a salwar kameeze was a “serious student” as was a boy in a long sleeved shirt and oiled hair. Ofcourse if you wore glasses it was a definite plus. There were Professors who hated me at the university because of my skirts and trousers. I realized that soon enough and kept to Salwar Kameeze for the last two years.
But when I joined my post graduate program in science, I suddenly began to realize that I had a generation gap with my own generation and so I decided to call it quits! I dropped out and then joined a premier social science institute- the best decision that I made because it brought me in touch with another world – a world where anything could be questioned and argued about! I found the Professors very different – they discussed testing methods with us ( whether they would grade us based on a end term exam or a term paper or a presentation on a topic). They did not care what we wore to class as long as they were sure that we were interested in their course and were applying ourselves to learning. The two years of my post graduation in arts were probably the ones which really constituted my education. I participated in as many extra curricular activities as I could, I argued fiercely with everyone for what I believed in and was respected for it. I did a field research project that was about real people and their lives.!
I wonder what is it about science education that stunts a student’s development as an individual? While agreeing that rigor of science education is higher in terms of having to study and remember more I cannot understand why it leaves so little time for a student to explore other facets of their personalities? An average science student generally is poorly read about anything other than their own subjects ( even that is doubtful given the way science is taught and tested in our country). In any college the students from the Humanities department are, as my sister calls “the life of the college” – they are the ones who participate in events and give the college visibility outside of academics. They are also the ones who are the leaders participating in student bodies and contesting in elections.
It is unfortunate they way people perceive science education to be the only form of education that is worthy of being considered as “education”. Students are therefore forced into science whether they have an aptitude for it or not simply because it is the done thing! Children go through with science education till their 12th standard and are then forced into engineering or medicine – those who do not make it get into a Bachelor’s degree- more out of compulsion rather than out of choice. They are probably the mediocre performers who neither have the brilliance required to excel in science nor do they have the general smartness, creativity or confidence of the Humanities student .
We see droves of engineering students who join IT firms and are sent for “soft skills” training – very sad!
Somewhere along the way, our education system needs a revamp shedding itself of imaginary hierarchies of knowledge. It needs to also take into account the fact that mere academic performance alone does not define a good student. It also calls for being non judgemental about many things – dress code and appearance being the most important one.
As adults we owe this to the younger generation. Otherwise what we will be producing will be a bunch of mediocre people who do the “right” thing in a very average sort of way.