In her autobiography ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama, the former and the most respected first lady of the United States of America, writes “I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child- What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” The statement, in itself, is a revolutionary blow to the societal projections of growth and success. Ms Obama, in these sentences, tends to highlight the limitations imposed on the progeny by the process of socialization. The society endorses the narrow ideas of growth and hands down the same narrow ideas to the younger generations. And when a person attempts to tread a path different from the one set as ideal by the society, he/she is labelled as an idiosyncratic.
Albeit the problem is not peculiar to India as is evident from the fact that its reference comes from the pen of the first lady of the world’s most “advanced” country, but the quantum of its presence is much higher in India as compared to many other countries. The saying “22 tak padhai, 25 mein naukari, 26 mein chhokri, 30 mein bachche aur 60 mein retirement” (education till 22, job at 25, marriage at 26, children at 30 and retirement at 60) provides for a conspectus of the whole Indian conception of an ideal life. These spurious standards govern the lives of children in our country, destroy their peculiarity and highly impede their growth and development. Moreover, there are the legions of false societal perceptions attached with these faulty standards of a ‘successful’ life. For instance, our society believes that the importance of education is limited only to getting a stable ‘nine to five’ job. Other than that the society envisages no role of education in one’s life. And the same misperceptions are inculcated in the novice minds of children and they mould their conduct accordingly. The students desperately aspiring for good marks and not caring for the acquisition of knowledge are the conspicuous consequences of such mind-sets. On the whole, the dialogue of the film ‘3 Idiots’, “Padho ge nahi toh degree nahi hogi, degree nahi hogi toh naukri nahi milegi, naukri nahi milegi toh koi baap apni beti nahi dega” (if you won’t study, you’ll get no degree; if you won’t have degree, you’ll get no job; if you won’t have a job nobody will give his daughter to you in marriage) sums up the whole essence of education and employment from the vantage point of Indian society. And the plight is similar to all the children irrespective of their gender.
Considering only one phase of a person’s life i.e. the education phase and keeping all others in background, we know that these misperceptions discussed above have highly dented the education system of our country. We have a well-established and a deep-rooted hierarchy of educational streams in our system which holds the science subjects in high regard, those of commerce at a better footing and the subjects of humanities are put at the bottom. And these streams are ‘allotted’ to the students based on the marks obtained by them in academics- the students with best marks are considered apt for studying science, the mediocre ones are allotted commerce subjects and the rest are considered best ‘only’ for the ‘humanities subjects’. Yes, in the scads of cases the students in our country are not even allowed to make choice of their own subjects. Either their parents do this for them or they themselves make a choice different from the one they actually wanted to make, succumbing to the societal pressure. Education, in this way, becomes an obligation and shuns all its fascination for students. It trains the children to lead a mechanical life without a hint of escapade and ‘idiosyncrasy’. And this is the most unfortunate repercussion of society’s limited vision.
I believe that education is the mightiest weapon to bring about a positive change in society and the society bringing about the negative change in education is the biggest curse. We need to understand that the importance of education is not limited to the pecuniary benefits. It is a potent weapon which has the potential of eradicating all the ills from the society. And in order to see this aspect of education, the society will have to be dispossessed of its faulty perceptions and it must allow its children enough leeway to form their own definitions of education and success. They must be allowed to pursue that educational stream which is best suited to their interests and not to their marks. This is high time for us to embrace the high standards of growth for the children or better to not have any of them because growth and growing up is truly ‘infinite’.