Come March, there is a new kind of fever which grips our nation. The symptoms of this fever are high blood pressure in Parents and stomach ache/ anxiety/ depression/ loss of focus/ fear in Children. Owing to this fever, all Holiday destinations are deserted and even Temples have relatively shorter queues. Extra-curricular classes close down and there is a complete stop to parties and movies. All energies of all families around the country are simply focused on getting through with this month. Though Medical Science has not officially given a name for this fever, I, in my simple common (wo)man language call it the Exam Fever.
Today, I diagnosed an 8 year old, extremely bright and hardworking girl with this fever. She was solving all Math problem on her own but somehow I sensed the anxiety in her. When I asked her what was troubling her, she confided that she was scared of the Math exam. I was surprised to hear that because she is genuinely good in Math. This is how our conversation went.
Me: Baccha, why are you scared of the exam? You are so good in Math.
She: Aunty, I am scared I will score less marks in Math.
Me: What is the problem if you score less marks?
She was silent. So I probed a little more.
Me: If you get less marks, will your parents feel bad?
She shook her head indicating no.
Me: Will there be an earthquake or a flood if you get less marks?
She again shook her head, smiling a little now.
Multiple more examples like this and she agreed that there will no catastrophe if she scored less marks. She finally revealed her fear such innocence and honesty that my heart melted for her.
She said: Aunty, I will not feel nice if I get less marks. I have studied so hard for the exam.
While I loved her approach of trying to get good marks only for her own sake, I still disagreed with the concept of learning for the sake of the exam. So I asked her a few more questions.
Me: In your opinion, why do we learn? Do we learn for getting good marks?
She was slightly confused by the question. She had perhaps not considered this question before.
Me: What is the main reason we should learn anything? Is it to get good marks in the exam or is it for the joy of learning what we are learning?
She remained silent but was listening intently.
Me: The hard work you have put in learning Math has made you understand beautiful things like Percentages, Fractions, Geometry and many more. This is the reward for your effort and you have already received it. No one can take this reward away from you because it has already become a part of you. The marks you get in the exam are only a small reflection of how well you have understood the concepts. The marks are in no way a reflection of who you are and how much you know. No exam can ever judge that and even if it could, the reason we learn is not to show others how much we know (through the exam score). We learn because that’s what we love to do. If there were no exams, would we stop to learn?
She shook her head. We both knew the list of things she wants to learn in the summer holidays. I knew she was with me so far.
Me: Don’t worry about the exam. Don’t ever learn for the sake of getting marks. Learn in a way that anyone can put an exam any day and we will always be ready for it cause we have already learnt the best we can. And if we do end up getting less marks than what we wanted, it only means that there are a few concepts that we need to revise. If we look at exams like this, aren’t exams amazing? They help us understand what we can do better. Why, then, should we be scared about them?
She nodded her head in agreement.
I don’t think her deep rooted fear of the exam disappeared with this conversation but I am sure I managed to plant a tiny seed somewhere in her mind.
As the fever sweeps through the country, causing thousands of mental breakdowns and hundreds of suicides, I appeal to all parents to please pause and evaluate why you are pushing your children for good marks. Please stop and evaluate if you are basing the worthiness of your child by the marks they are scoring or on what they are actually capable of.
Let exams not be the reason why our children study. Let the joy of learning purely for learning sakes remain blooming in your child. If your child has not learnt throughout the year, evaluate the learning strategies in the first place. There is nothing to be gained by pushing down a full years worth of knowledge down their throat in one month. If your child has learnt throughout the year, then you should let the child go for the exam without any extra preparation to evaluate if the learning strategy used throughout the year could be improved any further. After all, exams are wonderful tools to help us learn about how we could learn better.
I pray that in our technology race for Automation and Robotics, we don’t end up making our children into machines who can memorize large volumes of information, replicate this information in exams and follow instructions of the parent/teacher/society to the word for the rest of their lives. We will have our Robots coming off the manufacturing line in a few short years. Please, please, please let’s not make our children into one in the meantime.
Let them not learn for the sake of exams. Let them learn because learning comes naturally and joyfully to humans as is.