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  • Student Journalist

Indian Academics: Glow or Grow?

The room quietened down as our school principal called for silence. A sea of heads filled the auditorium; the only deviation from usual was that some were blonde. This resulted from a Student Exchange Program where children from Amsterdam visited India and stayed with  Indian students to learn about our culture. Our principal proceeded to ask a straightforward question: How many of the Dutch students felt pressured at school or at home to do well in academics? Out of 15 students, one hand went up. The same question was posed to us, the Indian students. Every one of our hands went up, synchronised and immediate. This experience made me think: how different is the pressure of academia on Indian students compared to Western students?

According to many educational websites, education in India is primarily based on traditional teaching models. Theoretical concepts are splattered across our textbooks, and rote learning is forced down our throats until we can recite our chapters line by line. Our examinations are based on how well our memories function, not always our understanding of the subject. While this may work to an extent, it doesn’t encourage us to think; it teaches us to compute. Human beings are not machines. We cannot be expected to produce data whenever it has to be called forth. We are designed to innovate, to think beyond the bounds of our learning, and to break down our problems with higher-order thinking, not just step-by-step algorithms.

Meanwhile, the Western education system is almost entirely the opposite. In many examinations, formulas are provided to the students as they tackle the problems, as the questions are based on their understanding of the concept. Creativity is encouraged, and bounds of knowledge are challenged. Subjects like literature go deep into the psyche of the characters. Questions depend not on the story's events but on the pupil’s ability to read between the lines. This is not to say that the same thing does not happen in India: it's just highly unprioritized. 

An oral survey of my batch at school revealed that 89% of students interviewed had experienced panic attacks as a result of academic pressure. This shows just how grueling the stress and expectations imposed on us by ourselves, our families, peers, and mentors impact our mental health. However, this level of stress is experienced mainly during the two principal years of high school life in India: the tenth grade and the twelfth grade. These are the years that we’re expected to apply to prospective colleges and universities or in a broader sense, secure our futures. The Indian mindset is such that the pursuit of a fruitful future supersedes a comfortable present, and we struggle to complete the portions set for us by our boards and score well.

Stress is natural in Indian education, which idealizes achievement over mental health. However, as time progresses, the gap between these two systems is gradually decreasing. India has introduced the International Board, which follows the Western education model. Schools from other boards are following its lead as they have begun to provide creative opportunities to their students, such as Model United Nations, Psychological Seminars, and more, adapted from the West. At the same time, new ideas are arising, such as Nritya Competitions, Indian Youth Parliament, and so on, which represent Indian Culture. Conversely, the International Board is expensive and not affordable to everyone. Though schools contribute to extracurriculars, boards themselves prioritize rigorous academics. Bars for expectation and achievement are rising more than ever.

My generation is stuck in a soup of overachievement. So many of us struggle to rise to the standards of what is expected of us. Why are our beliefs so set on triumph and competition that we cannot afford the time and space required for our students to grow? That’s something to think about.

Written by Saachi Khandeparkar

Saachi wrote this article as a participant of the Media-Makers Fellowship's April'24 cohort.

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