By Sanjay Pinto


Last fortnight, I shared a School Principal’s note to parents on the eve of examinations. It read: “Among students sitting for exams, there is an artist who does not need to understand Math. There is an entrepreneur who does not care about History or English Literature. There is a musician whose Chemistry marks will not matter. There is an athlete whose physical fitness is more important than Physics. If your children score the highest marks, that’s great. If they don’t, please just let them be.”

Close on the heels of this timely dose of wisdom and discernment, came the annual centum carnival. The mainstream and social media went overboard with reports on students who scored full marks, some even in all the subjects. Yes, the story of the likes of Nandhini, a poor carpenter’s daughter from Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district who notched up 600 out of 600 marks is awe-inspiring and she deserves all the encouragement, blessing and recognition she can get. But let’s please spare a thought for students who managed to pass their exams despite egregious odds. Or those who worked hard but still could not keep the red line away.

Average marks or failure need not determine a child’s future. By hyping the case of super achievers, we unwittingly pile on unimaginable pressure and stress on impressionable minds who may be viewed as mediocre in the present education system.

The downside of a marks-ist approach to education is that it discounts talent and puts a premium on form. Talent is permanent, form is temporary. When M.S.Dhoni goes in to bat in the IPL tournament, even with just 2 balls left, gets bowled on a no-ball and hits a single, do spectators jeer or still cheer him? Maturity lies in judging a person holistically, not on the basis of a few exams or subjects.

The old notions of ‘career’ in my time, used to be only either Medicine or Engineering. Everything else was a consolation at best. Mercifully, times have changed. Do you know what many teenagers in my kids’ school aspire to become? Youtube influencers! With a carefully cultivated following, they may well end up earning much more than the traditional professionals. Not that money is the sole yardstick. It’s aptitude and attitude that decide altitude.

I know of several primary school students who are champions of the environment, those who care for animals, look after their grandparents, many who bake and stitch and write articles and code. Today’s passion could well be tomorrow’s profession. Just look at Ratan Tata’s young General Manager Shantanu Naidu who launched an absolutely brilliant initiative called ‘Goodfellows India’ to provide company for the elderly through ‘grandpals’ For all such ideas, there are sparks flying in pre-teen and teenage years that need to be sniffed out and promoted. That can never happen through this form of Obsessive Centum Disorder.

Although I have no political inclination, I often joke that if  I were the Education Minister, I’d scrap examinations and move to a more meaningful stress free mode of evaluation. I’d ban homework and replace it with exciting field visits and digital detox sessions. Now the latest child rights violation is the oxymoron labelled as ‘holiday homework’! I’d introduce a talent identification drive at a formative stage in schools and allow students to focus on their strengths. Let boys and girls be taught cooking instead of just mixing random chemicals in a laboratory. Let First Aid be a compulsory subject. Let Self Defence be part of the curriculum. Let Legal Awareness be imparted through a simple R & D (Rights & Duties) module. Let communication skills be honed from kindergarten to college. Let Money Matters & Banking be introduced to children at an early age.

As Mark Twain quipped: “Never let your schooling interfere with your education.” I rest my case!


Hope I ‘passed’!   

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author of 4 Books and former Resident Editor of NDTV 24×7) 



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