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Pressuring children to get high grades can affect their mental and physical health, and set the stage for stress, anxiety, lower self-esteem, and depression. Studies and surveys have shown that mental health problems are becoming prevalent among students. In fact, poor performance in exams is identified as a major factor responsible for suicide cases among young people. To reduce the academic pressure and improve physical and mental health of school children, educationists have been encouraging schools to introduce more interactive, hands-on learning as well as sporting activities.
In an exclusive interaction with the HealthSite, leading educationist and Founder & CEO of TreeHouse Education & Accessories Ltd., Rajesh Bhatia, shed light on the importance of holistic education and how it can help create a generation of innovators and not just passive learners. Excerpts follow:
As an educationist and a parent, I believe that the process of imparting knowledge cannot be one-sided. Instead of rote learning and monotonous chalk and talk rigidity that our system is rooted in, we should encourage students to actually experience the world in an organic way. Our system is extremely focused on results and on retention rather than creation and this triggers immense stress and many mental health issues among students. The statistics speak for themselves. As educators and parents, we can do better. Instead of pressuring them, we should encourage children to think in an unregimented manner, stimulate their minds to find solutions instead of spoon-feeding them cut-and-dried morsels of information, and set their imaginations free to engage and interact with complex ideas. Only then will we have a generation of innovators and not just passive learners. The human mind is not just a sponge. To paraphrase writer Jeffrey Eugenides, biology gives us a brain but education turns it into a mind.
For the longest time, the adage that the only way to succeed in life was through academics, was popular and to some extent it still is. Slowly as the concept of holistic education began to evolve and educators became aware of the toll that the percentage-oriented education system takes on children, the concept of physical fitness slowly began to grow beyond the mandatory PT class. Today, students are being taught mindfulness and a lot more and in our schools, we have weekly clubs where children learn Yoga, gymnastics, dance, and a lot more. We encourage sports with numerous competitions and realise that sporting activities are not just about physical fitness but also teach students, both competitiveness and teamwork, discipline as well as playfulness. All schools can go beyond scholastic studies and make learning more movement oriented and interactive, within the classrooms and beyond.
Let us first understand that morality is not a one-size-fits-all idea. In education especially, we cannot do virtue policing or impose any rigidity on students and must respect their diverse faiths and belief systems. But yes, there is an overarching system of morality that is about being a good human being, being empathetic, kind, socially responsible, sensitive towards the lesser privileged, towards the environment and animals. That is what we try to communicate in our schools. Be it climate change or social unrest, if students are sensitised to such issues and encouraged to participate in solutions from a young age, they will acquire a 'can do' attitude. An enlightened citizen is one who sees the linkages between personal, national, and global realities. We should strive to build a generation of such citizens.
Post the pandemic, we have been forced to think of how we can change the education system for the better because its limitations have been revealed to us. Today a hybrid education model has almost become normative and in an air quality crisis, the kind that New Delhi is experiencing currently, we have no option but to switch to online classes. This may not be ideal but is better than a complete disruption of studies. There is no one way to ensure the mental and physical health of our children but we can tweak the areas where they are most under stress and also take feedback from them as they are the biggest stakeholders in the education system. It is time to listen to them and also bring in experiential, hands-on, holistic learning that will equip them with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to not just fit in the world but to change it.
In particular, the advantages of modern education can be summarised as:
Student tries to commit suicide to avoid parents-teacher meet
While we were discussing the impact of percentage-oriented education system on student's health with Rajesh Bhatia, news of a heart-wrenching incident surfaced on the internet. It was about a Class 9 student from Lucknow who attempted to commit suicide to avoid parents-teacher meet. According to media reports, the child was found injured on a railway track. As informed by the school where he was studying, the boy scored less marks in his last exam for which the parent-teacher meeting was called. But he had been giving excuses and escaping the meeting. The teacher finally decided to visit his parents at their home, and this made him to take extreme step to end his life. This is one case that reflects how performance pressure is affecting the mental health of students.