Do Our Students Remain Children

22 Sep


Sitting in a discussion on student performance at a post graduate institute for professionals, the head turned around and said, “Their marks were so bad that I had to call their parents”

I froze.

Marks? Parents?

In a post graduate institute for professionals, this did not fit. The students had already worked full time before they joined this place, and many of then already had their next jobs in hand. Some of them were around 30 years old, all of them over 23 years of age.

Why ‘call the parents’? Are these people not adults? Responsible for their own lives? Taking charge of their own future? Should they not be running their own show?

I raised the same question at another session I was teaching on education policy. Why should parents get involved in the higher education process? I expected faster and more convincing responses – considering that group was active, intelligent and vocal. The best – though still not convincing enough reason was – my mother is paying for this course, so she is interested. Really, that was the only justification for parental concern – money? Not good enough.

There has to be a difference between parental concern and parental interference. And a stage when parents let go and allow students to bear the consequence of their actions. A student should be in higher education only if they want to be there and are convinced that they will benefit from the effort they put into the learning. The effort must be theirs. As must be the consequences of inaction. Higher education cannot be treated like a bitter pill that one swallows because one’s parents forced one to do so.

Even in the classes at college and university the students are often treated like children – when they are patently not children at all. The ‘professors’ often teach using behavioural tools as pedagogy reducing their own stature. Teaching to a textbook or to an examination is what tutors do, not professors. Professors inspire thought, inquiry, dialogue. Many of them turn around and blame the quality of students for this malaise. They may be right – but only partially. When students join university they are at the cusp of childhood and adulthood. It is the responsibility of the professors to grow them in maturity. The subject content is but a tool to teach thought and process.

Students too are immature, that is true. They have been treated like – pardon the expression – retards for a long time. Some are treated like resource persons at home, some are pampered, others are sheltered. At school, they are asked to walk the line. For those who are treated as grown ups, or at least respected for their resourcefulness at home, the difference in treatment is not easy to handle. Those sheltered at home and good at toeing the line at school suffer no such dissonance, but do they truly grow up?
Students have been schooled by their teachers in certain response patterns. It is easy to maintain discipline if these patterns are submissive. Thus the stick – whether verbal or otherwise has become part of the teacher’s toolkit. This is outdated and often dangerous. More, it is harmful to the mental health of the child who remains immature for their age.

Children have to grow up. The growing up process is one of change. Change is disruptive, and liberating. The school is meant to be a safe place to manage this journey of discovery into self mastery. That is the purpose of a school. A child deserves to go into a higher education institution only if they have a degree of self mastery. In practical terms that means simple things. Can they study without support? Can they arrange their own timetable? Can they manage small amounts of money without getting into trouble? Can they clean their own room? Can they wash and iron their own clothes? Can they live as self sufficient members of society and not be a burden? Do they have mechanisms to deal with their own emotions and not ride or dump on others? This is when they are ready to be trained to contribute to their community.

We see examples of immature ‘adults’ all around us – in politics, in parliament, at work, in society. Our students who go abroad to study and the professionals who were posted abroad will testify to the struggle to grow up emotionally very rapidly – the journey of years that had been missed. The rapid catching up with the rest of the world.

We seek excellence in our education system. A component of this comes from people being able to stand on their own two feet, who can depend on their own spine to get the job done.

A dialogue from the popular film Rocket Singh comes to mind:

“Scooter mein petrol hai, emotion pe control hai”

(There is fuel in my vehicle and I can control my emotions)

The journey to excellence starts from the self.


This was published in the Times of India blogs on September 18, 2012 and is linked here:




2 Responses to “Do Our Students Remain Children”

  1. Geeta Rathinavel October 26, 2012 at 11:17 am #

    My comments have not been displayed. My comments only add to articles/blogs and do not lessen the effect.


    • meetawsengupta October 26, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

      Your comments are valuable of course! You are an approved commentator here, they should display automatically.

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