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Musings: Fear vs. Growth Motivation

By G. Balasubramanian

Over the last several decades, the concept of examinations has been structured over the foundations of fear. Fear for performance, fear for competition, fear for social recognition, fear of loss of self-esteem, fear for non-acceptance and the like. The entire structure of fear can be attributed to a consumerist attitude of the society where intrinsic values are negated over extrinsic values. Parents and families are also victims of such social trends and hence expect their wards to participate in the examination with aggressive attitudes that trigger an internal violence over their self. Instead any form of assessment should be born out of a desire for growth – to know where one stands, to know what are the learning challenges, to know the inadequacy of skills, to know how to draw out a plan for meaningful and productive growth. This idea has totally vanished.

In late seventies, when I was the Principal of a school, during the month of March, when the school examinations were going on, one of the teachers brought before me a student of class six, who had brought some papers to copy and was caught red-handed. Though the boy was modest and well-behaved, it appears that he was possibly under some threat to perform well. When I asked the student to bring his parents to the school for a discussion, he pleaded with me that he would take any punishment except bringing his father. As a young principal, I turned a deaf year and stuck to my guns. That afternoon, when the father came to the school, (he was owner of a snack shop nearby and was doing a good business), he listened to me. Later he started abusing the boy in most unacceptable language in my presence. I had to restrain him to be a little more decent in the school. The boy was in tears and was almost shivering.

Next day, when the boy came to the school for writing the examination, he came with a bandage on his left hand. When I checked on what happened, he said ‘My father burnt the left hand with cigarette buds.” I was indeed broken and almost in tears. I summoned the father later, who said “I have taught him a lesson, which he won’t forget in his life.” I just wanted to tell him that “I have learnt a lesson, which I will never forget in my life.” Thereafter, I almost avoided calling a parent when the students did something wrong and I thought I could deal much better through counselling. Oftentimes, we believe, punishments do the much-needed remedies. They don’t. There is a lot of difference between education and enforcement. The teaching community needs to understand that punishments hardly bring transformations.