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An Open Letter to Parents, Teachers and a marks-obsessed society

Every student is unique. Parents, teachers and society, just listen to us.

An open letter to parents, teachers, and this academics-obsessed society.

Please. Listen. That’s all I’m asking. That’s all we’re asking of you. To listen, not to your cousins or their kids, not to your colleagues, not to our neighbours, but to us, your kids, your students. For once. I don’t think you’ve seen dead poets’ society. But for some of us, it’s more than just a movie. It’s something scary, it’s something we think could be happening with us. We relate to Neil Perry. His pains are our pains. Don’t write this off as an overdramatic gesture from someone suffering from taking themselves too seriously. Just take us seriously for once and listen. That’s all. 

We relate to Neil Perry. His pains are our pains.
We relate to Neil Perry. His pains are our pains.

We’re ready to admit our ignorance if you’re ready to admit yours. We’ll admit that we haven't an inkling of what it was like to grow up in your times. We can’t fathom what it must have been like to grow up without smartphones or at least landline phones, without dozens and dozens of TV channels to choose from and most importantly without the internet. We don’t know what the value of money was. Was Rs.100 a lot? We don’t know. But we're not that ignorant that we can’t imagine what obstacles you overcame and your achievements are far greater for it. You’ve seen more of the world and know more about it than we do. But what you don't know and what we do is what it’s like to grow up today. In a world where what was once international is now local, a world with the internet, where we know what’s happening in England, America, Russia and even in Syria. 100 bucks isn’t a lot for us, we’re okay spending that on an evening out. But even though we have money, smartphones and all else that’s there today, we still have our challenges and struggles. And no, they’re not ones you’ve been through or might even understand, but that doesn’t make them any less significant.

And no, they’re not ones you’ve been through or might even understand, but that doesn’t make them any less significant. 

But something we can both know and agree upon is that the world is changing. As you look out the metaphorical window, you see that everything is so different than what you knew or imagined. But why can’t you spare us a glance and see how we’re different too. We’re different from our cousins, our friends, our siblings and from you and even from your expectations of us. And because we’re so different, we look at the world differently too. And you already know this. You were so happy when we drew, sang, painted, played or danced. Your eyes would be shining when we were in our school plays or performances, on stage, smiling and doing what we loved. But then it all changed. They say a childhood ends when the child starts thinking about the future. Actually, for so many of us, it’s over well before we do. It ends when you say it ends, when you say you have to go to tuitions and entrance exam coaching classes. We don’t get a chance to say anything or even ask for five more minutes to play a little longer to finish the match. 

We don’t get a chance to say anything or even ask for five more minutes to play a little longer to finish the match.

And so our struggles begin. We’re clueless why we are doing what we’re doing. Or why we’re asked to sit in a classroom where we are mocked or someone else is and we’re expected to join in the ritual derogatory laughter. And while you see us off to the IIT coaching classes and you give us dinner when we come back and while you enjoy our marks and help us through our poor grades, you don’t see the smiles in our eyes fading away. Our happiness isn’t tied in with the marks, but in writing stories or making music or playing for the school team. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts esteem needs below the need for self actualisation. And he’s still right. But while you might consider that you had to become an engineer or a doctor or go abroad to establish yourself in society, the world today looks at something else to respect - individuality, the courage to be yourself. So if we want to be respected, we need to be doing something different, something that’s us. And that also fulfils our need for self-actualisation. But we disregard this, something our generation instinctually understands, and trudge to that classroom carrying our bags and also misguided hopes. 

Maslow's theory is right. But what earns respect from society today is different than what did earlier
Maslow's theory is right. But what earns respect from society today is different than what did earlier

Education is supposed to teach us to ask questions, to help us find answers and help us get a better, more satisfied life. But education, has been chipped away to mean nothing but academics and marks. And what’s supposed to enlighten and lift us mutated into something that belittles and puts down those who fail to get good scores on an insanely tough and extremely competitive entrance exam. And the sad part is those of us who are stuck in the middle are worse of than everyone else. We are floating like dead fish in a sea of mediocrity. It’s no surprise to anyone that except for a very few elite colleges like a few IITs and some others, every other is a wasteland that serves no purpose except to maybe deepens the pocket of those who own it. Engineering institutes and management institutes provide no opportunities except maybe an annual mass exodus to a company, where we identity-less automatons keep on keeping on. And what about those who do get placed, well they are underpaid and underemployed in a field that doesn’t relate to what they spent 4 years and lakhs and lakhs of rupees on. And yet that’s what’s considered the best way ahead. Medical institutes are worse if anything. They take donations to admit students who don’t merit it through their marks and the donations are exorbitantly high which makes colleges turn away those who might be good enough but not rich enough to get a seat in a college. Unlike the esteemed Mr. Shashi Tharoor, I don’t know enough to make claims that the MCI is opaque and self-serving. But what I can see is how horribly it’s affecting the lives of students and the famed youth of India, who are supposed to change India for the better.

Engineering institutes and management institutes provide no opportunities except maybe an annual mass exodus to a company, where we identity-less automatons keep on keeping on.

While we’re expected to fix the mistakes made by generations and generations, we’re also not given a chance to do anything differently. We’re forced into mediocre institutions that care more about placement numbers and accreditation than they do about a student’s learning. We’re called unemployable and incapable of doing what so many others did. And if we try doing something different, we’re brought down by the derision and doubt of the ones we look up to. There might not be a solution to this problem. We can’t blame the education system, or the schools, or even coaching institutes; they serve a purpose, but they are not for everyone. 

I appeal to parents and teachers to introspect and understand that the same paths are not meant for everyone Look past academic results and trying to shoehorn us into what’s safe or less trying. We know you are our well-wishers and you want the best for us. But maybe you don’t know what’s best for us. So listen to us and believe in us. Not all of us are meant to be engineers or doctors, and too few are capable of being great engineers or doctors. But we are truly capable of being something unique if we’re just allowed to do what we love. Just give us a chance to follow our passions and believe in us. We promise we’ll make you proud. 

Yours truly,

Sameer Ramesh,

An ardent evangelist of following passion


Sameer, 21, is the co-founder of The Climber incubated at NSRCEL, IIM-B. The Climber is building a youth-mentoring-youth platform that connects confused and unsure teens with young achievers who can mentor and guide them in their passions so they needn't follow the herd. Find more at www.theclimber.in www.facebook.com/theclimberorg and www.twitter.com/theclimber_ind


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21. I am the co-founder of The Climber, an education startup that helps students discover and pursue their passion and incubated at IIM-B. I am fan of all things magic, an amateur quizzer, sad humorist and an awful guitar player. The Climber is building a youth-mentoring-youth platform that connects confused and unsure teens with young achievers who guide and mentor them in their passions.

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