THE CLASSROOM AND THE KINGDOM
One of my friends, whose whereabouts are usually not traceable because he is involved in hectic travel, has grounded himself for the next month or so. He has stationed himself at home; well, not exactly at home, but like a tame pet, he goes off to the office in the morning and is safely back to home base by evening. After hearing that piece of news, I have been given similar instructions on the home front and my wife herself has taken a month's leave and has parked herself at home. In both our families, a child is going through that iconic rite of passage-the board exam, an event talked about in awe and hushed whispers.
I do not know the number of students who sit for the board examinations in India every year, with practically each State having its own board of secondary education, apart from the grand daddy of them all, the Central Board of Secondary Education. But whatever be the number, the ides of March bring with them the news of the examination season, and the country, it would seem, defers to the phenomenon. Elections, if due, are scheduled and rescheduled to ensure that the examination schedule is not trifled with; the Election Commission, typically a law unto itself, defers to the board examinations; elections will never be scheduled in a way that they interfere with the examination time table.
But in the last decade, stress is becoming a major issue for exam going students and increasingly their families, and it is a matter of concern that young people are being exposed to stress at such an early stage of their lives when their coping mechanism is so weak. Examination stress pushes students to various kinds of perversions, not only affecting concentration and memory, but also forcing them to adopt abnormal behaviour. Stressed out children are increasingly consuming tobacco, drinking tea, coffee and taking commonly available amphetamine drugs such as cough syrups to keep up while preparing for exams.
And then there are those who simply can't cope and end their lives. According to government reports, over 5000 students committed suicide in 2006. The unofficial figures are even higher. It seems stress is pushing our students to the brink, many of them just in class six. Boys are more vulnerable to committing suicide than girls, because adolescent girls seek support from family and friends to deal with emotional stress during examination. But as boys are less expressive, and they tend to suppress their feelings of inadequacy and fear of poor performance. This often drives them to commit suicide to end their frustration.
What is pushing today's Indian students-a bright generation with a global reputation for their high intelligence quotient-to the brink? Parental and peer pressure, rising ambitions and fierce competition are brewing a deadly cocktail for these young minds. Moreover, a nation racing towards affluence, an economy on a remarkable upward growth trajectory and skyrocketing salaries are putting unprecedented pressure on youth to succeed.
Often Christian families are not too different when it comes to choosing careers and vocations for their children, although it should be obvious that the biblical perspective is that the purpose of education is to advance God's purposes and plans for this world. Christians ought to pursue education so that through that means they may best serve the interests of the kingdom of God and work for justice and equity in a society that reflects the character of God in His justice, compassion, grace and mercy. If we think of education only as a means for the young to develop their skills, to achieve their potential, or to be equipped to succeed in life, then we have seen only one side of the coin. Rather, education must do all of that and also serve the entire society. It must serve not just its students, but all of society; it must be as concerned about responsibility to the world.
Ephesians 2:10 says that each one of us is shaped for a specific task. All of us were custom-designed by God to fulfil a specific calling. The purpose of any education is to equip us to best do the work that God has designed us to do, the tasks He has called us to. As Christians, our ultimate aim in the race of life is not necessarily to be the top of the class. That way life becomes not just a race to join, but a rat race to win, and what matters is doing our competitors down. Our primary mission in pursuing an education is not to win a rat race, but to be better skilled in caring for what God has entrusted to us-our world, our sisters and brothers.