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A Student’s Midlife Crisis

Posted: October 4th, 2011 | Author: Raj | Filed under: Coaching | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Some days ago, our mentor shared excerpts from the 1989 Hollywood movie “Dead Poets Society” involving unorthodox school teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) and his student Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard). The conversation, which traces a teacher’s well-intentioned guidance of his pupil leading to the latter’s suicide, was analyzed for coaching efficacy by two reputed coaches. The result of the post mortem was obvious: The teacher wasn’t coaching. He was pushing the pupil into what he thought to be right!

Having seen the original and its shoddy Malayalam remake (Life is Beautiful), the first thought that came to my mind was the teacher’s highly intrusive behavior. “I’m the experienced one around here and therefore my words more likely  to be correct than yours,” seems to be his perspective. As coaches, we face such dilemmas in real life where we tend to move  between coaching, mentoring and counseling rather seamlessly.

(Image Courtesy: inebriatedpress.wordpress.com)

While it is true that most students and many coaching clients might inadvertently seek advice in the garb of coaching, what raised by hackles is the negative impact of such an enterprise on education. Do schools really impart knowledge or have they morphed into institutions that train  kids to score high grades? Most of us are familiar with suggestions like: ‘Read this Guide / Helpbook and you will get good grades’ or ‘Attend these coaching classes and you’ll clear the competitive examination.’

Welcome to the modern day student’s Midlife crisis!

Students have stopped being receivers of data and processors of knowledge and have unwittingly become customers of ill-trained coaches (at coaching institutions) who train them on scoring higher grades, seldom bothering about their ability to process this knowledge. What’s more, these coaches stereotype their students’ idea of success to merely scoring higher grades.

In the past, Corporate India has voiced concerns over the quality of graduates. Now N.R. Narayana Murthy has hit the nail on the head. He states bluntly that 80% of students at IITs (India’s premier tech educator) are of poor quality. (Read the article here)

I was drawn to Murthy’s reason for the quality drop. “Thanks to coaching classes today, the quality of students entering the IITs has gone lower and lower… coaching classes teach aspirants a limited set of problems, out of which a few are asked in the examinations,” he says while suggesting a new method of evaluating and selecting students for the IITs.

The similarity between Keatings and the modern-day coaches struck m. I realized that these coaching academics were twice as dangerous as the educator in the movie. While Keating only created an emotional turmoil in Neil’s mind, his modern day avatars were completely destroying the student’s thinking faculty. With a bit of help from parents and peer pressure, these teachers had managed to raise a fear of examinations in their minds. They’d narrowed down the student’s role in education.

Does this mean we are  creating a generation who can only obey orders? A generation that has mastered ‘Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V’ and flounder at the smallest challenge? How can we coach these modern day Keatings?

Postscript: Another example of ‘focused learning’ can be seen at any of the thousands of Driving Schools across India. The instructors are paid to coach wannabe drivers on using the steering, accelerator, clutch and brakes of a car. There is no mention of driving rules or road etiquette. Not surprising! Given that the sole aim of the driving school is to get the aspiring driver a license… Being a good driver is optional! The result: Chaos on the Roads!!!

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