These few, precious days of spring between forms were ruined for CBSE Class X students with the galling news that they may have to sit for the Maths paper again. Apparently, the paper was leaked on social media before the exam. It would have been particularly devastating for the teenagers who have been waiting eagerly to be done with Maths for the rest of their lives. They may breathe easy. The CBSE has very wisely decided against putting 1.4 million students through a retest just because a handful of students may have benefited. Class XII Economics students aren’t as lucky. The retest will be held later this month.
We are taught right from the beginning that cheating is wrong. Youth, especially, is a time of moral absolutes because the inexperienced have a tendency to see things in black and white. And, of course, it’s frustrating for any kid who’s really slogged to know that others have got perfect scores they don’t deserve. Yet, most teenagers never report classmates who cheat. For starters, a snitch is always the most unpopular kid in school and this holds true for all age groups. No one likes the righteous. There’s also a little bit of awe towards somebody fearless (or stupid) enough to disregard the rules and risk grave consequences. Most people don’t cheat not because they’re morally upright but because they’re scared they’ll get caught. A classroom is, at the end of it, a microcosm of the real world. The lesson here is somebody else’s dishonesty is not your business, especially when it doesn’t affect you directly. Like the famous metaphor on unswerving focus from the Mahabharata. When Dronacharya asked his students what they saw after he tied a wooden bird to a tree, all replied, the garden, the flowers, the sky, except Arjuna who said he could only see the bird’s eye.
Work becomes simpler if you’re concentrating only on your own targets and that’s why most forward thinking schools in India have done away with rankings, at least in junior classes. But even though there is no first, second, third anymore, the pressure hasn’t diminished. The system places such a premium on marks and students are so stressed out, an argument could be made that some are compelled to cheat. I’m inundated by mails inviting me to participate in conferences to help me make a decision on my 15-year-old son’s college applications, three years hence. His school holds career counselling sessions Class X onwards. I’m in my 40s and I’m still wracked with doubt about my career decisions so far and about how I want to spend the next decade. To expect a teenager to know or start thinking about where he’ll be in 2030 or 2040 seems like an expensive exercise in futility. Besides, this focus on the future really spoils the present. It may be idealistic but school is an age to learn and understand that you need to build a habit to work hard. That’s really about all you can do. The rest, if you’re lucky will fall in place.
Before coming down hard on misguided students who cheat it’s important to try and understand, what makes them really think that’s their best option. Clearly we are all vulnerable if even Steve Smith, after everything he must have achieved to become the Australian cricket captain, could make the spectacularly bad decision to tamper with the ball in full view of 25 different cameras. Similarly, the culture sends the message that one exam can make or break your life. It’s heartbreaking to read in the newspapers, daily, about 17-year-olds committing suicide for failing an exam. A bad grade is far from the end and perfection, unattainable. How good does one have to be, to shine? It takes a while to figure out just moving forward in the right direction is good enough.
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