In Conversation with Mrs. Ranjini Matthew, former Principal – Union Christian Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai

1. What is missing in the ‘education picture’ today?

The ‘guru-shishya’ relationship of old is missing. The personal touch and equation that teacher and student shared has changed a lot. Also the focus of most syllabi is on academic inputs. Value inputs are missing and there is no encouragement of creative thinking.

2. What do you believe are the key differences in the students of today versus the students of say, ten years ago?

There are big changes in the attitude of the students towards their teachers – less respectful, less appreciative; the attitude to studies has also changed – less commitment than before, less eagerness to learn and finally a change in their attitude to their own friends and peers. There is less sincerity and a lot more selfishness in the way they relate. Their priorities have dramatically shifted.

3. Do you believe the schooling system today is doing a good job in preparing students for the real life situations they will have to face tomorrow? If not what are the key gaps?

No, it isn’t. Because the emphasis is still on marks. Students are merely being trained to score marks; not prepare for real life. For example, with automatic promotion up to Std VIII, children imbibe an unreal view of success. They are unable to cope with failure and this is poor preparation for real life which will certainly have both ups and downs. I had a situation where a student who was doing very well in class, always topping the class suddenly went into depression because another student overtook her in the marks table. She eventually left the school to join another school where she could resume ‘topping the class’. Parents also play a big role here. “My child cannot ever lose” is the prevailing attitude and so children are set up from the start of their lives with unrealistic expectations. This is one reason in my opinion for the spate of student suicides we keep hearing about.

4. What do you think schools need to change in order to be effective with this new generation of students?

The biggest emphasis should be on the quality and commitment of teachers. That is the most important and effective way for schools to make an impact on today’s students. The teachers also need to up their knowledge levels on the subjects they teach as they are interacting with a generation of students who are much better informed.

5. What additional skills do teachers need to better equip today’s students?

One key skill that today’s teachers need is counselling. This is critical because of the kind of pressures and influences their students are under. They also need loads of patience and tolerance and a willingness to commit to the long haul. The temptation to jump jobs for a little more money will hardly make for lasting teaching impact.

6. What are the different skills and values that students of today need to be successful and effective adults tomorrow?

One critical skill often neglected is the ability to work in teams. There must also be the confidence to express your own point of view and an openness to listen to and accept other points of view. This latter part is often lacking in today’s students who tend to be too wrapped around themselves and their view of the world. Another important skill required is relationship skill- the ability to make and maintain healthy and effective relationships. This will be very important for them whatever future role they take up.

7. What are the differences in the expectations of parents and how should parents change and improve on the role they play in their child’s education?

Parents need to go beyond their almost exclusive focus on the academic performance of their children. They need to expect more from their children – that they not only do well academically but also grow up to be good individuals and responsible citizens of the country. Parents also need to be prepared to invest more of themselves and not just abdicate many of their responsibilities to the school.

Most importantly they need to spend time with their children. Children benefit more from parents lavishing their time on them rather than their money. I’m also very wary of the sleep over culture that seems to be catching on with children allowed freedom to spend nights out with friends. It is much more important for the father and mother together to spend that kind of time with their children.

There must also be an awareness of their child’s strengths, weaknesses and aptitudes. They should be willing to let the child play to her strengths. Pressuring the child to either take subjects or career paths that they personally prefer is the wrong thing. Very often we see instances of parents doing self-projection, forcing their children into careers they are in or missed getting into.

As told to Leo Fernandez