Dealing with Students’ failures

Dealing with students’ failure

WEEKEND MAGAZINE (July 31 2010): Result of the examination is one of the biggest yardsticks for judging the ability or otherwise of a student, teacher or institution. The occupational and educational excellence of an individual and institution is judged from high grades and good results in examinations. The more the frequency of upper grades in educational career, the more chances of getting a coveted job.

And the worse the result, the bleaker the future of the concerned student and college. That’s why, as a student, you always try to out-perform others, in the studies, so that you could reserve a place for the job of your dreams and a lifetime of happiness. You must set a high standard, your parents and peers tell you, because you have to compete with the world. There is no room for failure for you. And that’s why parents, siblings, teachers and institutions urge students to excel others in marks. Parents want their children to be trophy children. Siblings like and pride themselves as good achievers. Teachers also expect them to add glory to the school. School like/attract the talented students and reject/expel ones with poor memory/performance. Students are pushed from all sides to be the leaders.

Weaker and failed ones are disliked, ridiculed, neglected and maltreated. Derogatory remarks and nick names by siblings, friends and teachers are a common pattern of behaviour towards them. Their needs, problems, aptitudes and limitations are neglected but expectations from them are above their capabilities. The learners, as a result, are burdened and often overloaded beyond their capacities. So, they have to over strain themselves to fulfil the high ambitions of their families. They develop psychological disorders and may even become recluse and temperamental. They also grow an acute test-anxiety that invariably entails mental and psychological problems in most of the cases. This may even compel them to commit suicide.

The behaviour of parents, peers and siblings towards them is also characterised by extreme positions. They are either too lenient or stern. They neglect or give even undue support in examinations. They leave them to their own choice or overload them. Parental attention and co-operation proves beneficial and improves overall performance. But parents also spoil children by seeking sefarish or trying for unfair means in their examinations.

Attaullah was a student of class 8. His father threatened him of dire consequences and even asked him not to come home in case he fails. Unluckily for him, he failed. He fled from home but didn’t know where to go. However, he reached Kohat and worked with a local diary-farmer as animal-attendant. He remained there for four months. Back home, the entire family underwent mental agony during the time. Their ordeals eventually came to a finish when a villager spotted him grazing the cattle there, informed his family and he was brought home.

According to Dr Mohammad Farooq Khan, a psychiatrist and well known scholar, the common behaviour of parents towards failed students ranges from aggression to dereliction and from indifference to derision. “Parents’ initial response to the news is that of shock and denial – they are shocked to know but tend to believe that their children may have been unjustly failed. After that, when emotions subside and they begin analysing the situation, their aggression turns towards the children. This aggression may take the form of physical or mental torture or both. Intelligent and clever parents console and support their children in this hour of need. Some may even show indifference or negligence towards them. Again, many a time, their obsession with the children’s future and love for them can push them to give undue support- for example, they can try to use unfair means for their success,” says Dr Farooq.

He opines that parents are under increasing pressure to see that their children are high achievers. “Our cultural values have changed. Love for money, materialism, and prestige matters now more than anything else. Parents spend huge sums on their children in expensive schools, on their home-tuitions and other expenditures and they want to get the fruit. They fancy their ambitions fulfilled through their children. When a child fails, they react harshly to the news. This behaviour may even prove disastrous for the child and may expose him/her to inferiority complex but it is quite natural.”

He also points out that there is a huge difference in the way illiterate, poor and rural parents and their educated, rich and urban counterparts behave towards failed children. “The former by and large behave positively while the latter’s behaviour demolish their confidence,” claims Dr Farooq Khan.

The behaviour patterns of teachers relating to the failed students vary. Few teachers show indifferent attitude towards failed students; fewer give individual attention; most display unwarranted aggression and pass insulting remarks against their personality; hardly a few support and guide them the right way; and many urge them to give up studies and start doing some other ‘profitable’ work/job.

Students also say their teachers tell them to do well or leave the school. In public sector schools where there is no robust system for supervision upon the teachers, some teachers declare the failed students as ‘Raja’ or ‘prince’ and completely ignore them – these students are neither questioned nor is their homework checked for they ‘don’t/can’t understand’.

Plato, the great Greek philosopher, thinks that child is like a plant, which if properly nurtured must necessarily grow into all virtue and if planted in alien soil becomes the most obnoxious of all seeds. A hardworking, committed and friendly teacher can totally transform a student’s life and vice-versa. Dictatorial and unfriendly Teachers’ attitude proves harmful because it associates the latter with hatred and affects the tender atmosphere in the class, a must for successful learning. Individual attention by teachers towards weaker students is a sine-qua-non. “Some students who failed in English were given individual guidance and help in our school and they improved their performance as a result,” says Fazle Mabood, the principal of a high school. According to him, superior teachers like and inferior ones dislike children.

Parents mostly blame the failures of their children on the teachers. “Teachers work less in the class and have little commitment as they are in the profession not by choice but by chance. Teachers are role models for their students. When they are dull and weary themselves, what can the students learn from them? They must be knowledge-thirsty to instil a yearning for learning in their students,” remarks Khalil Khan, the father of Aiman. He holds teachers responsible for 90% of students’ failures and opines that students are punished for the wrongs of their teachers.

Tragedy and failure can become a source for prosperity and development provided right guidance is given. Tragedies and failures can push people to get to greater heights. Though failure has uplifted the spirits and performance of a few, most are overrun by morbidity that throws you into utter disappointment.

Many believe that failure system is against the principles of psychology and would like it to be wrapped up. Reminding that it is not practised in developed countries, Mohammad Haleem, a teacher, says that failure should be discarded at least up to 10th grade. He says it destroys students’ personalities and shatters their confidence. It is also pumping anti-social elements, street children, and fodder for child labour into society.


About Tahir Ali Khan (Official)
I am an academic, columnist, and a social worker.

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