Sunday, December 21, 2014

10th Grade - Board Exams – Failing and Falling in Love with my Subjects

First Semester Horror

In the Indian Education System, the tenth standard is a very important year. The marks you score as a student in the annual board exams of the CBSE system, often determine what subjects you pick in the future. So what happened that year?

12 Hours of Classes Everyday. I barely had time for myself.
I decided that I would start studying seriously for the exam at the end of the year. I thought I did not have to take schoolwork very seriously for the first semester. This was the worst plan ever. I never focused in class and was always distracted. I distracted the teachers in class. They would get very angry. One teacher told me this, ‘You are a horrible, horrible student.’ I thought I would figure things out, but for some reason, things just kept getting worse. I had nobody to support me, because I was the bad student and nobody wanted to sit down and explain the beauty of the subject to me.

After School Private Tuitions

So I joined after school coaching classes at an institute outside school, for a few subjects. Then my schedule became very hectic, because right after school I had two-three hours of tuition. I had no time for myself.

I did not learn too much at the tuition center. After 8 hours at school, I came back home and then had to leave again for another 3 hours of private tuitions. I would get so tired after coming back home in the evening, that I would just waste the rest of my time doing nothing. I would browse the internet or watch some movies most of the time. I thought that if I went for tuitions and attended the classes at school, I did not have to study at home. But I was wrong because, school and tuitions were only giving mean introduction to the subject. I had to do the real learning myself. The time I spent exploring the subject on my own at home, was much more important than the tuition classes and the school work.

I realized this very late. Soon the first semester exams were around the corner. I was scared. I did not know how I would study everything in such a short period of time. I had all the portions to complete, because I never paid any attention in class and at tuitions. There was so much stress and pressure for me to perform. I wrote the exams. I did not do well. I almost failed a couple of subjects.

I was at fault, because I did not focus enough. But the education system I was in, was also partly at fault because it did not engage me enough to make me take my school work seriously. I never owned the content I was learning.

The Paradox - Attendance or Learning

I want to Learn, Not stand first in class!

The worst thing about the way I was being educated was the focus on marks and attendance and not real learning. You had to come to school for seven hours, five days a week. You had to have a certain percentage of attendance. These limits were fine, but there was no minimum limit on whether you had applied the information you learned or not. There was also no minimum limit given to whether you had created a real life project with what you had learned or not.

Even if I did no actual learning throughout the week at school, I was still considered a good student if I attended all the classes. Then if I mugged up everything for the test at the end of the week and did well, I was considered an exceptional student. It was a model I never seemed to understand. The focus was never on true learning.

Exploring your subjects beyond School?

Every Subject is Beautiful
After almost failing the semester in the first term, I knew I had to take a different approach. I thought about why I did not do so well. It then struck me that I knew what and how to study my subject, but I did not know why I was studying the subject. I never connected with the subject, because I did not understand the why? I also realized at that point that ,up till then, I had followed the same approach to academics and school work. I would take the notes, study them and write the exam. I never questioned what I was studying.

So I decided to understand the Why’s of the five subjects I had opted for in the tenth grade. We had two months off for the summer vacations after the first semester exam. I decided to utilize this time to further explore these subjects.

Social Studies - I would read about the history, geography and political structures of different countries around the world. For French I joined a language institute called, ‘Alliance Francaise’ and took up an additional language course there. I also gave an internationally acclaimed French Language exam called ‘DELF’ at the center.

Science - I would watch videos and documentaries online, read science books and do as much practical work as possible. With practical work I would try understanding and applying everything I learned in class in my real life. I would always question how the scientific concepts I learned were relevant in my real life.

English - I developed the habit of reading as many books as I could. I also would read a grammar book and a thesaurus (dictionary) once a year to improve my command over the language.

Maths - I had joined Kumon which was an international organization that conducted classes that taught children, how to calculate quickly. I also took a course in Vedic Maths, which is an ancient Indian system of calculation. These courses helped me look at the subject from a different perspective and I started enjoying learning them more.

I suddenly got interested in why I was studying the subjects I started enjoying learning at school. Studying was not like studying anymore. I wanted to understand how I could apply this information in the real world. That was the objective of learning the subject. The objective was never the marks.

Second Semester - Final Months before the Board Exam

I just loved learning during my summer vacations in the tenth grade. When school re-opened for the second semester, I had a very different outlook on learning. I planned the next four months out. I finished my school- work quickly. I quit tuitions, and decided to spend this extra time exploring my subjects at home.

Suddenly I started doing better at school. I never thought about the marks, but I started getting better marks (grades). In the annual exams that year, I shocked myself with my performance. I scored a 9.6 GPA out of 10. I had almost failed the first semester. Now I was one of the better students. How did this happen? What did I do differently? With these thoughts the tenth standard came to an end for me.

No Good Student. No Bad Student.

If I had to summarize all the insights I got about Education and Learning through the year, it would go like this, ‘There is no bad student. There are just many unique individuals, passionate about different things.’

Let us Learn Together
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