Have you faced a situation where a seemingly good thing wasn’t so good in the long run?
When all that glittered, you discovered later, was not gold.
My story will tell you how the best intentions of my parents and school authorities did not unfold as desired.
Does Double Promotion Help?
Parents feel proud when their children excel in academics. I gave my parents just one chance to feel that way. It was short-lived.
The only time I did exceptionally well as a student was when I started school. During my kindergarten years, my teachers and school principal found me academically well ahead of my other classmates and invited my parents for a discussion.
In the meeting held inside the principal’s chamber, my parents were given the option of double promotion for me, if they wished. What it meant was while my other classmates are promoted to the next class, I could skip that one and jump to the subsequent class. My dad promised to sleep over it and communicate his decision in a day or so.
Later that day, I remember perched on a windowsill adjoining the door to our balcony while my father shared this information on the phone with a friend of the family. He seemed visibly proud.
No one asked me how I felt. I was too young to know what was good for me. Not that I really had too much insight then.
After much discussion, my father decided to opt for it. A single decision disrupted my student life at school.
After summer vacation, I skipped a class and moved over to the next. It is never easy to adapt if you have not experienced a full year of studies, which your classmates have been through.
I remember struggling to cope. A child struggles after missing school for a week or two. Imagine missing a full year!
At the end of the year, when the results of the final examination were announced, the report card showed I had plunged from my status as a topper (which I was, a year before) to securing the 6th rank.
It jolted me. I was used to being raved about how sharp, and bright I was. I did not enjoy my new status.
With every subsequent class, my rank slipped. The last time I remember being in the top 10 of my class was in the seventh grade.
Switching Between Depression and Embarrassment
During senior school, I plunged into the lowest ebb of my student career. It did not help that a couple of teachers assigned at that time were not known for their communication skills. A teacher who taught both Physics and Mathematics knew his subjects well. But just could not express himself.
I found it impossible to understand the way he approached the concepts. As the months progressed, I was so far behind, it seemed impossible to catch up.
A language teacher perceived me as an abject failure. She even challenged me that if I scored above a certain number, she would quit teaching.
I felt nightmarish. I’d pray that I wake up one fine morning to find my academic situation has miraculously changed.
What made it worse – some of my closest friends were class toppers – or in the top three.
When the report cards were dished out, I went into hiding. Followed by depression.
Uncles and aunties would ask how my friends and I fared. While my friends would announce their success with pride, deservedly so, I would murmur something which no one heard clearly. I don’t think even I heard myself.
It’s not that the uncle didn’t care for me. He did it perhaps because he felt it’d trigger me to act. Before it is too late. He was right.
I had been running away from the subjects I felt I could no longer catch up with. I had reached the stage just before my school final examination where there was a distinct possibility that I may fail in one or two subjects. Which meant losing a year while my classmates move on.
It was a now-or-never moment for me. I studied hard for one full month. I cleared school in the first division.
Subsequently, I took all my decisions in academics and life, starting with enrolling in humanities in 10 (+2). My parents let me do that and I am grateful.
Thereafter, I cleared all major exams in college and university in the first division. I may not have scored great marks, but I found no reason to hide anymore. Or mumble when asked how I fared after my test results were announced.
When You Appear for A Major Examination During Mid-Life
I completed my post-graduation 20 years after graduating. I enrolled in a distance education course at a university that considered my PG diploma in journalism equivalent to the first year of a post-graduation degree. I was only required to appear for the second-year exam after joining the course. It suited me perfectly.
After securing admission, I carried on with my day job. I made a mental note to check the exam dates after six months. And then I got consumed in the largest democratic exercise in the world – the Union Parliamentary Elections of 2014.
When you work in news and current affairs, you know that the general elections are for you what the Olympics or World Cup is for professional sportsmen. You have waited five years for it. You give it everything you have. Everything else can wait.
By the time I got back to check the examination dates, India had sworn in a new Prime Minister who dislodged the incumbent by a huge margin in the polls.
To my utter dismay, I found out the exam was due to begin in two weeks. It seemed like an uphill task. How could I prepare in such a short time?
I was too stressed to think coherently. I was worried that my career first division status till then stood to be threatened. Should I risk that or go for it?
I called my friend Sid for advice. Siddharth Patnaik, apart from being a close friend, has a Ph.D.
He stressed the need to rigorously practice writing daily for two hours at the least. Over and above reading the course material.
I got to work straight away. There was no time to think.
When I began writing, I figured out how much out of practice I was. My hand would give up after a few minutes. Typing on computers and smartphones, I had not used a pen to write more than a page in 20 years. And in a matter of a few days, I was required to write non-stop for 90 minutes.
I followed his advice and practiced writing as much as my hand allowed me to.
I received my post-graduate degree in the first division, grateful that I made the right call at the right time to the right person who gave me the right advice. I can’t thank Sid enough.
What My Story Means for You
Why am I sharing this story? What does it mean for you?
It is a message for all parents.
If you face the same situation my parents did when they had to choose to opt for double promotion for their child – THINK THROUGH IT.
It’s natural to feel proud at the prospect of your child’s educational journey being fast-tracked. But think before you leap. It is not easy for a child to make up a full year of missed education. You may think your child is gifted but it may not be wise to stretch it.
My parents learned the lesson in hindsight how a seemingly harmless decision disrupted the years that followed in school.
In the long run, it may not have mattered much. But the agony, depression, and embarrassment in the early years of my life did take a toll on me.
What About Exceptions Like Child Prodigies?
But that’s just one example where it didn’t work out, you may think. What about the other success stories one hears or reads about?
We’ve all heard of a 10-year-old child genius who graduated from a college. Or a six-year-old who completed high school. How does it work for them?
Well first, they are geniuses.
Their parents have consciously groomed them to set or break records. They live for this mission.
But, does it help in the long run?
Here’s my view:
Sure, you become an instant celebrity. Your face is splashed in every publication and TV network. But once the TV cameras and press photographers leave, how exactly does life change for you?
Do you remember hearing or reading about any of these child prodigies a decade or two later? Possibly not. These children may have gained instant celebrity status. But their childhood has been robbed. They have missed growing up like other children do.
As a parent when life puts you in a spot where you’ve to choose, it’s not an easy decision. Some may prefer the fast-track option which may work for their child. And that’s fine. No moral judgments here.
To each, his own.
My opinion stems from my personal experience as a child. I have been there. I know how it feels. I won’t do it for my child. And if you ask me, I won’t suggest you do either.