It was pack-up time after 6 years in the US. A part of me was happy, a part sad and a part hugely concerned for my child.
What concerned me the most was the thought of pushing my child into the rat race so early on in life.
´Does everything need to be taught so early-on with kids huddled up like hens in a coop?´
´Why subject them to the torture and burden of long classroom hours, periodic examinations and heavy school bags?´
´Doesn´t learning also happen outside the four walls of classroom and through play?´
´Why can´t the educators in India value Childhood and the beauty of its Innocence?´
A lot of questions were perplexing my mind.
Here she was thriving in the US - Getting excited at the thought of going to school the next morning every night, blessed with teachers who were passionate to teach and why they were in the profession in the first place, mingling seamlessly with children from different nationalities, having mindless and meaningful conversations with them and playing with them, having fun while learning and without the stress of mandatory exams and brutal competition. Their precious childhood years were actually valued and their innocence treasured.
I literally had my heart in my mouth when she went to school in India on her first day. I wasn´t as nervous as this when it was her first day in school in the US. Here apart from all the questions that were plaguing my mind, I was worried about her adjustment issues. She could not speak or understand Hindi or Telugu.
Í hope she doesn't feel lonely and out-of-place.´
You know, a mother´s instinct can never be wrong. So, as feared, she came back crying from school. All my fears turned out to be true - She coudn´t fit in, she couldn't understand her class maters and vice versa thanks to the accent, cookie cutter style of class-room teaching and its teachers were too rigid and bland. She clearly didn´t like this new sanitised version of learning and education.
´Too much homework and school…I don´t have time to play´, she whined about her daily homework and six days of school.
Ironically, she stood first in her class for her first formative exams. But, she was still unhappy. She didn´t understand the meaning of standing first in her class, this whole competition business and she was clearly not having fun while learning. Also, the fact that the kids in the class were very different from her was not helping either. She terribly missed her friends back in America and all their conversations.
´Isn´t Learning fun?´, I asked.
´Oh Yeah!´, she said flashing one of her beaming smiles as she was reading Chapter 1 of her new Science Book.
Yesterday was her Day 2 of a new grade. She is now in her third grade and clearly excited about it.
´Nadine, Why are you reading the next Chapter as yet?´, I asked.
´Mummy, I love Science. And, the second Chapter is part of Unit 1 only…so I can read it, no?
What a drastic change these nine months have brought! The American accent is almost gone, replaced by a thick Indian accent with sentences ending in ´No´, ´Rey´ and beginning ´with Ýou only…´ and phrases like ´Stupid fellow!´, ´Come Rey´and more. But, these are only the superficial changes that a new country, city and culture has brought in my child. The tip of the iceberg, as they say!
´How wrong was I!´, I thought.
Competition is great and why did I fear it in the first place?! Oh Yes, now I remember! I am aware of the sad fact and reality that Competition can be an ugly headed monster bringing out the worst in some of us. From jealousy, to back-biting, to dirty politics, to narcissism, to a superior feeling of entitlement, low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacies, suicidal tendencies, bitterness, stress and more! Which was exactly the cause of my great concern in the beginning.
I realise now that Competition can actually do wonders provided one has loving family support, understanding, passionate and mature teachers and the right circle of friends and acquaintances. To keep you on your toes, to excel and most importantly, to help you stay grounded and self-assured despite the successes and failures in life!
Coming to think of it, Competition is less of the problem and more to do with people´s understanding of the nature and purpose of it.
Competition is not about crunching numbers and staying fixated on a spot - 1, 2 or 3.
Here´s what I learnt about Competition, prominently, based on my observations in the last nine months here.
1. Competition forces you to survive and be fit
Charles Darwin clearly knew what he was talking about when he came up with the ´Theory of the Survival of the Fittest´.
They don't start cursive writing until the 3rd or 4th grade in America and here in India, they begin schooling with cursive writing now.
My daughter came home crying every single day, struggling with cursive writing. She was embarrassed and hurt that her class-mates could write so fluently while she was struggling with it. She didn´t like the feeling that others were better than her. She almost wanted to quit and was finding ways to escape the hell-hole Life brought her into.
´Can´t we go back to America?´, she pleaded.
´Can´t you just home-school me? I hate school. The teacher are too bossy. The children too loud.´
When she finally understood that there was no way out, she knew that the only way to stay afloat was to survive in Alien Land.
Every day was a new battle won. She learnt cursive writing in no time with daily practise. It was hard at first but with each practise, she was finding it easier and getting better.
Competition teaches you the value of hard-work, daily practice, responsibility and the meaning of persistence. It forces you to adapt, adjust and blend in a new environment.
Today, she has a beautiful hand-writing. And, I am so proud. Thank You, Competition!
2. Competition aids in Self-Awareness
I was cleaning up my cupboard over the weekend and found a file with all my school and college report cards and certificates of various extra-curricular activities that I had participated in and won.
I looked at the úps´and ´downs´of my academic journey. I saw a clear pattern. I was naturally strong in subject like English and Social Studies. Mathematics and Science were not exactly my natural forte and needed more practice and attention to excel. I saw when I had tuitions in Maths, my score was great. But, I could clearly see my natural inclinations and strengths. As well as my weaknesses where I had to pay more focus and devote more time.
Í just don´t like Computers´, my daughter remarked as she was watching an episode of Barbie teaching young girls ´Computers and Technology´.
So, I know her inclinations for now. Maybe that will or will not change in the future. We´ll see!
In the larger picture, Competition can reveal a lot about ourselves. We need Competition in our lives to become aware of own strengths and weaknesses. To strengthen that we are already great at and to focus and get over our weaknesses.
Ideally, it´s great to play according to your strengths and run in a race or competition of your liking and natural inclination. But, working on your weaknesses and overcoming them doesn´t hurt either! Who knows, we may just surprise ourselves there!
3. Competition helps you to be a Sport
This is the golden rule of Competitions.
Whether you compete in the Wimbledons, Olympics, Oscars, Booker Prize, Mr or Miss.Universe, GMAT, CAT or any significant or insignificant competition or business race, the whole experience should leave you enriched, appreciative and humbled.
Yes, you will win some big ones. Lose, some big ones! It is all part of the game. The most important thing is you have been giving your best shot and moving on with renewed vigour and strength. Irrespective of the end-result as long as you are enjoying what you are doing!
Competition helps you stay grounded and helps you appreciate others. There may be some who are as good or better than us. There may be some who are good at something we are clearly not good at.
Competition brings us to the realisation and appreciation of the fact that we all have different strengths and kinds of intelligence. It helps us to be a true Sport which essentially, is the true objective and purpose of all Competitions.
4. Competition is Fun
Nine months and a grade later, my daughter is having fun at school.
Yes, she slipped from the first rank to second and third and then caught up with second and finally the first rank in her Final exams. But, in the whole process of cut-throat competition, my child was having fun and embracing learning in a competitive environment.
My husband loves the thrill of writing competitive exams.
There is fun in participating and competing. And that is why, Competitions are here to stay and they will have always have many takers. Competitions are everywhere around us - In our homes, pursuing that girl or boy who has many takers or suitors, starting up a new business in a risky environment, participating in that Master Chef competition etc. There is no escape from it.
So, why not pick a competition of your liking, focus all your energies in it and have fun competing in it?
4. Competition inspires you to be the best version of yourself
When you are competing against some formidable players, they inspire you to step up your game and be the best version of yourself. Let jealousy be replaced by inspiration and be the impetus to work on yourself and excel at what you do. Competition should bring in excellence in yourself and in the quality of your work, thereby inspiring others in the process.
Ideally, Competition should be a wonderful vicious circle of being inspired and inspiring others to achieve excellence and being the best version of themselves.
The door bell rings.
´How was your day in school today? You don´t seem too happy.´, I enquired as my little girl walked in.
´I am fine. The day was good except I don´t like my Social Studies teacher.´
´She makes too expressions and gives too much that puts me off to sleep.´, she yawned. ´......and I still miss Akshaya..Why did they have to shuffle all of us in different sections.´