A drop of sweat trickled down his forehead, his brows were
furrowed and he took a long gulp. The paper was in front of him, and the
printed letters seemed to dance, mocking his every thought. He looked around,
and could see his partner on the end of the bench with head down, furiously
writing away. The other boy was about to run out of space in his answer sheet.
Ryan popped his head up and raised his hand.
Mr. Tee grabbed a supplement from the pile and dawdled his way
towards the raised hand. Other students turned their heads, and their eyes
tracked Mr.Tee. There were soft gasps, as the class realized that someone had
completed one whole sheet and was on his next sheet.
Ryan turned his head back towards his own sheet of paper. It was
hardly used. There was one answer scribbled at the top, an unimpressive drawing
of a triangle below it, and a series of one-word answers pockmarked the rest of
Garima opened the door, to find Ryan with his tie loosened and
hair disheveled. She could see the crease lines on his forehead, and the sunken
face, and thought it best not to broach the subject of the exam. After asking
Ryan to freshen up for lunch, she went back to the kitchen to churn some
buttermilk, and laid the plates down for her son and herself. The next half an
hour, was spent in complete silence. The clinking of the spoons and the plates
were the only sounds emitted in the room. Garima saw her son and the gaunt
expression on his face. Keeping her thoughts to herself, she stared back at her
plate and continued eating.
“I cannot do it anymore Ma – it is just too hard!” whispered
Ryan as he put his spoon down.
Garima looked up and saw the tears roll down from her son’s
“I am going to fail this test as well”
Garima stretched her hands to hold Ryan’s. She used the end of
her saree to wipe his tears.
“Some people are smart and some aren’t. Guess I am definitely
Shaking, Ryan got up and walked off to his room.
Garima, started clearing the table and packing the left-overs in
separate containers. She picked up a rubber-band close a loose lid, and as she
was putting it on, it snapped. She picked another one to close the lid.
As Ryan laid down on his bed with his eyes forcefully shut, he
could hear footsteps and sensed a hand moving the pillows. His mother sat next
to him with a kind smile on her face, and was pointing at something on the bed.
Looking down, Ryan found a broken rubber-band and a small piece of chewing gum.
“Take a careful look at this rubber-band and the piece of gum” –
his mother said, picking up the two pieces from the bed. “I can stretch this
rubber-band up to a certain length, after which it will break. Whereas, this
piece of gum is rather special, you can stretch it on and on, for it to break –
and even if it does break, you can stick it together and stretch it again.
People who are similar to the rubber-band cannot accept failures and mistakes –
when the going gets tough. They just give up! Whereas, people similar to the
piece of gum, keep testing their own limits, and when they fail – they pick
themselves up and learn from their mistakes, and try again harder. I want you
to think and decide, which of these two you want to be?”
A smile lit up on Ryan’s face as he took the piece of gum from
his mother’s hand.
The feeling of frustration that Ryan has is common across
children, irrespective of socio-economic-cultural differences. Parents and
educators play a role beyond disseminating ‘educational content’. They play a
key role in shaping mindsets oriented towards growth and development.
The recent McKinsey & Company analysis in September 2017,
based on the 2015 PISA data, throws some interesting light on ‘the most
important factor impacting student learning outcomes’.
Contrary to popular perceptions that the teacher and the child’s
socio-economic background play a huge role, the report indicates that the
mindset of a student has the greatest influence on learning outcomes. Teacher,
school, and home-environment are only add-ons. Students with “growth mindsets”
– those who believe that their success is due to hard work and learning – show
significant improvements than those with a “fixed mindset” – those who believe
that their capabilities and intelligence are static.
A key takeaway for educators is to stop praising a child’s
intelligence, but emphasize the effort made by a child. This helps them realize
that it is a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves in
control of their success, more effort is rewarded by praise and that in-turn
leads to improved performance and success. If we continue to praise natural
intelligence, it takes it out of a child’s control – and thus it makes it
tricky for them to respond to failure.
Children need to be shown that failure – isn’t – defeat. They
should realize that they may have lost the battle today, but picking themselves
up from this defeat is crucial for them to be able to win the war.