Jul 16, 2008

Lifestyle - Parents for Sale

A new American documentary film, 'Two Million Minutes' by Bob Compton, shows why Indian and Chinese students score consistently better than their American counterparts in international comparisons and are going to give tough competition to the latter in securing jobs. Comparing six high school-going students — two each from India, China and the US — the film credits the Asian students' clearer focus about their future and propensity to work harder than their American counterparts for their better performance. While some Americans have debunked the film's findings saying that six students is too tiny a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions, it does raise some pertinent questions about American schooling. But a point, which most reviewers seem to have missed, is that the film also pays an oblique tribute to parental involvement. For, one factor that it cites and says works in favour of the Indian and Chinese students is parental pressure. In the case of American students it has been found to be almost non-existent. In a way, it is a telling comment on American parenting, which was pointed out by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner in their book, 'Freakonomics' . After extensive research, they found that though parentage did matter in shaping children's future life, it made almost no difference in the development of American children. That should not have come as such a big shock because as an American journalist said, "Most of us become parents long before we have stopped being children." But the same cannot be said of Asian and, more particularly, Indian parents. They slip from childhood to parenthood with utmost ease. And once they assume their new role they take their duties to the point of forgetting that they have a life of their own too. Call it result-oriented parenting but as far as pushing their children into 'fruitful' activities (topping studies) goes, Indian parents would beat the dads and moms of any other country hands down. A pity, therefore, that millions of Indian parents are forced to take early retirement from the all-important parenting work once their wards leave for IITs, IIMs and foreign universities. Having given their best years to parenting they find it hard to reconcile to a childless existence. Fathers and working mothers can still cope with it since they have their careers to fall back upon. But the condition of non-working, superannuated mothers becomes unenviable because it is too late in the day to embark on a career. The poor souls become victims of the empty nest syndrome. Would it not, therefore, be better if this vast pool of parental talent and experience is merchandised for the benefit of the international community, especially to bring up American and even European children? Needless to say it would benefit all parties and is perhaps the best bet to achieve international parenting parity. An Indian middle-class family offers an ideal setting for the growth and development of a child. Apart from formal education, there is a lot to learn from the rich and diverse cultural and social milieu here. Moreover, Indian schools are much safer than American schools, which are rocked by shooting incidents every now and then. In fact, India has the potential to emerge as an international, result-oriented, surrogate parenting in-sourcing hub. Each alien child that's brought up here would be not only our goodwill ambassador but also a future consumer of Indian products. If the financial package were attractive, even younger parents would be willing to take up one or two foreign kids under their charge. A question that arises is — would the divided attention not adversely impact the development of their own children? On the contrary, it might help them. Nothing would make Indian children blossom more than a little easing of parental pressure. Let's make an early beginning and gain a head start over the Chinese who would sooner or later wake up to the opportunity and give us competition. (The writer is an Ahmedabad-based commentator on current affairs)

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