Indian parents have traditionally focused on academics, sometimes to the exclusion of all otheractivities such as sports, music, dance, art and drama (except for certain pockets in the country where training in classical music or dance is considered essential). And one cannot really fault their approach in a country, and at a time, where job opportunities were limited and competition to get into the few ‘lucrative’ streams, intense. In the race for financial security, other things become secondary and dispensable.
But times are changing, as we found out when we took this question to parents and students: what is more important – pure academic excellence or all-round development? Today’s Indian parents encourage extra-curriculars because they genuinely believe that success cannot anymore be defined only in terms of ranks and grades. Rather, what is important when applying to a college or even when companies are recruiting the leaders of tomorrow, is a rounded personality. While solid academic credentials are necessary, admissions officers and recruiters also look for a candidate who has varied interests, is knowledgeable about the world around him and can converse intelligently in a gathering. Tough demands? Yes. Easy to inculcate? No.
The role of parents today has evolved, from pushing children to finish their homework and study for their exams, to ensuring that they are aware of the myriad possibilities in their environment and know how to leverage them, while maintaining the delicate balance between academics and all that falls beyond.
On the other hand, it is heartening to see that children still emphasise the importance of excelling in school even while they pursue other interests whole-heartedly. One cannot accuse today’s youth of being too caught up in other pursuits to the exclusion of academics. ParentEdge spoke to parents and students across India to find out what they think about this debate between excelling at academics versus being an all-rounder, and where they find the balance.
What is more important: academic excellence or all-round development? Why?
“I will always opt for all-round development. What one needs to cultivate is the habit of excelling in whatever one does, whether studying or playing a sport. On a practical level, if all-round development has a strong academic foundation to it, I believe that life can be met head-on in a well-balanced way. In my opinion, school curricula should be structured in such a manner that the child develops on all fronts – physically, emotionally, and intellectually.”
“I certainly give my vote to all-round development. For any human being, right from childhood, it is the overall development that matters. And remember that overall development facilitates academic excellence as well!”
“I don’t think there is anyone who will say that all-round development is not important! However, academics continue to receive more importance in India, simply because of the HUGE number of students applying for courses or jobs – there has to be some elimination process. And whether you are looking at educational institutes in India, employers in India, or universities overseas, everyone looks at academic excellence as a first step. While attempts have been made to design competitive exams such that the results reflect the holistic personality of the student and his application skills, not just the ability to learn by rote, these are few and far between. In the absence of the ideal system – because we need to flow with the tide – we have to give more importance to academic excellence.”
“I believe a child needs a holistic approach to education. When she enters the real world after college, she requires many other skills besides academic scores to become a complete person. So, both are equally important.”
“I strongly believe that the all-round development of a child is the way to go, for the simple reason that I would like my child to grow up to be a fine human being who can hold his own in this world, has a good insight into his own capabilities, and has the right attitude to pursue his passion, while leveraging his strengths. What more can a parent ask for? Just plain academics helps position the child as a topper or places him at the top of the number game but what about the various activities that help the child discover his innate abilities, likes and dislikes, his passion, what makes him tick as a human being? Pure focus on academics, unfortunately, will not give one the self-confidence to step out into the real world!”
“Academic excellence is the entry ticket to good schools and most good jobs. But once you are in, many other qualities become as important — for example, integrity, teamwork, tolerance, risk taking, boldness, and so on. So rather than focus exclusively on academic excellence, my wife and I have always believed that all-round development with a skew towards academic excellence is the goal to strive for.”
“Without doubt, excellence in academics is more important – a sound base in academics is one of the prerequisites for a good future.”
Do you think excelling in academics is necessary even for students who choose to get into creative fields or is it necessary for a child who is going to get into a very merit- based field to also be an all-rounder?
“Academics help unfold inner talents in a gradual manner and along the way we discover our true interests. However, if a student is already aware of those talents, I don’t think academics is as important in his case, since the required awareness has already occurred. Academia today has, many times, failed to adapt to students who are well aware of their interests – Bill Gates is one such example.”
“According to me, it is not necessary to excel in academics to get into a creative field. Rather, you need to excel in your chosen field. On the other hand, even if you are getting into a merit-based field, I think it is essential to be exposed to some amount of extra-curricular activity.”