When Prime Minister Narendra Modi took the stage at 'Pariksha Par Charcha', a unique townhall programme in which he was interacting with students, parents and teachers from all over the country, there was pin drop silence. The audience was unsure of what was coming, after all discussing exams can get serious. However, no sooner did the prime minister take the stage, than he asked, "Aap log tension mein hain kya?"
The whole auditorium burst into peals of laughter. Modi had set the tone of the conversation, and how! He made it very clear at the onset: "I am talking to you not as the Prime Minister of India, but as a friend of yours". The wide smiles on the faces of the youth left no ambiguity about how they felt. More than 10 crore people from across the nation joined the 'Pariksha Par Charcha', making the programme truly historic. This event was yet another example of Modi's efforts to have a continued dialogue with the students. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 he dedicated special Mann Ki Baat episodes for exam students, their parents and teachers.
Just a few weeks ago, his book Exam Warriors was released, which gives the central messages of pursuing knowledge, not marks and appearing for exams with a smile. The atmosphere at Talkatora Stadium was energetic throughout the 90 minutes of the interaction. The prime minister's friendly demeanour, interesting anecdotes and his unique way of presenting serious messages coated with earthy humour ensured that the interaction stayed lively throughout, with the children enthusiastically giving Modi 10 marks out of 10 at the end.
I thank all those students, teachers and parents who joined the #ParikshaPeCharcha in all parts of India. It was indeed wonderful to talk about stress free exams and cheer our young #ExamWarriors. pic.twitter.com/Cite0IwDRb
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 16, 2018
In one instance, he even called Indian children 'born politicians', much to the delight of the young audience. "Our children are the smartest as they know whom to approach in the family to get their particular need fulfilled right from a young age. When the parents say no, they go to grandparents. And if nothing else works, siblings, especially sisters always come in handy as the father seldom says no to his daughter."
On being asked about what career to pursue, the prime minister was clear: "Kuchh banne ke nahi, kuchh karne ke sapne dekho (aspire to do something, not merely to be someone)." He also called for immersing oneself into community service, seeing new places and meeting new people, for that will instil a sense of mission among the youth. One particularly intelligent student asked the prime minister whether he was nervous about his own impending board exams next year (the Lok Sabha polls). Modi congratulated the boy for his intelligence in asking tricky questions in a seemingly innocent way and suggested that the boy take up journalism as a career.
Apart from the humorous way in which the prime minister replied to the question, the answer was illuminating. "My counsel to students is focus on learning. Keep the student in you alive forever. Pursue knowledge. Exams, results and marks — these are all by-products of that pursuit. If you work purely for marks, your true potential will never be fulfilled. My approach to politics is similar. My complete focus is on utilising every moment in working for 125 crore countrymen. Elections will come and go, they're just a byproduct," he said.
Modi spoke to the students and not at them, and did not dismiss or negate any of the concerns raised by them. Using simple analogies, he translated complex life concepts into palatable language. Stressing the proportionate importance of both IQ and EQ, the prime minister demystified these seemingly intertwined concepts through a simple analogy — the child emulating his mother in playing the jingle even when in the cradle is what denotes IQ. The same child refuses to sleep when melodious music is played but sleeps immediately when his mother sings for him, however imperfectly. This is EQ.
The students burst into laughter when the prime minister painted a picture of aggrieved parents lashing out at children when parents are unable to flaunt their children's scorecards at social gatherings. Every child can relate to the competition among parents to show their ward's achievements as the best. However, within the humour was the very real understanding of parents trying to burden their children with their own dreams and expectations that pulled children down instead of motivating them. The gravity of the issue could not be lost on the thousands of parents hearing this speech.
The most relatable part of the interaction had to be the practical tips shared by the prime minister that would help every individual in preparing for an examination, whether a student or even any of us. He stressed on the importance of de-focussing in order to focus and the need for children to take a break. He spoke of yoga and sports as means of de-stressing and relaxing. Advising children not to be bogged down by the complexity of asanas, the prime minister gave a simple and practical tip — start with whatever you are comfortable with and then take it from there.
Modi said that nervousness around exams stems from the internalisation of the fact by students that others are sitting in judgment of their capabilities. Instead, children should internalise the fact that exams are an opportunity to improve themselves and in the process, work towards their own future. And this examination can happen in every moment of our lives, where we strive to be a better version of our ourselves. Displaying his keen awareness of the latest events, Modi gave the motivating example of snowboarder Mark McMorris who won a bronze medal even after being in a coma just 11 months ago.
Modi spoke to the children as a friend, as a guide and as a motivator. He spoke to them of their own concerns and he tried to make sense of the world as a child struggling to meet a world of expectations would. The interaction was inspiring, motivating and relatable to young students because it came from a repository of lived experiences of a man who has triumphed against many challenges all through his life. As an inspirational world leader, the prime minister is the best person to address the fear and the insecurities of the young students.
This interaction with the students of the country was a remarkable exercise that should pave the way for creating a dialogue about making examinations stress-free and in the long run, inspire the makers of New India to discover their strengths and be the best that they can be.
The author is Union minister of human resource development
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Updated Date: Feb 19, 2018 14:08:55 IST