The Malayali Obsession With Entrance Exams

People often remark, “oru kalleduth molilott erinjal thazhel vannu veezhunnath oru BTech kaarante meth aayirikkum”. We guess the same can be said for students going for coaching to study for entrance exams.

As the theme of this article is set, we would like to assert that this won’t be an article that slanders coaching centers (well, maybe) but it is more about the obsession of Malayalis for ‘entrance coachings’. We Indians are obsessed with Science and Mathematics, and considering the literacy rate of Kerala, you can’t escape the vicious cycle that is waiting for you after your 12th. While there are various types of entrance coachings available, we would like to focus on engineering/ medical entrances. 

Choice

Most Malayali households deny young adults the freedom to choose a career. The influence of our parents plays a key role in our education. The ability to make a choice, to select the stream of education is denied to many; the reason ranges from “the lack of your understanding of the world” to “the lack of scope of the stream that you want to choose”. However, in recent times, a new form of influence is seen where the student himself is conditioned to choose Medicine or Engineering as he/she is conditioned by society or parents from a very young age about the greatness of choosing the elite professions. 

These years of conditioning have left us mentally crippled and the solution to this would be to normalise and showcase the greatness of every other career choice. Personal taste and individual skills should find their space over conditioning. It is only when individuals of our country understand and make use of one’s potential that we will be able to progress. 

If you are someone caught between your interested stream of career and your relations, make sure you make the right choice!

Coaching Center to Study for Entrance Exams

The first manifestation of your parents’ desire is the very act of enrolling you into a coaching center. The first day of entry into the coaching center marks the initiation of the ‘masterplan’ your parents have for you. The obsession with coaching to score well in entrance exams is increasing day by day. Some of them initiate this masterplan from a very young age with the foundation classes that many centers offer (imagine the amount of school work and entrance work). This obsession reaches its peak when children are forced to repeat their entrance coachings twice or thrice without their consent.

While movies portray this place as the den of evil and the professors as Voldemort (the one that shouldn’t be named), it is not always that bad. Anand Mahadevan, an Engineering graduate shared, “There were higher expectations and constant nagging from the professors. Some coaching centers forced some students to attempt all the entrance exams that were available irrespective of the stream. However, the coaching center experience wasn’t that bad for me because I found my girlfriend over there”.

At the same time, others shared stringent rules and conditions that were expected to be followed by all students. The authoritarian environment and constant comparison with peers of different calibre puts a lot of pressure and does more harm than good. While the basic idea behind this is to promote healthy competition, the impact is often unhealthy.

“The weekly tests and the rank list that follows every test needn’t be taken seriously as most of the time one can do better for the entrance exam. The idea is to improve yourself and not to compare yourself with the ones who have better ranks than yours.“ says Anita, a 3rd-year BAMS student.

Though there are mixed reactions to these ‘rituals and customs’ imposed upon the students by coaching centers, we still don’t understand the purpose of certain rules like separate classrooms for boys and girls or asking girls to wear ‘non-provocative’ clothes.

‘Relative Expectations’

A very common custom that is seen as soon as one starts preparing for entrance exams is the change in the behaviour of your relatives. The idea of having a Doctor/Engineer in their family takes root and they start introducing the child as a Doctor/Engineer to random people (refer to Urvasi’s scene in the movie Mookuthi Amman where she introduces her kids as a visual representation of this scenario).

For some of us, this could provide motivation and support that keeps us on track. But for many, this adds to their bundle of worry.

“I was literally overwhelmed when my relatives, who weren’t involved in any of my life decisions or during my school years started having expectations once I declared my wish to attempt the entrance exam. I was unable to crack the entrance and that created a frenzy amongst my relatives. The constant comparison with my cousins who cracked the entrance exam, the blame for spending money for the coaching, and the shaming I encountered in family meetings eventually added to my depression. It’s saddening when these individuals who weren’t there to extend financial or emotional support during my schooling suddenly start showing up and shaming without knowing its shortcomings.” (Anonymous)

This is just a glimpse of individuals who are caught in the archaic idea of education that success could only be achieved by taking up elite professions. While we can’t totally blame them for their lack of understanding and deep inflicted conditioning, we can definitely set our boundaries and make it clear to them. After all, it’s you who has to thrive in a profession that you don’t like, so make sure you turn a blind eye to any external influence that can be detrimental to your growth.

However, some are lucky enough to have a supportive environment and understanding parents. Akshay, a 3rd-year MBBS student says, “My entrance days were one of the best times of my life. Though they say that you have to be in a hostel to have the full blast of it, I was a day scholar who didn’t lose much of its fun. There were people from all districts in Kerala. Many would say that it was a time of stress and tension but mine was almost free of all that. I had covered the curriculum at the right time and hence, had comparatively stress free hours. I was constantly motivated and understood by my parents, something that most people don’t get. But an important point that I would like to add is that it was the abstinence from social media and mobile phone that made it a very wonderful and focused period of my life.”

The D-day: Entrance Exams Result

The D-day or the day of your result. You are in front of your PC/laptop with your family and the speculative environment around you makes you feel like it’s the most important moment of your life. Some of us manage to score great ranks, and some of us don’t (this isn’t meant to be demotivating to those of you who are currently preparing). However it is important to know that it isn’t the D-day, you still have opportunities waiting for you, after all, life is all trial and error.

On that note, what most parents and relatives don’t understand is that even if one cracks entrance exams and gets into a prestigious institution if one lacks the interest in the subject, it is difficult to navigate through the 4-5 years of graduation. Shahbaz says, “People often cite this cliché remark ‘onn keripattiya mathi pinne life set anu!’. However, within the first few months of coaching, I understood that it wasn’t my cup of tea”.

“My life changed after cracking the entrance. From an under-confident student to a confident one, I evolved. The coaching sometimes used to get tiresome but I never lost the spirit and sometimes did things on my own accord. I guess it’s about the interest and not the level of IQ one has and of course, luck is another factor. ”, says a 3rd-year MBBS student (Anonymous).

The grey side of this obsession

According to the 2014 report from the Indian government, exam related pressures were the largest cause of suicides. This rise in suicide reports and mental health issues amongst students needs a constant share of attention. There’s a lot of stress, pressure and competition that young adults have to go through in today’s world and most often, they aren’t given the right resources to be prepared for it. Most of the time these pressures are accompanied by a lack of understanding and support from the household. We don’t deny the fact many families are very understanding and most households are slowly unlearning their conditioning around education and entrance exams.

There is no one-word solution to this, however, understanding the child’s calibre and asking them about their interest can make a huge impact. But this calls for a deep-cleansing of ingrained conditioning and effort to unlearn from the parent’s side. And children do have a fair share of work to do to convince their family about their interest or lack thereof. One should understand that sticking up for your life decisions isn’t being dramatic!

It’s saddening to see that one has to go through many traumatic experiences to prove or understand what one is interested in, to our family, to oneself. This ‘testing culture’ needs to be questioned on its efficiency and maybe one day we will be able to find an alternative to this. 

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