English Vocab

Listen to These Four Girls: On The Panapakkam Suicides

Panapakkam is a rural town in Tamil Nadu’s Vellore district. Last month, it was in the news when four adolescent girls disappeared from their school, leaving their bags behind. Their shoes were later found beside a sizeable well into which they hadapparently jumped in order to end their lives. They were students of Class XI. This is precisely the grade level at which a vast number of India’s adolescents feel seriously unhappy and resentful. If you consult a typical textbook on adolescent psychology, you will find such emotions to be common. The text will probably dwell on identity, self-worth and petulance (the quality of being childishly sulky or bad-tempered.). Teachers are taught about these common symptoms, and those who learn them well enough to discuss them correctly get through their B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) examination without
much cramming. When they become teachers, they soon realise that passing the B.Ed. examination is a lot easier than dealing with real adolescents — boys or girls.
A poor record
The Panapakkam girls are reported to have been scolded by a teacher for their poor academic performance and told to call their parents. The girls decided to avoid that ordeal and embraced death instead, thereby displaying another familiar characteristic of the adolescent mind, namely, its preference for camaraderie (mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.) in taking a decision.
 As a nation, our record of dealing with adolescents is rather poor. To be an adolescent means that you don’t feel comfortable with what all is going on around you, but older people don’t find it easy to deal with you. This is partly because adolescent behaviour is often prickly (Spiky) and petulant. The larger reason, however, is that adolescents live in an ideal world and measure everyone, including parents and teachers, by their utopian standards. This is not merely an emotional response to an imperfect world; it is also proof of their fully developed logical capacity. By defying the adults surrounding them, adolescents develop their own identity as individuals. This is not easy, so they depend on their peers to plan and decide. Their private fantasies are mostly benign and transformative. We can say that adolescent dreams represent a nation’s wealth. In India, this wealth is mostly burnt up in preparation for examinations.
Ignoring or oppressing adolescents is not uncommon in other countries, but India’s case is somewhat extreme. Over more than a century, our system of schooling has honed its tools to oppress and defeat the adolescent. The tool used to subdue the rebelliousadolescent mind is the Board examination. The term ‘board’ has acquired connotations of terror for the young on account of the darkness into which it pushes them before some are let back out into normal light and further education. Boards of examinations maintain a tight secrecy over how a young student will be marked and declared either ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. Social history is rife (plentiful) with instances of unwarranted failure and opprobrium (disgrace) of family seniors.
The matriculation examination is part of family lore in every part of India. Fear of failing in it and thereby closing all doors to a worthwhile future figures in many autobiographies written during the colonial period. Examination mania is instilled into the young mind from the start of primary schooling. Popular understanding of education, which is widely shared in political and official circles, equates learning with performance on tests. The nationwide industry that specialises in offering help in passing examinations and entrance tests makes no distinction between cramming, cheating and learning. The Class X examination continues to ‘fail’ millions every summer.
The Class XI hurdle
If an adolescent successfully survives the Class X examination, his or her ordeal enters a more complicated phase, involving choice of subjects for the higher secondary examination. The Panapakkam girls who chose to end their lives were studying in Class XI. We do not know how they individually came to choose the subjects to study in this fateful class. For a vast majority of students moving into Class XI, the choice of elective subjects is made by their parents or senior siblings and teachers. Subjects are seen as tickets to the future. Some are regarded as solid tickets for a coveted future while others are seen as bogus tickets, carrying the risk of life-long stagnation. These are, of course, stereotypes, but they persist as currency of practical wisdom in a blind market controlled by Boards. No principal, teacher or parent dares to demand openness from a Board about its procedures. A tight cover of confidentiality is maintained toconceal the abysmal quality of the marking system, question papers and the evaluation process.
In the case of girls, school-related anxieties get compounded by older, entrenched anxieties associated with gendering. Family and kinship fuel the apprehensions that girls internalise early childhood onwards about their matrimonial future. Educating a daughter is often perceived as an investment towards her marriage. The fear of being viewed as a poor performer at school adds to the stress at home. Teachers usually havescant awareness of a student’s state of mind. When they ask students to bring parents to school, they assume this will create additional pressure to encourage harder work. This simplistic logic carries great risk, as the Panapakkam incident shows.
Assessing the Boards
The state of education being what it is at present, it is unlikely that the voices drowned in the well at Panapakkam will be heard, but an effort must be made to do so. Boards responsible for the examination industry must realise that that it is no longer useful to install helplines to provide just-in-time advice for a 16-year-old in despair. The entire Board examination system and the culture associated with it constitute an endemicproblem.
Plenty of ideas for reforming the Boards and the examination system they govern have been given over the years. Some of these ideas have been put into practice here and there, as isolated steps lacking a wider frame of reference to curricular reform. The National Curriculum Framework, 2005 insisted on coherence between reforms in curriculum, examinations and teacher training. This perspective continues to pose a challenge to an institutional structure marked by rivalry and turf wars.
The Hindu (General Studies)
1. Apparently (adverb): (as far as one knows or can see) (प्रत्यक्ष/स्पष्ट रूप से)
Synonyms: Seemingly, Obviously, Most Likely
Antonyms: Uncertain, Improbably, Unlikely, Dubiously
Example: I wasn't there, but apparently it was a great party.

2. Resentful (adjective):(Feeling or expressing bitterness or indignation at having been treated unfairly) (क्रोधित)
Synonyms: Angry, Indignant, Spiteful, Acrimonious
Antonyms: Helping, Kind, Pleasant, Nice
Example: It’s hard to not feel resentful when your boss gives a promotion to his lazy son.

3. Petulance (noun): (The quality of being childishly sulky or bad-tempered.) (झल्लाहट/चिड़चिड़ापन)
Synonyms: Irritability, Short temper, Ill-humor, Impatience, Bitterness
Antonyms: Patience, Tolerance, Understanding, Mildness
Example: My husband’s petulance ruined what otherwise would have been a fantastic evening.

4. Camaraderie (noun): (Mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.) (भाई-चारा/सौहार्द)
Synonyms: Cordiality, Harmony, Amicability, Amicableness, Entente
Antonyms: Insipidity, Gloom, Insipidness, Dislike, Hate
Example: It had a very positive impact that created great camaraderie among the team.

5. Prickly (adjective): (Likely to cause offence or controversy, Spiky) (आशुक्रोधी/चिड़चिड़ा)
Synonyms: Complicated, Jittery, Intricate, Knotty
Antonyms: Pleasant, Smooth, Simple, Easy
Example: Her mother told her to be careful of the prickly thorns on the rose.

6. Rebellious (adjective): (Showing a desire to resist authority, control, or convention) (विद्रोहात्मक)
Synonyms: Dissident, Recalcitrant, Unruly, Bellicose
Antonyms: Governable, Manageable, Obedient, Compliant
Example: The banker’s rebellious son refused to listen to his father and continued to drain his parents’ finances.

7. Rife (adjective): ((Especially of something undesirable) of common occurrence; widespread.) (प्रचण्ड/ज्यादा)
Synonyms: Abundant, Extensive, Plentiful, Prevalent, Rampant
Antonyms: Limited, Scarce, Uncommon
Example: Most casinos are rife with overhead cameras that help prevent theft.

8. Opprobrium (noun): (Harsh criticism or censure.) (अपमान/तिरस्कार)
Synonyms: Insult, Disgrace, Offense, Infamy
Antonyms: Esteem, Honor, Elevation, Credit, Pride
Example: Because the athlete used steroids to increase his performance, he had to face the opprobrium of the sports committee.

9. Bogus (adjective): (Not genuine or true (used in a disapproving manner when deception has been attempted) (फर्जी)
Synonyms: Artificial, Snide, Bogus, Spurious, Simulate, Fictitious
Antonyms: Actual, Genuine, Real
Example: The judge immediately dismissed the bogus lawsuit.

10. Scant (adjective): (Barely sufficient) (अल्प/थोडा)
Synonyms: Insignificant, Deficient, Pinpoint, Frivolous
Antonyms: Adequate, Ample, Enough, Plentiful
Example: The student didn’t understand the math concept because she paid scantattention during the lecture
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