A battle between brain and body

Originally published in Finnish on 8th February, 2017

A very ordinary morning in February in our family – the elder of our schoolboys has left to his bus stop already, the younger still finishes his packaging: books, notebooks, copies, pencil pouch, patches, keys, mobile phone… The backpack becomes so heavy as if it is filled with stones. I get the idea to quickly check the weight; 8 kilos, even heavier than our dog! Besides, today is Tuesday – the day for rollerblade skating club after school. That means that there will be an even heavier burden to carry. How to make it? An airplane suitcase with wheels saves my son´s day. Fortunately, the bus stop is very near, just outside our community gate.

Especially in international schools here in India, the academic target level is high. In all schools here, there is a deeply rooted trust on learning by books. The education is theoretical, even at lower grades natural sciences are highly valued. The teachers give a lot homework to do, exams are arranged at minimum intervals. Big group sizes are often a standard and thus the teachers hardly can provide any individual guidance to their students. It is very common for parents to arrange private tuition for their kids. There is no easy access to high standard postgraduate studies in India, competition is fierce. Excellent education assures the path towards the best working positions both in India and abroad. Recently in India, there have been horrified and even disgusted reactions after Mr. Trump´s initiations to sharpen the rules for the expertise H1-B USA visa. During the past years around 65 000 highly trained experts of Indian origin have applied for that status. Now, quite many have to adjust their dreams about their future.

Most of the Indian institutes will finish the schoolyear by April. Right now you cannot miss the huge portrait galleries in newspapers and outdoor posters showing the faces and scores of the most successful students in different academies. These are published to motivate talented and hard-working students to reach the best success in their final exams. Many international schools, like the schools of both our sons, follow the European schedule, having their summer vacation from June onwards – thus, there is no visible stress within our family so far. According to our elder son in the 11th grade, we parents tend to be really relaxed compared to many Indian families, letting the kids plan and do their school performance somewhat independently. Well, that might be the heritage of our Scandinavian way to act. Truly, I believe, that the best results come from inner motivation – if the school kids try to reach their own best, it should be enough.

We are happy with both our son´s schools: teaching groups are somewhat small, giving opportunity for quite individual guidance from the teachers. Healthy meals and snacks are included in the school fees. Besides the academic studies there is a wide variety of physical activities available. The balance between books, sports and nutrition is so important! Having that balance is not any foregone conclusion here. Only two thirds of Indian kids have a healthy body mass index, the rest are either undernourished or too fat. The majority of undernourished kids here come from extremely poor families with limited access to healthy food – the main concern for those parents is simply to fill the stomach. By contrast, obesity is often the cause of a high standard of living, incorrect eating habits and an immovable lifestyle. Kids do not play outside enough anymore. It is so sad, since the habits and joy of sports are easiest to acquire as a child.

Deep in these thoughts, I glance out through the window. I see my son carrying his heavy backpack on his shoulders, dragging the flight suitcase filled with sports equipment after him along the pavement. Once again, I realize how lucky we really are. The day begins with good signs, I would wish the same for all the kids in India and all over the world.