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Rat racing begins from Grade One

28 August 2017 01:49 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


“School is to learn, the rest of the day belongs to you. You have a life to live chaps.”

It is common knowledge that the term ‘rat race’ better described as a ‘rat marathon’ describes a frustrating financial lifestyle that is becoming harder and harder to beat. It is also seen as a marathon of satisfying a never- ending flow of transient wants. Excepting a handful of people who have not lost their heads, many others running the rat marathon have lost theirs.  Perhaps only some indigenous people in an outback of nowhere have escaped it. 


How the marathon works

The rat marathon is invariably connected to full-time occupations usually Monday to Friday. Some extend to Saturdays, Sundays, part-time and night shifts that have become part and parcel of the run. Desperate ones who think they are lagging behind in the race resort to moonlighting. Today, it is common to see the man of the house being unable to keep home fires smoldering let alone burning a situation that obliges the lady of the house to join the marathon. In addition to filling stomachs, many people who do not own houses live in rented ones while those who own houses keep paying never-ending mortgages. It also means whatever you do for a living you are saddled with paying bills and more bills regularly. A rainbow of other liabilities such as a mind-blowing hospital bill, another for a car repair or to replace the kitchen roof that took off in a Mach One gale also pop up  unexpectedly. So man or woman from A-Z is in a never-ending rat race in meeting dues while aiming for and acquiring more while running the rat marathon. Just imagine walking on a treadmill; it describes you going nowhere.

Ill conceived

Rat marathoners suffer from a common malady; the impression that if they earn more and become well-heeled or appear to be so, they would be recognized in society. They do not notice that the more they earn the more they spend resulting in financial shortfalls. Yet, they are adept at declaring, ‘money does not interest me, honest’. 
If that is so why are they practically killing themselves running the rat marathon? No-one accepts the truth. Rat racing is due to a combination of factors; lack of choice and opportunity, inability to prioritise, not keeping things simple, unwilling to make changes, afraid of not having enough, short-sighted spending and matching the Joneses. They do not see the rat marathon as a type of social madness but keep loping along to reach a satisfying goal of all round ‘goodness’. But, no-one seems to reach that Utopia of sorts. Worse, even when they think they got there, it slips away. 
How many stop to ask ‘Why in the world am I running this never-ending marathon? Is it worth it?’’Can’t I slow down?’  Not finding the right answers, runners keep pounding the track hoping that someday the running would end; but it does not unless you make a change in your lifestyle.

Starting young

Young people enter the job market after a university degree, a technical diploma, a professional qualification, soon after ‘O’ Levels or ‘A’ levels, through natural skills or through influence. 
Presume you are one who got off the starting block in employment with potential for progress. You discard the bike you bought second hand to acquire a car, get married, build a house through a bank loan and stuff it with things. When the kids began to come; more things fill the house. Needs kept growing but money keeps falling short. The burn rate does not keep pace with the money made. You are in the rat marathon. 
Many people declare they cannot say when they entered the rat marathon, but for most it began from the time they were admitted to school.
Remember the time you admitted your son to a Grade 1 class of a popular school, St Christopher’s College (not real name) where the competition was terrific. The interview that came after an aptitude test was an affair of searching thrusts and parries using blunt sabers to arrive at the size of the ‘donation’. To cut the story short junior was admitted to St Christopher’s to face the starter’s gun in a rat marathon similar to the one you began to run years ago in which you are still running.
The marathon for junior begins around 5.30 every day of school. Mother gets him into his running kit, rushes to pack a mid-morning snack and make certain every book in the Grade 1 booklist goes into junior’s school bag. The idea was ‘to be prepared’ like a Boys’ Scout because you never know which teacher would  make a no-show and which teacher would use that time to take his own subject. But carrying a load of books to meet contingencies in the school time table is a job for a natambaya not a school kid. Complaints have been pouring in from parents, medical specialists and educational experts about the issue. 
Unsurprisingly nothing has been done by the authorities. So parents and students have devised a way; dragging the book load in a travel bag with wheels; not to fly away but to go to school. 
From Grade 1 to university there is no need to comment on the academic components of the rat marathon. It is a favourite subject of ridicule that remains untouched and unattended by the attendants making people wonder whether they  have their heads screwed on right. The educational mess continues from Grade 1 right up to GCE ‘A’ levels and creep into universities ingloriously. 
After around 6 hours in school, junior gets home around 3 pm to have his first square meal for the day. But he is too tired to eat. Usually he sleeps; his bio-clock is not keeping pace with marathon running.
 When mother and father get home after an 8 hour grind to relax in front of the TV, junior is ready for homework; tons of it. And he needs help because the nature and volume of assignments are such an adult hand is patently needed for junior to get through the tasks. In fact studies that should have been done in school have been surreptitiously palmed off as homework. The ultimate result is that junior runs an 8 hour plus rat race every day.

Pleasing others   

School time that should be an enjoyable period of learning has become a soul bruising period of stress and trauma. While junior keeps growing to be a senior, the workload becomes heavier and so does the competition.  There is also pressure from parents, elder siblings even family members ‘to do better’ and face charges of ‘you are not doing enough’ ‘how is it that Bevan is doing better than you?’ ‘At this rate you’ll end as a grave digger’ The school that wants its students to shine as beacons in the rat marathon poke in too. Consequently, after examination results it is not surprising to hear teachers and school heads tut-tutting at students’ progress reflected in exam marks. Expectations to perform and keep performing better make junior’s life a misery. It is not a case of what the school can do for a student but what a student can do to enhance the prestige of the school and its marketability as an institution that produces successful citizens. 
The rat marathon is not confined to classrooms. It slides into sports too. Disgustingly the lobbying of coaches by fathers and mothers is common in schools. There are rumours of money changing hands for special consideration for selection to school teams and that some mothers flirt with coaches and games masters to secure special privileges for their children. ‘Not done’ is an apt label for the practice, but then it is part of the rat marathon syndrome. 


  • They do not see the rat marathon as a type of social madness 

  • How many stop to ask ‘Why in the world am I running this never-ending marathon?’ 

  • Many began to run the rat marathon from the time they were admitted to school

  • The rat marathon is not confined to classrooms. It slides into sports too

  • Students have been deprived from the pleasure in learning and later working making them slaves of a system 


An Oxford attitude

In contrast to the modern-day rat marathon students run, I learnt a lesson during my own school days that helped me cultivate an important principle in striking a balance between working and living.  
“Oh you two silly asses at the back there, what are you doing?” The whole class looked towards two characters who had been tittering over something at the back of the classroom. Addressing two reddening faces, Sinna as we called the master affectionately, went on, “Why don’t you chaps be attentive in class? What I teach is more than enough for you to enter university. Surely you have other things to do after school hours? Don’t you want to lead a life of your own?” Sinna, an Oxford graduate was a great teacher; he did all the teaching in the classroom. He scoffed at home work. “School is to learn, the rest of the day belongs to you. You have a life to live chaps.” 
I never forgot Sinna’s question: ‘don’t you want to lead a life of your own?’ 
No teacher looks at education the old school way that produced great results. It is sad to see students of today being denied by such an approach in learning. 

Who is to blame?

Who is to blame for this situation? Parents to begin with; they use bribery, criticism and create a sense of guilt in their children. “I have done everything I possibly can for you; is this what you give in return?’
Teachers are also insensitive by saying that students are not responding enough to their efforts in teaching them. They may hint at laziness, not doing home work and  complain that students are ungrateful. Society is also responsible and so are schools that prepare students leading to professional qualifications. In reality they are cram- and- pass exam factories. But, such ‘successes’ satisfy parents and boost the image of the school.
A sense of mission, direction and vocation has not been imposed on the young.   They have been deprived from the pleasure in both learning and later working making them slaves of a system of our own making–the great rat marathon
There is no doubt the rat marathon begins in schools where students are pressurised to compete and get ahead. Students are not in control of their lives because outside forces push them along with no pauses to catch their breath all to an unknown end. 
It means that students’ lives hinge on living up to the expectations of others; not their own.  
So what is the answer to stressed out, harshly driven, ill-guided students overloaded with work running the rat marathon? The powers that be have been fighting shy of moderating or placing clamps on marathon running in schools that matures unceremoniously to adulthood. But, they are still yawning and stretching in their armchairs. Get up and hurry sirs, the alarm that went off decades ago is still resonating. And remember the rat marathon begins at a tender age of six and the number of new runners is exploding.


  Comments - 1

  • Tax Payer Monday, 28 August 2017 05:46 PM

    So very true, yet we are so helpless...

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