As a student, I distinctly remember being overwhelmed with the amount of academic work that I needed to do when I was at doing my Post-Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM), better known as a MBA at IIMA. But the workload during the last 2 years of school was also overwhelming – of course that was mainly because like many Indian students, I was preparing for the competitive exams (in my case for engineering) along with school studies (and this was when there was no social media, and only DD Metro as far as cable TV went).
And while the academic workload during my engineering at IIT Bombay wasn’t that much, but living in hostels exacerbates many lifestyle issues; more specifically, our physical lifestyle was in general quite unhealthy. There was little or no focus on the right nutrition, fitness or sleep practices. I rarely ate breakfast for the 5 years that I was there and I knew that was the case with many of the other students as well. Sleep cycles were very odd – we would quite often stay awake late into the night and then either bunk morning classes or at least breakfast to meet attendance requirements, or else sleep during the classes itself – although some of that was due to the teaching happening in the class itself! In fact, the I remember eating breakfast more often when I did night-outs (staying awake the whole night for all kinds of weird reasons) than when I woke up to eat breakfast – and a stark contrast to present day me, where breakfast is my heaviest and most-looked-forward-to meal!
There is probably some research on this, but I believe that till college age, most students can get away with these poor physical health practices without immediately visible impact on either functioning or their body. Perhaps that’s the power of youth in terms of higher levels of metabolic activity related to hormonal activity or brain development (and also the the probable source of the illusion of the immortality of the youth).
However, not all students get away baggage free. I have sufficient anecdotal evidence that many students put on many kilograms of weight by the time they finished 2 years of MBA at IIMA. In hindsight, that’s not surprising considering that cheese Maggi and buttery cheese toast was the succour for many hungry souls around 2-3 am every other night, if not every night. Physical activity and sleep anyway is limited at IIMA for most students due to the large number of academic requirements which require long group meetings often late into the night, submissions with hard deadlines for which students often have to stay awake all night, afternoon pop quizzes which often meant that students would skip lunch to study for it. I would definitely be interested in a study that tracks weight gain as well as impact on physical health over college life in hostels across India (if wishes were horses, a world-wide longitudinal study would be even better).
By now, you might be thinking that isn’t that what college life, especially hostel life, is meant to be. Isn’t this what college students love to do as a social practice? Isn’t it like some rites of passage that most students have go through before they start working? Isn’t college the place where you are expected to slog it out and why should young students shy away from having to work really hard? And there’s certainly some weight in arguments that confer real-world benefits to this lifestyle.
One benefit that I can think of this sort of conditioning is that it instills the confidence that if you have got through this, you can get through anything in life, but I am not sure whether that’s entirely true. What you’ve got through is a lot of physical and mental stress so that you can get good grades which will get you good salary and then you do the same in your life, work really hard, take a lot of stress, to earn a lot of money. Isn’t that setting the wrong expectations from life for a long time to come?
I think that there’s a certainly sufficient cause for concern on this issue of overloading students with curriculum at IIMA rather than practising less is more and allowing students to learn what it is to lead a balanced life. Does this then not become a pattern that students take into their work life? Doesn’t the fact that you got through all the stress in college become a justification for they are required to do at their workplace?
The lack of balance just carries on into most of their professional lives. And since many leaders come from colleges like these, they just think that this is the standard way of living and therefore you see a whole lot of unhealthy professionals at work.
But the cost of this is underestimated. When students don’t learn how to live a balanced life, they probably also don’t learning how to give time to family, or to their hobbies and health. They haven’t learnt to reflect or to follow your passions. And then students are essentially expected to learn it on their own in some way or the other. And while some students-turned-adults will change their ways sooner or later (and often after a life-threatening event or perhaps a scare), many don’t even when they have put tons of weight, or even when they recognize that their life is completely out of balance, because their conditioning is too hard to change.
I feel that while colleges can claim that students being adults should learn how to manage their lives, but I believe that guidance and some monitoring is necessary. Perhaps being life coaches should also be a part and parcel of the job description of college professors.
Schools are even worse in many ways – they acknowledge the “importance” of balance and accept that schools should ensure “holistic education” but do very little as they just overload the students with expectations, which of course are driven by the requirements of college admissions. At least colleges are not hypocritical in that way. In any case, overall, as an educationist now, I feel strongly that balance in education is sorely missing and unless as a society we decide to do something about it, generations of unbalanced students will continue to pour out from our schools and colleges, not having learnt or being shown what balanced life looks like.