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An academic, a researcher and writer.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Giving students the confidence they need

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

ALI is a student of class VIII and studies in a government school. His father is a labourer, is illiterate and giving his son pocket money every day is out of the question. Ali is unable to eat a samosa — something that he likes — every day during recess, but for many of his classmates this is not a problem.

Ali’s school uniform is usually unkempt and unwashed, because his father cannot afford to buy a new uniform. In fact, let alone buying a new uniform it is difficult for his parents, financially, to wash his uniform regularly or to iron it every day. His books and copies as well are in tatters.

Ali happens to be a very sensitive boy. He observes all that goes around him with frustration and dejection. He thinks that he is inferior compared to his classmates. He is not very friendly, keeps to himself, easily gets disturbed and is not able to utilize all the abilities that he has to his advantage. As a result of his low self-esteem, he does not take part in extra- curricular activities such as sports, debates, dramatics and so on that take place in his school.

He also lacks confidence and courage and finds it difficult to stand up to students who abuse or bully him. As a result of his frame of mind, Ali suffers immensely. He also feels insecure and can be easily influenced and manipulated.

Ali suffers from an inferiority complex, something that can cause considerable harm to the personality of a student. It can have detrimental consequences on the student’s academic performance and may well affect his future. A student who suffers from an inferiority complex is likely to perform below his potential and is unlikely to take on any leadership role.

What are the factors that can cause an inferiority complex in children? These include their socio-economic background, parents and the behaviour of their teachers towards them, physical appearance, intelligence level and abilities and so on.

First let us see what role a student’s socio-economic background can play in shaping his or her personality. It has been observed over the years that children who come from a poor socio-economic background have greater chances of suffering from inferiority complex. The problem worsens when the parents also happen to be illiterate. In such cases most parents tend to be authoritarian and want complete obedience from their children. Also, because of their constant daily struggle just to make ends meet, such parents are prone to frustration and depression. Children, unfortunately, are easy targets for them to vent their frustration. They end up nagging, abusing and sometimes even hitting their children on the smallest of pretexts.

Such children have low self-esteem and remain continuously under stress. Since their parents more or less end up bullying them, they find it extremely difficult to stand up to others who bully them. Such students also tend to envy their counterparts who come from families with a relatively better socio-economic profile and whose parents are educated and understand their genuine problems and needs. Because of this, there are more chances that a child will experience parents taking a keen interest in trying to solve his or her problem.

The role of the teacher is no less important than that of the parents. This is especially true in the case of those children who come from not so well-off backgrounds. Such children get little encouragement from parents and are hence in need of special attention from their teachers. The problem is that in many cases teachers end up adding to a child’s inferiority complex. Because of increasing materialistic tendencies among teachers, understanding the problems of students who come from economically backward backgrounds is on the decline. The irony is that teachers do not usually even know that all such students need is some encouragement, a kind remark, praise if they have done something good and that this could really help lift their esteem.

Here I would like to share a personal experience of a few years ago when I was new in the field of teaching. I was teaching class IV and told one of my students that he was not good at maths, a subject in which he had scored low marks. The student did improve in each test afterward but kept asking me whether I had the same opinion of him. I suppose he was doing this because he wanted the teacher’s approval of his improvement, though the fact that he was obtaining higher marks was proof of that in any case. This really tells us something about the impact a teacher’s remarks can have on the way a student thinks of himself. That is why teachers have such a huge responsibility to deal with their students with care and sympathy.

Another factor that can lead to an inferiority complex and frustration among children is unjustified or unrealistic expectations on the part of either parents or teachers. Parents and teachers both a responsibility to try and understand the child and set goals for him that are realistic and in accordance with the child’s abilities and potential. Unreasonably high expectations lead to failure and low self-esteem.

Another factor that gives rise to an inferiority complex among children is presence of a physical disability. Many such children end up being ridiculed by their classmates and in some very unfortunate cases even by the teachers. They are also sometimes given derogatory nicknames. When this happens, it is the school administration’s job to take action against students or teachers who subject a student to such ridicule.

Close liaison between a student’s home and the school is crucial to giving students the confidence they need to be able to succeed in life. Parents who come from a less affluent and/or uneducated background should be particularly targeted and made aware of their role in fulfilling the psychological needs of their children. This can be done by periodically holding parent- teacher meetings and arranging counselling programmes for educating such parents. The print and electronic media, especially radio and TV, can also be used to create awareness among parents and teachers.

The writer teaches at the Institute Of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com


  1. i do agree with all the reasons that you added... but one more thing that i want to add is the strictness of attitude of parents....some parents don't share their feeling of love and excitement with their children...this thing may lead towards inferiority.