An appalling video is doing the rounds of the internet this week: a little girl, probably four, is being filmed on a cell phone camera by her mother who is doing lessons with her. Basic ones, alphabets and numbers (the child is very young, after all). The child gets it wrong, and her mother—all the while filming—whacks her. The child obviously bursts into tears, tries again, gets it wrong and slap. She ends up begging her mother to be kind. Mother puts the clip on the internet, because she obviously thinks it’s either amusing or instructive, while in fact she deserves to have the Child Protection Bureau called on her.

The other day, driving down a main road, I noticed banners up advertising a school. Our students get world distinctions, the banners proudly informed me. There are various degrees offered, our students are toppers, the school has affiliations with international universities. It all sounded rather enticing until I realised not a single banner highlighted their sports grounds, or an auditorium for plays, or music classes. It was only the degrees and diplomas on offer and the grades they can land your child. It might be the kind of school the anonymous abusive mother in the video is dreaming of as she beats her little girl for not knowing her ABCs properly at an age when all you should know is how to make good puppy eyes at your grandparents to get extra chocolate and what time the ice cream man cycles past your house.

Parents are fast becoming an incredibly myopic breed of grade-driven maniacs. As an educator and parent oneself, it’s hard to see children being pressurised to succeed at increasingly younger ages by parents who don’t understand the schooling system, and don’t care how their child is (or isn’t) equipped to deal with it. The only thing is the numbers. There used to be a time when your parents would chide you to work harder because you were about to sit your O level exams, which are indeed an extremely important examination. Or they would nag you to study for your final class exams, because if you failed those you’d have to repeat a year. Repeating a year was the worst fate that could ever befall you as a student—oh, the shame. The mocking of your cousins, the pity of your friends, the spanks of your parent, it was all too much to bear and you’d study like the dickens from sheer fright. The older parent wasn’t always slapping you to study harder, but they made sure one understood the importance of school, respect for a teacher and being prepared for learning. The modern parent treats school like some magical success bank, where you deposit a child and expect to get massive returns, i.e many many A stars. You’re paying, after all.

The thing to realise is that school exists to help your child learn, but a real education is one that is much more complex. At best, a child’s education is a collaboration between their home and their school. Without one input, the other is less meaningful. A teacher only has your child for a few hours a day, but you have them for the rest of it. Are you talking to your child? Are there books to read, puzzles to do, paper, stationery? Are you prioritising their academics in a healthy way—by making sure they sleep at a regular, reasonable bedtime so they aren’t tired in the morning? What’s in their lunch box? Are you letting them bunk school just because they don’t feel like going, or you don’t feel like sending them? There are so many factors that influence children and their attitude to learning, and when we create derisive environments at home we are sending messages to our children that school is stupid, that teachers are extensions of paid help and that hard work is overrated. You can get by on less, and it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you have straight As to show for it.

Is it any wonder then that students are increasingly bored and lackadaisical in class? If a parent has no qualms in slapping a preschooler around for not knowing her alphabet, then that parent is raising a child who won’t care about anything except making the grade. And what do the grades represent? Success. All we want is for our children is for them to be successful, which means rich, and that’s all. Rare is the parent who now defines success as something other than the Big Job, the Big House and the Big Car, and so we are looking at a generation of young people who think the same. Parents don’t care about school libraries, about their sports facilities, about learning languages, about music or nurturing a child’s talent. They only want the external trappings of success without really realising that the point of education is to instill wonder. To equip a child with the tools to understand the world, to develop a mind that is curious, inquisitive, critical. An education should make something wonderful of a child, in one way or another. There’s no point in wringing one’s hands and lamenting how narcissistic and vapid young people are when that’s exactly what we’re educating them to be—just money-making drones.