Learning Curve: A poetic salve for students' identity crisis

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 9:38am

In Sanskrit, anjali means "offering" and gita means "song". In 1913, Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his anthology of poems called Gitanjali. These "song offerings", which express Tagore's devotion to a universal god-like figure, have contributed significantly to the development of my identity.

As students start this academic year, they will continue to develop the beliefs and values that will help shape who they are. Some students will probably encounter what the late American developmental psychologist Erik Homburger Erikson called an identity crisis.

His theory on psychosocial development describes the impact of social experience through a person's life. But identity formation is particularly important during adolescence, and school experiences contribute immensely in giving each of us a cohesive sense of self that endures and continues to grow as we age.

I hope students will ... develop more pride - one that [emanates] from respect for others

International schools will have more third culture kids starting this academic year. These youngsters usually have highly mobile lives, are culturally astute, and have advantages such as being multilingual, able to establish relationships faster, and being more adaptable and mature in their social skills.

But they face the challenges of having an elusive concept of "home" - a sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere. They may have difficulty committing to people, places, schools or school systems as these change. They face decision-making problems and an uncertain cultural identity - "Who am I?"

This uncertainty also confronts local students. A 2012 poll by the Hong Kong Transition Project of Baptist University found that students were the only social group that rejected the notion of being known as "Chinese"; instead they preferred the terms "Hong Kong Chinese" or "Hong Kong person".

Two-thirds of the 93 post-secondary students polled chose "Hong Kong Chinese" as their preferred identity; 20 per cent opted for "Hong Kong persons", and 10 per cent selected "Chinese Hongkonger". None chose "Chinese".

So for incoming students, I share a poem from Tagore's Gitanjali - one which Mahatma Gandhi epitomised during his freedom struggle for India.

For his countrymen, Gandhi envisioned freedom not just from the British rule, but the freedom to uplift us as individuals in society, irrespective of class, culture or creed. Tagore paints a poignant path to the realisation of great human ideals.

This academic year, I hope students will endeavour to be a little more fearless and develop more pride - one that does not emanate from money or ethnicity but from respect for others. And by the cohesiveness these qualities will imbue, struggle a little less with their own crisis of identity.

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action -

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake. Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School