The week was rife with news on the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) 12th-grade results. Joining the scores of students was the large Indian expat community in the United Arab Emirates, who, along with their native counterparts, fumbled through the website that on certain days of the year generates enviable traffic.
Students of the Indian High School, Dubai (IHS) – UAE’s first private school catering to the Indian community – are known to take the lion’s share of reasons to celebrate. Top spots for Science and Humanities were occupied by students of this 55-year old school. While people harp on the difficulty of subjects in Science, and how the gift of number-crunching helps ‘Excel’ in Accountancy, we attempt to delve into a lesser understood stream with Ameena Zaheer – someone who conquered the subjects of Humanities by scoring 97.2%, topping the stream across all CBSE-affiliate schools in the UAE.
We explored her relationship with Humanities; its importance in society – beyond the exam hall and result cards; her future plans; the role of her parents, and about a sibling rivalry that provided a fillip to her dedication.
AG: Tell us about the moment the news was broken to you about topping in the UAE. How did this news sink in, or were you always confident of this result?
My ultimate aim was to make my parents and teachers really proud and happy. I wasn’t always among the top-3 students but I worked really hard, day and night, and they saw that in me
Ameena: To be honest I’m not a very big optimist. I hadn’t slept the previous night because I was nervous. I had a series of intrusive thoughts: “What if there was some correction mishap? What if my handwriting wasn’t legible? What if my marks got swapped?” So I spent my night praying that I have the strength to withstand whatever happens the next day.
I kept checking the website every now and then, when finally at around 10.30AM it was out. I couldn’t type my hall ticket number because I was literally shivering. I saw a 99 in History, and after that my vision was blurred because History was that one subject that I consistently failed to touch 90 plus though I would give it my undivided attention. I was on a conference call with my best friends, and they repeatedly told me that I had topped but I kept denying, thinking there would be a 97.5% or a 98%. So it took a while to sink in.
AG: Talk us through your academic life in IHS. Were you always amongst the toppers, or simply found your calling after choosing Humanities as a stream in 11th and 12th grade?
Ameena: I would top specific subjects in 11th and 12th. But I had one very clear target in my mind – to do exceptionally well in my boards, and make my parents really proud because this is the best gift any kid could give back to their parents. So from day one I worked really hard, made sacrifices, and throughout the year this would reflect in my results on some occasions, and sometimes it wouldn’t. But my dad always motivated me by saying: “Give it your all and leave the rest to God.” And that is all I did.
Humanities is the need of the hour. My subjects, especially psychology and sociology, have helped me view everything around with a much wider lens.
AG: How did you prepare for your exams? Is there a ‘secret’ to success?
Ameena: There is nothing that I did out of the ordinary. I was consistent and patient. When there was a test, assessment or exam announced, I would prepare a timetable with my best friend and we would retire for the day only after achieving our target.
AG: What led you to choose Humanities? What are your favourite subjects in it?
Ameena: Humanities is a stream that you can pursue and succeed only if you’re passionate about it. And you really need to go into the depth to enjoy it. You need to be well informed about everything happening around you – be it politics, economics or entertainment to have a comprehensive understanding about these subjects. We used to have endless discussions and debates about several psychological or sociological concepts and theories, and it has helped us learn so much. Most importantly we had the best set of teachers; they were real role models and I’m so thankful to them.
We belong to a society where preference are based on money, employability, and social status. Passion and interest are often unheard or ignored.
AG: How important, in your opinion, is Humanities and its various subjects? How do you see it changing the world and societies around us?
Ameena: Humanities is the need of the hour. My subjects, especially Psychology and sociology, have helped me view everything around with a much wider lens. It has helped me clear so many mental blocks and narrow perceptions about different aspects of life. It lets you look beyond what is normally perceived, or what Sociology calls it the ‘common sense view’. It helps you divulge into a deeper understanding of the people and situations around you. This helps you adapt better and live better. It is essentially teaching you a way of life, one where you can appreciate and critique the things around you. I think these subjects have the ability to help one better understand themselves, individually make us better people. And ultimately, collectively create a better society.
AG: Humanities is often considered as an afterthought stream. It’s an underdog amongst Science and Commerce and even in the school that you passed out of, the stream has long been closed to boys. What do you think is the reason for this, and what steps can be taken to make it more attractive amongst students?
My mother was my most important source of motivation. I cannot thank her enough for all what she has done for me.
Ameena: It is a false perception without any basis in reality especially in our Indian subcontinent. We belong to a society where preference are based on money, employability, and social status. Passion and interest are often unheard or ignored. The only way to popularize Humanities is to highlight the successful stories of people who mastered this subject. Whatever subjects you take up, you can achieve wonders, but what is important is that you put in your sincerity and 100%. It is high time that society progresses and changes such dogmatic perceptions.
AG: You stated to a newspaper that out-performing your sister, who herself was one of the toppers in her batch, was a motivation. Give us some more insights on this sibling rivalry.
Ameena: I wanted to carry on the legacy and uphold my family’s name. And Amal [sister] and I got the same CGPA in 10th grade as well. We have similar capabilities so it motivated me to wonder that if she can do it why not me? And my parents have been so very supportive. Never have they ever pressured or compared our achievements. And people have different capabilities so forcing them excessively is only going to bring about adverse consequences on the student.
AG: Let’s say competing with your sister was out of the equation. What then would be your number one motivating factor to perform well?
Ameena: My ultimate aim was to make my parents and teachers really proud and happy. I wasn’t always among the top-3 students but I worked really hard, day and night, and they saw that in me. So sometimes when I would perform poorly in a test or an exam, I would lose hope. But they constantly reminded me what I was capable of.
My mother was my most important source of motivation. I cannot thank her enough for all what she has done for me. She was the one who stood by my side day after day night after night. And because of my recurring exam phobia, I would sometimes wake her up the night before my test or exam at 1 or 2 am saying that I won’t be able to write my paper. It would have been a real nightmare for her. But even during that hour of the night she would give me that “unconditional positive regard” as you call it in psychology. And not to forget – the countless number of black coffee made at odd hours of the day.
AG: How do you intend to leverage your results? What are your plans for University and career?
Ameena: I plan on doing triple majors in Psychology, Sociology & Social Work at St.Aloysius College, Mangalore. Later on, I would like to pursue a career in Clinical Psychology.
AG: How does a Humanities student extend his/her passion beyond the classrooms and examination? With the exam scores behind you, how will you embrace Humanities in your personal life?
Ameena: The very term Humanities was derived during the period of Renaissance (literally meaning rebirth) and the word Humanities in classic Latin is a period associated with education, culture and refinement .So being a Humanities student, you need to read a lot and keep your eyes and ears open, and be open to opinions that counter yours.