Consider this: The final examinations are nearing, and a parent bribes his child saying, “If you stand first, I’ll get you the latest Play Station. If, however, you stand second, then we’ll see what to get you.” In another home, a parent tells her child, “For every test that you score full marks in, I will give you fifty rupees.” Competition can be good if it is healthy. But, in this day and age, the word has transformed into a different meaning altogether. So much so that the race to score high has become a part of the lives of very young students. “Sometimes, even parents cannot be blamed for they know that the system is so marks-oriented, that nothing else will work,” says software engineer Geeta Sheshadri, who has always been an academic topper.”If, even after scoring a decent 78 percent in class 10, a student cannot get admission to a college of her choice, what options are left?” she adds. This leads us to a vital question: Are excellent marks a pre-requisite to success? Not all success stories say so. In 1975, a young student dropped out of Harvard University at the age of 20. Today, the company he started employs more than 64,000 people across 85 countries. He is the richest person in the world according to Forbes’ 2006 list and is widely considered to be the world’s most giving humanitarian as he has donated more than half his fortune to charities. He is Bill Gates, co-founder, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft Corporation. If there is a lesson to be learned from his life, it isn’t that dropping out of school is a good idea. Rather, it’s the dedication and hard work that will prove rewarding, if only you believe in your dreams and work towards achieving them.
Knowledge is More Important
“Marks are important, but not the end of education. The mark made in life is far more important, and to make this mark, knowledge, skill and the right attitude is essential. This comes from education. “Marks may or may not reveal these qualities but low marks show the absence of knowledge. In that sense, marks are important,” says Prof BK Nair, head, Department of Business Management, NM College. According to Nair, any education programme has three objectives: concept clarity, skill development, and information, which are not always determined by the marks you score. “The student, marks or results are not the product. The teaching-learning process is,” adds Nair. Final year MBBS student of TN Medical College and Maharashtra University topper, Riddhi Shukla, feels that at the professional level, there is no difference between the topper and the next 20 rankers. “The entire system is so marks oriented, that students feel they have no other option. In medicine, your marks don’t necessarily reflect the kind of doctor you are since the theory papers don’t depend on how much you know, but how good your presentation skills are,” she says, adding, “so, just because you don’t score well, it does not mean you are a bad student.”
“I don’t agree with the word ‘excellent’ with reference to marks,” says HafizaBhamjee, principal, Royal Girls High School. “If I were to give my own example, I was always an average student. But I have reached this position due to discipline, sincerity and punctuality.” According to any sort of pressure and is a much more confident,” she says. For class ten student Ankita Naval, karate instilled a certain discipline in her, which helped her improve her scores as well. “My friends are often not allowed to join any extracurricular activities since they have to ‘score well’. In my case, however, if I don’t train in karate, I will lose all my interest in studies too!” “When a student is in his/ her board exam year, marks are an end-all and be-all of one’s life. It’s only when one has becomes a professional that he/ she realises that it doesn’t matter so much,” says Sheshadri. Shukla feels that in any professional course, a lot depends on how you perform on the day of the exam. “Not only that, there’s a factor of luck involved. A lot could depend on the examiner you get and how his/ her mood is on that day! So then, how can marks be claimed as a fair judge of the kind of student or professional you are?”
Each Student is Different
“The beauty in a person standing first comes from the fact that there is someone who is second. Thus, in that way, every student has his or her own place,” says mathematics teacher Rohini Parekh. However, Bhamjee believes, “Each student is good in his own way. I make it a point to motivate my students to develop their talents, and do the best they can.” There are many who add to this point. “Just two or three hours on one particular day can never determine your mettle, is what I have learnt,” says Sheshadri. “All my life, I believed in scoring top marks. I always had an excellent academic record, always stood first in school and topped engineering too. Add to that, I have an impressive extra-curricular activities list. Yet, I came across many classmates during engineering who had a much better grasp of the subject than me. My skill lay in the fact that I could present my papers well, but in practical life, engineering skills were far more important!” she says. She gives the example of her classmate who obtained a much better placement than her since the classmate was a better engineer. Period!
A major reason why parents push their children so much is the difficulty in procuring admission for higher learning.”If you don’t score well, you have no options left,” says designer Sibrata Ray, whose son is in class 10. “I don’t expect him to score 100 on 100 in every paper, but I do expect him to score enough to obtain admission to a decent college, even if he has to work hard all year round!” Lack of knowledge is another common problem. Prof Nair says that memory-based subjects are a challenge, maybe even difficult to study. But what’s worse is that exams are, to a large extent, memory-based. So students develop a technique to learn by rote without understanding. “Thus, everything is known, and yet nothing is known,” he laments. This is a problem faced by several instructors in the higher education scenario. They expect students to have a basic understanding of several concepts, especially those that are directly related to their undergrad majors, and yet find students lacking. “I was not asking of the moon and the stars! I just expected my students, who are all commerce graduates to know the concepts of accountancy and economics so that I could move ahead with the class,” says financial management professor Pathik Shah. In such a situation, the greater dilemma is whether to continue with the scheduled class or to help students brush up their knowledge. “What knowledge? There is none. The system of marks allows for no learning. The students that I talked about earlier, have had five years of learning the subjects. And yet, I have some of them staring at me when I talk of the most basic concepts. Like I just talked in Greek or Latin!” says Shah.
Tackling Students Who Score Less Marks
Students are often heard complaining about ‘favouritism’ in class. Teachers believe that this behaviour varies from individual to individual. “A teacher must have the maturity to handle an entire class which is a mix of all kinds of students,” says Bhamjee. In fact, she says that it’s the weak students who need more attention. Jitiksha Shah, math and science teacher with Villa Teresa High School says, “I take it upon myself to motivate weak students so that they can do better with each exam. I give the class extra worksheets and when I set the paper, I ensure that the difficulty level is such that every student will be able to answer at least 50 per cent of the questions.” She also makes an effort to understand the student’s psyche and tackle students accordingly. “I encourage my students to come to me if they have any sort of problem. We try solving the problem together. That way, the child feels more involved.” Bahmjee says that she motivates students to set individual and realistic goals for themselves in each subject. While correcting papers, she checks on those who have deviated from their goal and tries to reason it out with the students. In this way, there is an increase in theeffort to understand the subject. Thus, the general conclusion is that marks may not be important, but education certainly is!