When did we learn to value grades above knowledge?
It is that time of the year again. The results of the HSC exams are out, and students are preparing themselves for the admission tests in universities. The rat race that was set off when these students entered their education life takes a turning point at this crossroad. Sounds familiar, right? It’s the same picture every year. Only it’s not.
This year, it has been significantly different. Let’s choose to ignore the fact that out of a total of 1,311,457 students who took the HSC, only a mere 29,262 managed to score a GPA-5, according to news reports.
Let’s jump ahead a few days and look at the Rajuk incident, the case of Ethika, a 10th grader who found death easier than facing her parents with her low grades. Or everything that has been going on at Dhaka University for ages, where education, as we call it, is practically non-existent amidst politics, BCS, and whatnot.
We have grown so used to this system that we never actually stopped to think about what we were doing wrong. We have developed a societal system where we have grown to value grades more than anything. We let a number on a piece of paper define our talents, our role in the society, how we should be judged or judge others.
A number on a piece of paper defines who we are; did we ever question how absurd that sounds? We didn’t. We played along. Our policy-makers developed a system without even fully understanding it themselves. They experimented on us and we let them.
They exploited our valuation of grades above everything else and it didn’t ever matter how the grades came to our papers. Did we actually learn anything? No, we did not.
And this system, which is rotten to the core to begin with, prompted students to cheat on the papers to secure a higher grade no matter what, the teachers to earn extra cash by neglecting classroom education, allowing coaching centres to spring up on every corner, and earning parents bragging rights.
We were so busy meeting our society’s standard of education that we never stopped and asked: What do our textbooks actually teach us?
Do the math textbooks invoke love for numbers in students? Do the physics textbooks explore the deeper mysteries of the universe? Do the literature and social science textbooks develop a keen interest to further study the fascinating story of the human race? They certainly do not.
They are a bunch of jumbled texts on pieces of paper which students cram to secure above-average marks in their exams. We never actually learn anything. And God forbid if we secure low marks in these exams which evaluate nothing.
While there are liberal parents who understand what their kids go through, there are also parents such as Ethika’s -- a girl who, I reiterate, chose death over facing her parents with her low marks.
Does this not frighten us? Why are these students so scared of bad results? Is education supposed to be scary? If the answer is “yes,” which it is, we are doing something wrong. We are not teaching our students anything in classrooms, instead pushing them towards coaching classes -- where they are taught that education is a race and that you must win that race no matter what.
We are introducing newer methods of education every year but lacking the proper infrastructure or manpower to implement them effectively. Our schools and colleges engage in an unhealthy competition of standing top in board examination results, and the students of these institutions act as pawns.
In addition, these competitions are accompanied with hidden deals between schools and colleges. Every year, these institutions engage in a kind of a war, and the losses are incurred not by them but by the students.
Is education even supposed to be equated to armed combat?
The story, however, does not end once you get into a university. One could be spared for the innocent belief that university is the highest echelon of knowledge. But reality, however, is the complete opposite.
Our universities, mostly the public ones, lack the proper environment for basic higher education. The majority of our lecturers act like they are high school teachers, -- the assignments are pointless, there’s zero-to-no research work, and students’ existing idea about university is that a good university degree lands you a job with big salary.
This mindset clearly explains the higher demand for subjects such as engineering and BBA and the sheer negligence of students and authorities alike for pure subjects like physics or history. All that, if you are willing to ignore the student politics and infrastructural woe. In a sense, our universities are less “universities” and more training centres with bad administration.
During my school days, I used to think I had a deep fascination for machinery and engineering. In college, I realized that I wanted to spend my life studying astrophysics. It was only when I began studying economics at university that I finally realized that my fascination lies in anthropology and history, and that I wanted to make a living through writing.
By then, however, it was no longer possible for me to go back and start again, thanks to a system that wouldn’t allow me to change my course as I seem fit.
This journey of self-discovery, of what sort of education I should pursue, could have been easier. It should have been easier. And for many, this journey never takes place at all. Who do we pick to be the scapegoat for this fault in our education system? Perhaps we should all take a long look in the mirror.
Zarif Faiaz is a freelance contributor.