Where has our obsession with academic excellence gotten us?
“You’re finished” -- I still remember the words reverberating through my skull, as I was being admonished/ridiculed by my college registrar for failing to secure a high enough GPA during my A-level examinations in order to qualify for an education at the esteemed institution he worked for … after two semesters worth of effort and money spent, naturally.
I was never the most meritorious student in school, I never pretended to be. School was a chore, a prolonged nuisance that I had to deal with every week Sunday through Thursday, a hurdle between me and my computer at home.
But school was supposed to be the place where I was to receive an education, a place that was supposed to nurture my curiosity with the world at large, where I was supposed to learn how to be a social creature and make lasting relationships -- all I received were barely passable grades at best, and a lifetime of disappointment at worst.
As did most of my classmates.
Academic excellence is always desirable, and to strive for it can never be considered anything less than a noble goal.
But while I would like to tell you that our society’s collective obsession with academic excellence has yielded some of the greatest minds in the history of our existence, that would be a bigger lie than the time I told my mother that my eighth grade half-yearly exam results were delayed by a whole week.
The problem lies with exactly how that obsession manifested. Hundreds upon thousands upon millions of words have been spilled over how we tend to prioritize results over actual education, to the point where it is perhaps somewhat gauche to bring up that tired old argument -- but that does not make it any less true.
While anecdotal, I think I can safely claim that nearly anyone who has received an education in a Bangladeshi school has stories of parents gloating about their child’s academic achievements with others, as if the sole purpose of education is to make up for their distinct lack of any parental skills beyond reprimanding their little boy or girl for receiving anything less than an A+ and “distinction” … whatever the hell that is.
Education to me was finally being allowed to go home, flip through a book that actually captured my imagination for a change, or log on to the internet only to learn that, contrary to what my sixth grade physics teacher taught me, there are, in fact, four states of matter, not three.
A society built on the concept of meritocracy is not out of the ordinary, of course. Japan’s infamous “exam culture” has been the subject of numerous discussions, research papers, and online BuzzFeed-y articles, with most such literature focusing on just how unhealthy this specific trend has been for the nation’s youth.
Not to play into my own grievance, but at least they have the third largest economy (going by GDP) to show for all that toil and misery.
Bangladesh has an unfinished bridge, a million copycat start-ups, and the same damn coffee shop with the same damn menu under different names at each and every corner.
Sitting inside one of those very same coffee shops, I recently had a chance to catch up with some of my old classmates, and the running gag in our discussions seemed to be “we’ve come far.”
It’s not like we are captains of industries or anything, but given that I, personally, am able to earn a stable income while being able to have my voice be heard on a national newspaper almost every week (I try my best to remain consistent) being a C-minus type student in my youth, I suppose I have come far.
Whether it be academic excellence or culture, our society’s obsession over the idea of attaining enlightenment runs skin-deep, existing merely as a figurative mantle-piece to showboat around and accrue as much “hingsha” as possible from neighbours and relatives in the process.
As an ambassador of a generation educated (and I use that word in the loosest sense possible) almost entirely by bored housewives clutching at straws in trying to feel like their lives matter, I hope the losers of tomorrow will eventually demolish and restructure the road we have paved into something that actually resembles progress and development in their truest sense. And perhaps the results are already in -- except, this time, we don’t need to shy away from them.
Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.