Many of my extended family members and Facebook friends and acquaintances will see that I received a “gold” (more specifically, a “gold-plated”) medal, and reach the faulty conclusion that I am intelligent or talented.
Trust me, I’m really not.
I’m a privileged brat. A glorified exam-taker.
I’m a privileged brat born in an upper middle-class family which could afford to enroll me in high-end educational institutions from my very childhood. I’m a privileged brat who has breakfast served to her on a tray in bed, who never has to worry about making her meals, or washing or ironing her clothes. I’m a privileged brat who traveled to all her classes and exams in an air-conditioned car driven by a chauffeur.
I’m a privileged brat who was doted upon unconditionally by her parents and sisters alike during her childhood.
I’m a privileged brat who was never pressured into doing anything that she didn’t want to do. I’m so privileged, in fact, that I blame my bua for all of life’s problems, including world hunger.
You might be thinking that maybe I’m privileged and intelligent. Nope. That’s not it either.
My IQ is painfully average (116 to be exact) and I have Grand Canyon-like gaps in my knowledge.
I don’t know the names of any ministers (not even the one who “bestowed” me with my “gold jewelry”). I think I know the name of our current president. I’ve never read a novel by Hemingway. I don’t know what the capital of Sweden is (or of most countries for that matter).
I still don’t know my tables and I need a calculator to add 2+2. I’ve never watched Fight Club. CNG-wallahs and shop-keepers cheat me on a daily basis. I’m shamefully incompetent in my own mother tongue. I even don’t know how to install Windows on my laptop or use GPS.
So basically, when I say my IQ is average, I am, in fact, bragging. I’m actually an idiot. If you don’t believe me, you can ask any of my close friends or family members. They have solemnly taken it upon themselves to duly and regularly remind me that I am an idiot. Twice daily, to be precise.
In fact, there are many students who have studied/are studying at the university I graduated from who are significantly more intelligent and knowledgeable than I could ever hope to be.
Yet, most of them have average/below average CGPA and some were/are in probation. And why? Because:
1. Privilege, and 2. Our education system is a farce. CGPA is a farce. Convocations and gold medals are also a farce.
I know this is pretty hypocritical coming from me, and I don’t deny that I am a hypocrite. I associate myself with the brand of hypocrites who inwardly judge and criticise modern weddings for being capitalistic charades but still attend all the weddings in December because of the promise of kachchi and the selfies which prove they have a social life.
Anyway, as I was saying -- CGPA is a farce. Let me tell you honestly: They gave me a gold medal not because I’m smart, but because I am able to memorise atrocious amounts of information in a very short period of time and then regurgitate it all out during exams in an organised and cohesive fashion. I know how to cite perfectly using APA, but I wasn’t taught how to conduct my own research; I know how my teachers and other intellectuals interpret different texts, but I do not know how to engage meaningfully with them myself -- in short, I lack agency and legitimacy despite my education. (No offense to my beloved institution or my teachers. Some of my teachers really tried to challenge, engage, and inspire. My heartfelt gratitude to those few).
I’m a product of the system. I thrived in it. And now I’m telling you -- we need to get rid of it. It’s time we tried to shift focus away from the rat race that academia has become
Our skewed education system and narrow evaluation criteria mean that stupid students like me, who have privilege and support due to their families, coupled with a few basic skills such as note-taking/time-management etc, can get a perfect CGPA and a gold medal if they put in some effort.
I consider myself to be living proof of the fact that CGPA, in the end, fails to measure anybody’s intelligence, knowledge, potential, or talent. It’s a measure, mostly, of how well you can take exams and deal with pressure.
Despite the fallacy of “good result,” there is this disproportionate amount of prestige given to academic achievers in our society, while rampant discrimination against other kinds of achievers. We all have potentials we can fulfill, interests we can pursue, areas in which we can excel. We should appreciate positive efforts and achievements of all kinds, not only the academic kind.
For me, it was in academia, because I’m a nerd and I literally get high and giddy while taking exams. For others, it might be art, photography, graphic design, fashion, engineering, entrepreneurship, sports, music, teaching, research, journalism, writing … the list goes on. If you ask me, what matters at the end of the day is not academic achievement, but the social impact you have through your work.
I’m a product of the system. I thrived in it. And now I’m telling you -- we need to get rid of it.
It’s time we tried to shift focus away from the rat race that academia has become. It’s time we changed the system of passively doling out information to students.
It’s time we moved away from oppressive examination-driven assessment methods. It’s time we not only appreciated our students’ successes, but also their risks and their failures. It’s time we focused more on the joy of learning, rather than on gold medals. It’s time we nurtured better human beings, and not only better students.
Tamoha Binte Siddiqui is a lecturer at the BRAC Institute of Languages, BRAC University.