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When grades kill

  • Published at 12:04 am October 7th, 2019

Is an overemphasis on academic excellence causing misery for children?

A few weeks ago, the son of a police officer took his own life with his father’s licensed revolver. As a cause, the family said that the boy, a college student, was upset over his academic grades.

Taking one’s own life for something as trivial as academic results is hard to accept. The truth is, such events are common in Bangladesh. After SSC and HSC results, drastic steps are often taken by unsuccessful students and also by those whose results were not as per their expectations.

But if we look at the broader picture, countless young people suffer away in silence because they are made to feel that their results at school are not acceptable.

Over time, these children grow up to develop depression, anxiety and a highly flawed belief that they have to always meet the requirements of others to be deemed acceptable in society. 

While many do not take their own lives, there is a high number of young people, who suppress a feeling of anguish. 

Education as a chore

Every year, pictures of young people with stellar grades are published in the newspapers. Several newspapers also hold prize-giving ceremonies for students who passed with notable distinction. While this is laudable, the culture of only pouring accolades on the best provokes parents to indoctrinate their children into believing that, unless their academic grades are top notch, their lives are meaningless. 

Acknowledging meritorious students is needed, but at the same time, there has to be programs to acknowledge the student who is excellent in sports, dancing, acting or, has the best leadership skills.

Though reality has many lessons for us which we tend to ignore. Many top actors of the country never went to university, some did not even complete college. No one asks a sports person or a theatre actor their academic performance. 

This does not mean that pursuing academic brilliance should be discouraged. The point is, parents and teachers need to come out of a harmful notion that unless a student performs well in the exams, their future life will be hopeless.

In Bangladesh, the “bhalo chhele” definition had always been applied to young people who do not have any bad habits like smoking or drinking, is particular about following social norms and, produces extraordinary academic results. 

Anyone out of this template is deemed a pariah, an aberration, treated with suspicion. In short, we are living with a rigid mindset. Therefore, the maverick youngster is the issue of worry for all, the Bohemian is given regular advice by elders and the ones who want to leave education to pursue sports or technical knowledge, is termed mediocre or a failure. 

To be the best 

There is an inherent tendency in society to project an academically successful person as virtuous while the ones with low grades are told to follow the former. For some peculiar reason, top grades are synonymous with goodness. Parents, teachers avidly perpetuate this feeling making the ones who are not academically inclined develop a sense of desolation. 

What we need to do is to make the growing up process an enjoyable one and not a period during which the young brain is made to believe that their task is to provide the result demanded by their parents and teachers. 

Parents use the results of their children to gain social capital. In a highly materialistic world, the result of a child is often used for competing with the other family. One-upmanship’s most potent tool seems to be the academic result of children.  

The unfortunate victim is the child -- deprived of a youth full of fun and learning, constantly under pressure to satisfy others. 

Regrettably, our schools do not have psychologists and teachers often do not understand the complexities of adolescent minds. A few weeks ago, a student jumped off a building when the parent was chastised by the teacher. 

Not too long ago, a girl found adopting unfair means during an exam, was reprimanded so harshly in front of parents that she later took her life in shame. 

Children adopt unfair means because they are told from childhood that failing an exam is not acceptable and is the ultimate ignominy. 

They are never told: Failing is just part of growing up and in the real world, everyone fails in one way or the other because life is never about remaining at the exalted position forever. 

Schools need to take the initiative to ease the pressure on students and stop competing with other institutions; meanwhile, society in general must discard the fascination with the “good student” model. 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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