The last paper for the final exams of the semester was almost ending when the instructor came to announce that our marks for a course had already been put up on the notice board and students could see them once they finish with the paper.
I was super-excited and confident too. Achieving good grades and already making it to the top three in the class had made me confident. As soon as the paper ended, everyone rushed towards the notice board while I chose to stay calm and sit on the bench. I was expecting someone to come over and congratulate me for scoring the highest, as it happened most of the time. However, what followed was a situation I’d never experienced before.
A crowd of competitors came up with the news that I had cleared the course, but with C grade. I would have been okay (not happy) with the news if my intelligence would not have been questioned.
Just a few moments ago, I was among the most brilliant students in the class. However, the moment I was declared to have gotten C grade in a course, I became a duffer. Everyone just had the same question for me, “What happened to you? How come your grade fell?”
It was very astonishing for me too. There were several people around me who had even scored worse than me, but still they stood around expressing surprise on my marks, as if to degrade me. I could find no other option but to escape to the girl’s common room to find some space to gulp down this bitter truth.
The bitter reality was not that I got a C grade, but it was that my classmates were so concerned about how a topper’s got such poor marks. I was the hot topic and everyone around somehow had the opinion that if I was really intelligent, I would not have scored poorly in any case.
The teachers also congratulated only the ones who were top scorers. What if once I wasn’t able to prove myself? Was all the previous hard work and reputation of no significance?
That moment, I felt what the other students would have felt in previous semesters. While I would have remained busy celebrating my superiority over others, they must have been made to believe that they were not intelligent or capable enough to meet the required standards.
At that moment I realised how the criteria of talent, intelligence and capabilities were confined to grades. It was hard to accept how I was being defined by whatever I had scored and not the fund of knowledge that was within me. This trend, however, had emerged since I went to my school for the first time. I was overloaded with gifts and appreciation whenever I got a good position and scolded the moment I didn’t make it into the top three. I remember how I studied hard not because I wanted to clear my concepts, but because it was necessary for me to grab a position to avail all those lovely gifts as a child. It didn’t mattered whether or not I had an understanding of what was being taught in the class, if I was able to somehow score high, that straight away meant that I was good at studies.
Unfortunately, in pushing children to adopt the “learn and write” method, the idea of building their intelligence and testing them on the basis of their capabilities has been ignored totally. I wanted to scream to make everyone realise how unethical it was to judge someone on their grades, to discuss and ask the reasons for their failure. But, unfortunately, I had been part of the same practice too. I always enjoyed the appreciation that I got after scoring high, ignoring the fact how my smile and cheers would have made others feel down.
I realised how I and the other students had been forced to chase grades and judge others and ourselves too on the basis of grades only. It is the cruellest reality of our society that the one who fails to produce the desired results in exams is regarded as a symbol of failure in real life too.
Sadly, the complex education system in Pakistan and many countries fails to accept the intelligence in students without having its proof on a piece of paper. It is not necessary that everyone is good at rote learning, some might retain the basic concepts which are enough for success.
Due to what I faced that day, I realised there might be many Steve Jobs in our country, who may be college dropouts or C graders but have the potential to prove it to the world that grades don’t define them. If our society too would have provided open space to those who want to prove themselves by their skills and not by their grades, we would not have been reading the inspirational stories of Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, instead we would have been producing them.
It’s high time that parents and teachers should understand how important it has become to keep grades aside and judge students on their abilities. Giving superiority on the basis of grades is just another form of modern slavery, within which personal and professional growth is totally impossible.