My mum is one of the smartest people I know. No, I’m not just saying it. She really is. She went to one of the best medical schools in India and is an amazing doctor. All through school and uni, she had the best grades possible. She started learning Spanish for fun a few years ago and did really well in her class and went on to the Advanced level. She knows so much about so many different things (mainly because she’s a voracious reader).
The reason I bring this up is because my parents recently moved to the UAE and mum can’t practice there until she passes these mandatory exams. She took one shot at them last month but she failed and ever since she has been down in the dumps. She keeps telling me she feels stupid because she couldn’t pass the exams. I tried telling her that it’s not so easy… yes of course she has been a doctor for over 20 years now but studying for exams is a completely different ball game. She said she felt like she was giving her med school exams again and I’m more than sure that wasn’t easy the first time around.
Anyway, what struck me is the dip in my mum’s self confidence. She’s a very confident and positive person so this surprised me even more. I realised then that no matter how old you are, academic success will to some extent always be tied with self worth.
Considering how competitive the Indian education system and the employment scene is, I’m sure this psyche is stronger for Indians than others. Nonetheless, I’m sure every kid who goes to school in any part of the world is told they better get good grades or they’re not going to “make it”. History has shown us that people without good report cards have in fact “made it” but since this is usually the exception to the rule, academic excellence is still regarded as the only way to have a happy and successful career/life. As a result, failure to do well academically, depresses the average person because we feel like we’re no good and our life and other non-academic dreams aren’t worth anything.
Good grades are important to me too but I have been lucky enough to be brought up by rational parents who didn’t threaten to feed my dinner to the dog if I didn’t get an A in chemistry. No I never got an A in chemistry, and although I would feel bummed every time I saw my chemistry grades, I moved on. What worries me is that some kids have their entire being wrapped up in the grades they get (or don’t get). For many of these kids, feeling down and dejected is not a momentary lapse of reason but it is the only way they know how to feel if they do badly in the academic field. Of course, not all children with this psyche are brilliant so some of them continue to do badly and sadly, they will forever feel inferior and less worthy than those who consistently produce A grade (literally) report cards. It doesn’t have to be this way but unfortunately that’s how the world is.
I am not discounting the importance of education and academic excellence… but we need to achieve some sort of balance. It is important to teach kids the importance of doing well in school BUT it is also important to help them understand that they are not failures if they don’t do well. It’s a tough lesson to impart but it’s not impossible. I just wish a person’s self worth and self esteem wouldn’t be tied to their ability (or lack thereof) to do well in school because from the way I look at it, for some people… it’s a lifetime in chains they never quite break free of.