Now-a-days, it seems students are very serious about their grades as they identify good studentship with good grades in examinations. Guardians of students also think that only good grades for their children will take them up. Students are going from one tutor's class to another for studying every subject the schools or exam boards prescribe. Guardians are not ready to let their children go independently, everywhere, be that at school, or classes of private tutors. They accompany them. If the wards do anything bad or score less than the excellent ones, they pass sleepless nights, hire the best of tutors to fill up the gaps they believe their wards need to cover. Whether too much of seriousness about academic preparation does any good to students is an issue of controversy.
Why should a student score always excellent numbers in examinations? What purposes do the so-called excellent grades serve in real life has remained an unresolved question. When we were students at schools from the late half of the 1950s to the first half of the 1960s of the last century, the issue of scoring high marks in examinations was not that serious. There was no private tutoring; whatever we learnt was learnt at schools. The culture of private coaching for money was not there. Teachers were mindful of teaching at classrooms. Everyone respected a good student but that student too was a product of classroom teaching. Textbooks were the main source of learning; there were notebooks which were only used as something supplementary. Examinations were in written form; students were asked to appear at three exams annually. The annual examination used to be held at yearend in the month of December. The result of the annual examination was more important for graduating to the next class. Students were not overburdened with too much of studies; they studied in a relaxed atmosphere. The grades were not alphabetic as we find today; the students' excellence was judged on the basis of percentage of marks a student scored.
A student with 60 per cent or more marks was said to be passing with a first division and he was credited as a very good student. Very few students could have passed in the first division; most of the passed-out students were either placed in second or third division. A student with second or third division was not looked down upon; s/he was also thought to be knowing many things. There were excellent colleges around, especially in subdivision and district towns. Those colleges were founded by local philanthropists and these competed against each other for attainment of academic excellence.
When a person like me looks back at what we saw at the academic arena then and what we see now, we feel frustrated. We feel as if, everything good in the academic arena is now a thing of the past. We see no such teachers in schools and colleges whom we saw in the '60s and '70s of the last century. Now we hear, teachers are all for private coaching for money. Guardians finally believe if their wards are not sent for private coaching, they will not do any good in examinations. Almost every student now passes with excellent grades. There is no way to judge who is actually a good student and who is not. Do very excellent grades matter in real life? Real life is different. To shine in real life, it needs many more things than the so-called excellent grades. Is not student's physical health important? A student with ill health but with very good grades will find difficult to shine in real life.
Good health, communicative skill, capacity to express oneself in writing and orally, good behaviour and smiling faces are all important elements in real life. Many persons, who are famous today, were not that good students at schools. A person, who failed in school examination, can also do good in later life provided s/he possesses merit and other qualifications. Many school dropouts later did very good in actual life. Merit and opportunity take a person a long way. Industrious persons do good in practical life. Honesty and hard work are the other two virtues that push a person up. Do good grades ensure honesty and hard work in a person? Not necessarily. Guardians should let their wards enjoy a degree of freedom. They should be more mindful of what their wards are eating, what behaviour they are developing, when they sleep, when they rise from bed and whether a disciplined life is being led by them. In the real life, nobody bothers whether a person passed his examination with all 'A' grades. What somebody wants to see in a person is whether s/he is a well-behaved person, whether s/he is honest and hardworking and whether s/he is good at work he is hired for.
So-called good students dream to be good job-holders in future. But today, jobs under somebody are not that rewarding. Students coming out of academies also should be taught to be businessmen, self-employed persons other than job-holders. The other painful aspect of the present education is that it is discriminatory against students coming out of the poor families. Education has become expensive which the poor students cannot pay for. Many poor but meritorious students, after having failed to pay for expensive education, are pursuing inferior quality education in inferior schools.
--The writer is Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka,