Marks don’t matter?

It is that time of the year. Results of the board exams of children who have given their 10th and 12th exams in the different boards are coming in. Following the announcement of the results is a surfeit of posts on social media that “Marks don’t matter” largely from those who are doing well in life now without top scores to boast of, when they were in school. And there are many who tend to agree with that premise.

Yes, a student’s future and success in life in the end don’t really depend on his or her scores in the school. It depends on a combination of factors, academic brilliance being just one. At the end of the day, your quality of work on the job counts if you are to be counted, which eventually paves the way for an individual’s growth. There, the school or college mark sheet or the CGPA is not going to help. Even as an entrepreneur, one’s ability to handle the day-today challenges and still come up with creative solutions matters more for success than the grades one got in Physics or Econometrics in school or college.

Having said that, is that so straight forward as it sounds? Well, not really. Access to better opportunities come through better educational institutions. The gateway to get into those revered institutions is the mark sheet. In a country where the aspirants are way too more compared to the seats available in good schools, marks come as the saviour for getting an entry. Once you are into a top rung college, the competitive environment plays a huge role in shaping one’s world view, outlook and aspirations.  The collective quality of an institution in turn then helps to attract companies seeking top notch talent.

There is also another gateway other than marks to get into some of the Ivy schools which is, through the bank accounts of parents. Those who are with privileged backgrounds and have enough money in the bank can of course also get admissions into some of the top schools even with average marks. In this discussion, I am not considering such class of people. I am referring to the average middle class and below type of people, while making the case for importance of marks.

While arguing for “Marks don’t matter”, the most popular example often touted is of Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. But Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard without completing his course to start Microsoft with some of his friends. So calling Gates a “school dropout’ is a misnomer. And where does Microsoft corporations recruit its people?  From some of the really top institutions of course all over the world. And who do they recruit? Toppers of course. I have not seen Microsoft having a quota for bottom of the pile students or institutions.

There could be few others in India and outside who might not have been toppers or even passed their grades but have become extremely successful in life. There could be examples from the field of sports, literature and arts. But these are a different variety of people who had those respective skills and accordingly chose those areas to excel. Again, there could be eminent sportsmen who didn’t focus on studies but excelled in their sport of choosing. These are all exceptions and exceptions cannot be the rule.  We are talking of the majority who don’t have “other” special skills to pursue them as passion. A Sachin Tendulkar or a Kamal Haasan who didn’t complete even their schooling but still who came out toppers in their chosen field, cannot be given as examples for talking down the importance of formal education.

There are often examples of successful entrepreneurs and businessmen which are given to drive home the point that even without academic brilliance (read as scores), one can reach a level of success. These are again exceptions and for every such successful person there are thousand other instances of those who have lost their way since they did not do well in their studies.

If marks really don’t matter, why are college admissions based on marks? Why are screening candidates for jobs in campuses happen based on marks? As long as supply exceeds demand by a long distance as the case it is in India, marks will continue to play the role of the numero uno filter.  As I mentioned earlier, good marks ensure access to good institutions and thereby the probability of one’s success becomes higher. Probably once you are in a post graduate level, the actual scores or ranks do not matter. But till that level, your grades continue to be an active filter that separates those who make it and who don’t.

As a parent of a school going child, I am equally frustrated by the rat race over marks that determine the career path of a student. The cut offs in some of the top colleges in India can drive you towards insanity. Couple of years ago, the cut off for the B.A programme in Lady Shriram College, Delhi was 98.75%. Recently, admission for a coaching class in Mumbai starting April 2021 got closed last week in flat 30 minutes as parents rushed to ensure their wards got admission in that coaching class. So, apart from colleges now, even for admission to coaching classes, there is a rat race. And why? Just to ensure children get higher and higher marks that will enable them to secure admissions into some of the better colleges we have.

I agree that it is not fair on the part of the world to put pressure on children that marks are the ultimate. But equally, “Marks don’t matter” is a fallacy propounded by those who choose to ignore the ground reality in India. For the middle class and the aspiring class, the chasm between their dreams and reality can be bridged only if their children study and study well. So for this group, marks do matter.  It may not be end of the world if one doesn’t score enough marks. Just that the struggle gets more intense and the probability of success gets lower.

#Marksdon’tmatter may be cool as a trending hashtag once a year. For rest of the year, M A R K S D O M A T T E R.

Original Image courtesy: The Quint

 

Now Showing – “Board Exams”

For this time of the year, the temperature in the last few days in Mumbai has been few degrees higher than normal.  One tends to attribute the same to the usual suspect called “Global Warming”.  But I suspect that the higher temperature this time overall is due to the “Exam fever” every house hold is seemingly suffering from – these days!  In India this is the season for the SSC (10th) exam and the “life threatening” HSC (12th) exams now and my best wishes at the outset to all the students who are going through the rigmarole.  Absenteeism in companies is at a high as parents take leave in turns to be with their kids and provide moral support as they prepare for the ‘board’ exams.  Film makers who aspire to be in the 100 Crore club avoid release of their movies in this tense period.  In these highly competitive times, board exam times are becoming “testing” times for the parents, grandparents and the ilk.  

I’m not sure if this aura around ‘Board’ exam is only in India or it is a universal phenomenon. India made a 1st step towards easing the burden on students when Kapil Sibal, the then minister for HRD, made the board exam for 10th standard an optional affair from 2011. I’m not well-informed on how this optional thing works or doesn’t work.   However the tyranny of the board exam continues for 12th Std to this day.

I have vivid memories of my tryst with board exams which started with the 10th way back in 1983. In our predominantly Hindu – Brahmin school in Trichy (by name E.R.Higher Secondary School), the hall tickets were handed over after a puja at the temple. On the appointed day, all the students and respective teachers of the 10th class were taken to the temple for the Puja. My neighbour and friend who used to be in a Catholic school said that in their school, the hall tickets were handed over after a prayer at the church. So I concluded that all religions took board exams seriously and board exams by nature were secular!  By the time I came to 12th there was no need to take the walk to the temple for collecting the hall ticket. The school by then made strides and collected enough funds to build a small temple within the school premises itself.  To take care of the Saivite and Vaishnavite sensibilities or rather their academic aspirations, the temple was built with 2 presiding deities – Ganesh and Hanuman

In a neighbourhood Ganesh Temple the priest – an old pious man would give us specially worshipped ‘vibhudhi’ individually to each of us to be applied just before we open the question paper.  During exam time, he reminded us kids not to forget to collect the same before the exam begins and we did so religiously.  As quaint as it may seem, the lines to collect this ‘vibhudhi’ from him were quite long during board exam times with even non regulars to the temple queuing up.  That the old man was carrying out this practice without expecting any monetary consideration is in stark contrast to the materialistic world of today.

As soon as the 11th exams were over, the preparation for 12th started.  The idea was to start early and complete the portions by Dec. In preparation for the 12th board exam in April, the classes get over by Dec and the next 3 months one is at home to prepare for the final kill. I must admit here that though the board exam fever was running high, we were quite relaxed and taking it easy.  So much so that we didn’t resist watching the entire Benson & Hedges World Championship of Cricket” which took place in March 1985 in Australia.  Following the World Cup win in 1983, India continued its winning stretch in One Dayers beating Pakistan in the finals in this tournament.   Watching almost all the matches live on TV with mates that too at a friend’s place and rooting for India bring back unforgettable memories. Ravi Shastri became a (to borrow today’s vocab) “hash tag” overnight after being crowned as “Champion of Champions” in that tournament and ‘Audi’ got into the lexicon of the Indian youth.   Looking back I realize that this tournament provided for a much needed break in between our continuous study routine and acted as a stress buster.

While one starts getting into the trappings of the board exams – the refrain all around is “prepare well for this one last time, get good marks and you are set for life”!!!  But the truth is far from it. The competitive rat race of life continues post the board exams as well.  Only that you start getting used to it!!! The jury is still out on whether academic excellence matters at the end of the day and is the passport to success. As somebody said, academic excellence may well provide you the “Passport” but you still need the “Visa”!!!

It is nobody’s case that there is no need for an assessment in the form of an exam. It’s just that a complete focus on one final exam puts so much pressure and one bad day in office or rather the exam hall can put paid to an aspirant’s career hopes in today’s system. A movement to a continuous and regular assessment is the way forward.  Can our pragmatic and hardworking minister Shashi Tharoor ring in a change ???

On a Sunday as I am writing this post, my six year old daughter is quite engrossed in the movie “3 Idiots” for the “N+1”th time.  As the main protagonist Aamir Khan launches his diatribe on the present education system which gives so much weightage to marks and marks alone, I’m not sure if she realizes what’s in store for her. I hope by the time she is in her 10th, the so called ‘board’ exams have lived their lives and have been consigned to history.  The selfish thought being we as parents will be freed of the ‘board’ Exam fever!!!

Let me close this piece now as I have to rush my daughter to the dance class for well ………. an exam 🙂 🙂 🙂

Postscript: If people who are in Twitter are “Tweeples”, people who suffer from Exams are “Examples” 😦 😦 😦

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