Grades, Percentile or Percentage? Ask a stupid question…

The motivations that drive individuals to perform certain tasks, which pattern the society in certain ways are normally difficult to gauge. Economic data is limited to analysis using primitive regression kind of techniques, and results interpreted using more primitive models of human behavior. Interviews may disclose what the person would like to think his motivations are, which makes it easier to live with himself. However, if you engineer a change, however small, that strikes at the heart of their motivations, they are exposed to plain sight.

The recently announced CBSE results were an interesting psycho/social experiment, whose results give us some insight into what our schooling system has become. Consider the statement in this article:

Mehak Arora, a student of Kundan Vidya Mandir, who scored 9.8 CGPA, said, “I think the percentage system was better. I scored more than 95 per cent in four subjects and between 80-90 per cent in one. If the percentage was to be calculated, I would have topped in my school.”

few things show up immediately – the student does not seem to care much about what he studied – If all I care about is English or Physics, the ‘overall marks’ would not really matter. Here, subjects are simply a means to acquiring marks. Secondly, the ultra-competitive nature, no doubt nurtured by parents and teachers, which drives him to get only a certain symbol on a piece of paper. Thirdly, the student is more worried about his performance relative to others rather than upto his own standards (if he has any).

Of the three, only the third is even remotely justifiable, and that too only if you assume that everyone ought to study only one of few things (Engineering, Medicine, blah) and only at certain places (IIT, IISc or (god forbid!) IIM). The students, especially the 98% variety, somehow seem to find it hard to accept that they cannot assert their superiority over others in an unambiguous manner. What is worse, if this crazy notion of success based on superiority succeeds in burning out a child or making her an insufferable snob, the society is poorer by one brilliant mind. Thus, in education as in almost every other field, the society as a whole shows suicidal tendencies.

This problem is nothing new: people have probably written about similar behavior since time immemorial. The solution is also obvious:  people don’t ask ‘why’, but only ‘how’ – not why do I need a car, but how can I get one. Not why should I get married, but how to choose my bride (‘Net arranged, broker arranged, family arranged, ‘net romance, college romance, office romance, among other permutation-combinations). Ironically, if the ‘why’ is answered, the ‘how’ normally answers itself, and the headless chicken-existential angst-Sri Sri Ravishankar routine can be avoided.

While one can claim adults make the choice themselves, burdening children with such problems is truly the symptom of a sick society. While anyone older than 25-26 and lives in a city would have had an exposure to a different way of life from what they presently lead, present day children are led to believe that there is not much beyond books, a cricket bat and a Lego kit. The nation requires x number of engineers by 2020, so childhood is spent on an assembly line to meet that requirement. Large scale organisation of this kind requires high degree of structuring, which is antithetical to a happy childhood, which is highly unstructured and exploratory.

Thus, children must not only be encouraged to ask questions, but also the right kind. One has more pessimism as to whether adults can do so, and whether it is worth the effort. Children, OTOH, are open to ideas, can be corrected, bear no prejudice that their parents have not unloaded upon them, and thus every society’s greatest experiment and perfect reflection.


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7 thoughts on “Grades, Percentile or Percentage? Ask a stupid question…”

  1. The problem is, where else is the child to find a sense of achievement? Do our schools have any other avenue where a child feels he/she has achieved something? There is only the 98% to indicate achievement. Schools need to change the way they go about educating, but to do that, where will they find suitable teachers?

    1. The problem with this reasoning, i.e, to explicitly think, or even to ask if 98% or (hell forbid!) 100% is an achievement, means you do not understand the gist of post here.

      This post questions the stupidness, biases and useless ponderings of the society, which in turn are formed by the flawed educational system that breeds and nurtures today’s children. If you go and read some books, for eg: Steve Woznaik’s ‘iWoz’, it will be immediately apparent to you, why Woznaik went on to build such great products and is such a successful engineer.

      The core belief that every child should inculcate and develop within himself/herself is the curiosity to ask questions about things around it which fascinate him/her – which basically is what this post delves on – i.e, the ‘why’ or ‘how does it work’ analysis.

  2. I have plenty of friends who scored highly during school, and who still feel they have not achieved anything. So, even to that end, this does not contribute in any way.

    Anyway, it is the drive toward tangible achievements that has driven this whole schooling system (and society as a whole) crazy, and I do not approve of it.

  3. That is exactly my point.The school system must be such that children find a sense of achievement in their daily activities….put up a play, make a garden, clean the school…so that there is no need to find that sense of achievement in the 98% marks. Build skills that are not measured by the 98% , but by what they can make or do. That way, most children end up with some sense of achievement..afetr all how many can get 98%?

  4. Once in my company a lunch table discussion involved how foolishly ‘everyone’ tried to score while in school, college etc. But (in my opinion, its a correct one) the same person was trying to impress the manager all the time,get better rating, build a portfolio for himself which should ensure,perhaps,a better future(now he has realized marks do not work).
    Perhaps a park discussion, when he is say a octogenarian, will include how he(replace he with everyone, he thinks at least he has been intelligent to figure it out and wants to exclude himself or its simply hard to confess) tried to impress the manager or whatever.
    Now coming to the present and ourselves, yourself(include myself also) we do not know what we are doing in the present.Perhaps we are doing the same thing
    (equivalent to scoring in some form or the other) consciously or partially consciously with slightly increased intelligence(marks do not matter). Perhaps we are doing what others are telling us to do(like there were teachers in the school) or maybe not(If he is telling something like just study to enjoy it,since it has not been realized).

    –Realizations come late. Ironically,we become intelligent to discuss the past.

    1. Couple of things – Realizations by definition come after. So there is nothing wrong in that. However, if all your realization enables you to do is discuss the past, then there is somthing wrong with the realization or your intelligence ;)

      Secondly, my main point was not about the marks or school, but how success has now been defined as superiority over others or achievement, both of which have been defined rather poorly. Once you define success as balance, you may not get a Nobel, but you may live better. Like the first comment here says: ‘How will children find a sense of achievement?’ Have you realized enough to define achievement on an absolute scale rather than a relative one ? If not, you need many more realizations ;)

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